Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Regional Sheet Music Restoration

by Diane Janowski

I restore historic American hometown sheet music books. So far, I have completed four volumes. The songs in my books are specific to the towns, cities, mountains, rivers, and lakes of New York and Pennsylvania. The first volume has songs written in - or about - Elmira, Binghamton, Canisteo, Ithaca, Chenango, Tioga, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica. The second book contains songs about Buffalo, Albany, Jamestown, Niagara Falls, Poughkeepsie, Newburgh,Yonkers, Tonawanda, Saratoga Springs, Herkimer, the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, the lakes of Oneida, Onondaga, Chautauqua, and Seneca, and the Genesee and Hudson Rivers. The third one is about the Pennsylvania towns of Allentown, Altoona, Carlisle, Easton, Ephrata, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Sunbury, Wilkes-Barre, Williamsport, and the Pocono Mountains
The fourth one is a wedding book with songs written by small town composers.

In the 19th century, long before radio, television, motion pictures, stereos, computers and iPods, we entertained ourselves, our families, and our guests with music and singing. In most families, usually, at least one person read music and played an instrument. By 1850, pianos sat in parlors of many, if not most, middle-class homes. Music and bookstores sold songs in sheet music form. The technical demands of this “parlor music” easily allowed amateur musicians and singers to share their talents. Although Tin Pan Alley in New York City was the center for song publishing at the time, music and bookstores in many smaller towns published hometown compositions. Piano-makers and music teachers, especially, produced their own-labeled music to help promote their businesses or products.

By 1870, songs of this genre became more complex and sophisticated in their melodic and harmonic vocabulary, and professional singers and musicians played them in public recitals.

For whatever reasons, mainly changes in musical tastes, the songs in this book have been forgotten. Yes, they are archived in the Library of Congress, but the tunes are not recognized in modern times. In fact, these songs may not have even been played in the last hundred years or more.

Please keep in mind that these compositions reflected the times in which they were written, with an emotion and verve that describes the actions and events of the day. Although the tunes tend to be exuberant, you can actually hear the hometown pride in these songs. Many of the songs were written for special occasions - to herald an anniversary, the opening of a grand building, to celebrate natural beauty, to honor a school, and to give a town its own song. Some songs were played by local musicians or bands at fancy parties and balls. You imagine women in ball gowns and men smoking cigars, candle chandeliers and all the Victorian opulence of life in Upstate New York.

I’m from Elmira, New York and I knew that some old songs about Elmira existed. I thought that eventually, I would turn the idea into a history article. Then I got to thinking if Elmira has old songs - other towns must also. Where were they? Let’s get them out and play them. I want to hear what they sound like. So I became a music archaeologist and found these songs and played them. I liked what I heard and wanted to share the music. Through the miracles of 21st century technology I was able to “clean up” the rips, tears, water stains and reintroduce these songs from our forgotten musical past. I have also created a music CD of many of the songs in this book should you like to hear them - available on the New York History Review and Victorian Pride websites.

The songs in this book are a different and unique type of history - when you play or hear them, you feel an instant connection with the composer. You are transported back in time. The songs here date from 1850 to 1884.

We were all proud of our towns, our natural wonders, our buildings, and our people, and we showed our appreciation with songs.

No comments:

Post a Comment