A Look Into Our Collection: Sheet Music

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The following post comes to us from Kyle Taylor, one of our museum interns. All of the images are from our large and varied collection of sheet music ranging from the late 1800’s through the 1930’s.

Music is an art form that can convey a message or tell a story. This story is written using an established set of musical notes, symbols and lyrics. Much like an essay, it is written for an audience, the physical form of this story is called sheet music.

Originally sheet music was laboriously written on a piece of papyrus, any copies that were made were hand written. This caused the sheet music to be very costly and time consuming. In the late 15th century the first printing press was invented which made the production process of sheet music much easier, and more affordable. Instead of going to the opera to listen to music, people were playing music themselves. As time progressed, sheet music production became easier and more popular.

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The 1920’s was a time for musical evolution. In the years leading up to the start of the great depression there was great financial prosperity. There were many composers who were very popular during this period. One composer whom you may be familiar with is Irving Berlin. Sheet music was a very popular item to buy. Prior to the 1920’s sheet music was printed on very large paper and had very little artistic value to the cover. To make sheet music more appealing to the consumer, bright and colorful pictures depicting parties or people laughing were printed on the cover of the sheet music. This art gave the music a “storybook” feel to it and would catch the consumer’s eye and gave them the idea that “this is music I would like to have”.

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Much like a commercial does today, crooners and street performers would perform this music and make it a more popular item to purchase. Radios were also growing in popularity during this time. The ability to transmit music into every home helped tell the story the sheet music was telling.

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