1920s music and dancing

Kate over at Will Wally Wonder posted these amazing piano scores that she acquired at a market in Australia.  She is kindly letting me re-post her post, well, because they’re so awesome!  Thanks, Kate!

Keep reading after her post (which is in block quotes) for a little more about 1920s music and dance, plus some Youtube videos of some of the songs mentioned in her post!

Collecting Memories

The Australian Music Book series, c. 1900.

Sounds like the name of a novel doesn’t it? No wait – I should have gone with The Memory Collector. That’s the name of a novel. And if it isn’t, I might copyright it or something – right now – STOP! It’s my title, you can’t have it.

But this post isn’t about books I haven’t written.

Christmas has faded into a happy memory. Over the holidays I was gifted ‘Stardust (by Neil Gaiman) but as soon as I read the blurb I realised I already owned the DVD adaptation. I already loved this book.

But this post isn’t about how slowly I make connections, either.

001-music-stackWith Christmas comes the clean up. Not from Christmas festivities (although, that too) but from the year-long accumulation of stuff in my loft. I always intended to convert the loft into a studio for my writing and arty-crafty faffing about and while I am inhibited by the climate up there – sauna in summer and freezer in winter – it forever remains a depot for random stuff I can’t give up but have nowhere else to place.  Cards, letters, old school memorabilia, old craft projects and school projects can all be found here. I’ve saved boxes for wrapping presents in. I’ve got artwork I can’t find a place to hang. Also up there are a significant amount of  flea market finds I struggle to slot into my home.

This is a difficult thing to explain to the anti-hoarder/my husband.

Also amongst the sheet music, ‘The Etude’ music magazine. Now 101 years old.

Also amongst the sheet music, ‘The Etude’ music magazine. Now 101 years old.

From a market a few years ago I bought a whole box of piano sheet music. I broke my arms getting the collection back to my car but it was wholly compensated by the buzz of joy deep in my chest. The lady who sold it to me asked if I would play it. She’d grinned at my enthusiasm and said, “I’m glad it’s going to a good home”.

I sat on the floor and sorted through it.  While I knew it was a box of music, it was such a delight regrouping the sets, removing the lonely pages and discovering the old music coverpages. I planned to reuse the incomplete music as unconventional wrapping paper. I managed that once – it took me so long to decide which piece to sacrifice I haven’t tried since. I’ve attempted to play some of it, of course, but mostly it’s remained upstairs with its makeshift dividing markers.



Some of the more interesting coverpages. All published in 1926/7.

The owner had written her name on some of the music in fine calligraphy. I surmise she’d inherited the older music which dates from the 1900s but she’d added her own musical tastes to the pile all the way up to the 1960s and undoubtedly played it. It was well thumbed and dog-eared and yellowing. They were all out of order because she probably kept them long after she stopped playing . She probably kept them even when piano-less. A lifetime of music.

I love things relating to pianos, and cover-art of this era. On this basis you could argue I collect music. Maybe I do, maybe I have. But this isn’t just a box of music, it’s also a box of memories – is it so strange that they’re not my own?

The Roaring 20’s are one of my favorite American time periods.  Economic prosperity fostered changes in social roles, allowing greater freedom for young people.  They rebelled against Victorian notions of the older generations, creating a clash of social and moral ideals.  I won’t go into too much detail (I could babble on and on about the social changes of the 1920s), but it really is an exciting historical time period, not only for the social changes, but also for the economic and political changes as well!  With prohibition taking effect in January 1920, young people flocked to illegal speakeasies and other forms of night clubs where advances in music and dance excelled.  Some of these clubs even sponsored dance contests, where new and crazier dances were featured (the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life comes to mind).  The Foxtrot, (which is  the style of dance from the piano scores in her four cover montage), the Charleston, the Baltimore, the Sugar Step, and the Black Bottom all resulted as the music began to change.  Harlem, New York, heralded both new music (jazz) and new dance moves (like the Lindy Hop <a precursor to swing>), featuring African American musicians and dancers.

Below is the music from the scores Kate mentioned above from the 1920s:

Take Your Finger Out of Your Mouth:


Fifty Million French Men Can’t Be Wrong:


How Could Red Riding Hood?  :





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