Play it again, Emlen

April 22, 2018



For the Victorians, music was an anchor of sorts. In a time when the world was rapidly changing due to the Industrial Revolution, music offered families a chance to gather in the peace of the home. Creating this nurturing, restful home was a goal for Victorians, and one way to provide this was through small family rituals like singing together in the evenings or listening to a child play a musical instrument.


Music also provided an escape from the stress of everyday life. The world was a tumultuous place in the late 19th century. Although great advances were being made in all areas of science and industry, there was a high price to pay. The streets were noisy with sounds of industry, the air dirty with soot; Victorians saw music as a way to transcend this turmoil and clamor around them.


Music enjoyed a distinctive place in the home. Larger homes had special music rooms devoted entirely to musical pursuits. In the music room, the family displayed their instruments and gave musical performances for one another. We know from oral history interviews that the Physick family had both a baby grand piano (with gold strings!) and an Aeolian player – a type of player piano. Although they did not refer to their parlor as the “music room,” it was where the instruments were kept.


In addition to pianos and organs, harps, guitars, banjos, accordions, harmonicas, mandolins, and zithers were common in Victorian homes. Kazoos, parlor bells, and toy instruments were also available for young children to experiment with.


Music as a pastime grew very popular and soon singing schools were established. Here young ladies and men could go for lessons in reading music, take classes in singing and voice, and learn to play instruments. Some singing masters also traveled throughout the countryside offering their services. By the end of the century, large quantiti