One of our favorite events each semester at the Wylie House Museum is our Parlor Concert Series. The house is filled with people and beautiful music for a few hours, and   the world of the Wylie Family seems to come alive. Our Parlor Concerts are rooted in a long tradition of home entertainment provided by the people who lived in them.

family in parlor

Wylie Family in Parlor

Parlor Music refers to the genre of popular music that found its heyday in the mid-nineteenth century. With the advent of mass production and the growth of the middle class in the United States, musical instruments, including pianos, became a parlor or living room staple. With this came the production of simple sheet music that could be easily played and sung by amateur performers within their homes. Family members and their guests enjoyed musical concerts and entertainment provided from the comfort of their parlor.

back parlor

Wylie Family Back Parlor (piano to the right)

Musical ability was a key aspect of a lady’s education and signaled quality marriage material. This is evident even in the Wylie Family letters. Maggie Wylie once wrote to her brother John in 1847 on the subject.

“I hope it will come a good long healthy spell and then you can leave Quakerdom for a while and come down and pay us a visit, for it will soon be a year since you were here, and besides I want you to come down and get acquainted with our sweet little Yankee girls, the best at everything that can possibly be found they are most excellent teachers, good musicians, fine housekeepers &c &c &c Only come down and you will have no difficulty at all in choosing a wife. O! it would do your ears good to hear them sing & play They both admire our piano very much, think it a very high brilliant tone. Last week they, with all their scholars, gave, a concert in the college which was most excellent.”

Ladiesatpiano

By the end of the 19th century more complex music, such as Ragtime, came into popularity. This led to more public performances by professional musicians. At this time there was also a decline in the view that music was a sign of accomplishment in women. In the 20th century the invention of phonographs and radio led to a different type of home music. Regional styles were played all over the country and professional performers could be heard on a nationwide scale. In smaller homes, pianos could be considered a waste of space. Radios and phonographs allowed for high quality listening of complex music that could not be replicated easily by amateurs. Sheet music was not necessary for these devices and was quickly replaced by recordings of all genres.

The Wylie House Museum’s Spring Parlor Concert Series takes a step back to what it might have been like to gather as a family in a common space and enjoy music together. Students from the Jacobs School of music perform their favorite pieces to our audience. Attendance is free and open to public. We hope to see you all there: Saturdays, March 28th, Apr. 4th, and April 18th.  Concerts begin at 3:00pm, doors open at 2:30.

Written by Caroline Voisine, Graduate Assistant

Sources

Foy, Jessica H., and Thomas J. Schlereth. “Family Pastimes & Indoor Amusements.” In American Home Life, 1880-1930: A Social History of Spaces and Services. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1992.

Margaret “Maggie” Wylie to brother John Wylie, Richmond, Indiana with a P.S. from JaneWylie Bloomington April 4th 1847 (Found in Affectionately Yours) Wylie House Museum, Indiana University.

Janowski, Diane. “Victorian Pride – History of Parlor Music in America.” Victorian Pride – History of Parlor Music in America. January 1, 2013. Accessed February 3, 2015. http://www.victorianpride.com/history.html.

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