What sort of music was available in rural America during the beginning of the 1900s? Although it was a time without electricity, radio, television or computers, the enjoyment of music was very popular.

Listening to live music on the farm, meant it had to be performed by a person or group, singing or playing instruments. When family members, neighbors or amateur musicians performed together for entertainment, they often shared music or learned pieces from each other.

The ability to read music or play an instrument was highly regarded, as it had been in the previous century. Children might learn to play an instrument through lessons from a relative or a neighbor. Purchasing sheet music and music books by mail order catalog had become a popular way to learn new songs and enjoy old favorites. The presence of a costly piano or parlor organ in the house was a luxury.

Sheet music included popular songs, musical theater tunes, marches, religious and classical selections. As customers were able to purchase affordable musical instruments through mail order catalogs, more families began to enjoy music at home. Catalogs offered violins, banjos, guitars, accordions, mandolins, harmonicas, drums, clarinets, flutes, cornets, trumpets, bugles, tubas, trombones, autoharps, dulcimers, zithers and other instruments.

    A one-room country school that had a piano and a teacher, who could play it, was indeed fortunate. For a musical evening or ice cream social at a rural schoolhouse, people frequently brought along instruments and made their own music. A piano or parlor organ might even be taken by horse-drawn wagon for the special event.

    Rural residents sang together in their country churches, at community events, and enjoyed music in local singing societies, bands and amateur musical presentations. A town band was a source of local pride and the bandstand remained a popular summer gathering place for concerts. Parades and special occasions were more ceremonial with band music. Mail order catalogs advertised that they could even outfit complete fife and drum corps.

    Home Entertainment

Earlier parlor music boxes had been a source of limited musical entertainment. Some of the more advanced styles played a variety of circular metallic tune sheets. These disc music boxes were powered by a spring mechanism and wound with a hand crank.

The invention of player piano attachments developed into complete instruments that could also be used in the regular manner. The player mechanism used punched paper rolls, bellows and foot pedals to create automatic music. Such advancements had evolved from the invention of the Jacquard loom in France at the beginning of the 1800s, which used perforated cards to program fabric patterns.

Reproducing piano technology utilized detailed punched paper rolls to create a more lifelike musical expression, the way an original musician had played a piece.

The development of wind-up talking machines made it possible for people to enjoy music that reproduced sound from cylinders or discs. Families could hear their favorite music on these tabletop units, even in a farmhouse far from town. The ability to listen to music by graphophone, gramophone or phonograph was an exciting idea.

The talking machine unit had a wind-up motor on a wooden base and a large flower-shaped horn. Different machines played wax cylinder records, or the new, flat disc records. Music could be enjoyed without the necessity of playing an instrument or reading sheet music.

Advancements in technology gradually moved music listening from early tabletop models to the more elaborate, wind-up Victrola, made by the Victor Talking Machine Company. This featured an internal horn and wooden freestanding cabinet.

As lower-priced models were mass-produced for the general public, such products became more affordable. Rewinding the machine after playing a record or two became part of the process to play and enjoy music.

    Music By Mail Order

Among musical choices offered on wax cylinders or flat discs were popular and religious selections, solos and quartet numbers, piano and orchestral pieces, European opera, dance tunes, novelty songs, talking records of stories, humor or historical speeches, whistling solos, bugle calls and band music. Many selections became popular by people first hearing the music at early amusement arcades.

Mail order catalog customers were able to purchase records of marches by famed conductor John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), performed by his own band or the United States Marine Band.

In 1896, Sousa had composed The Stars and Stripes Forever, an enormously popular march. The piece eventually became the Official March of the United States of America in 1987.

As different kinds of music evolved from various areas of the United States, these too became available on records and through sheet music. Vocal and instrumental musicians became nationally known, as people bought records by their favorite artists.

However, it would still be over 25 years, before advancements in radio scientific experiments and the availability of electricity began to bring music over the air to the general American public and out to the farm.


Music on the Farm

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Music on the farm was also played at the one-room schoolhouses that dotted the landscape around the farms of America.  Annie and her mother, Barb, are annual guests to play at a festival honoring the rhubarb plant, sharing the schoolhouse with a museum volunteer who talks to guests about rhubarb and school a hundred years ago at the Taylor School.