When not being used in the Lewis Gallery, our nineteenth-century vitrines (glass display cases) are hosting displays from our collection in the Main Library Lower Level – Information Desk area. Our first display, on view now through November, is a selection of sheet music from the Portland Room Archives.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century musical life revolved around the family piano, and sheet music was provided for home performing mostly from publishers in New York’s Tin Pan Alley. But most large cities had their own small music publishers (who were usually instrument and sheet music sellers) and many songwriters would publish with local firms or simply publish their own works.
Portland could boast several such publishers, including the Paine family, whose most distinguished member, John Knowles Paine, was Harvard’s first Professor of Music. J.K.’s father Jacob and uncle William sold instruments and music at 113 Middle Street. The Paines published many of the compositions of Hermann Kotzschmar, the leading Portland musician of the period. Cressey and Allen had a music shop at 566 Congress Street; Cressey was also a composer and published many of his own pieces.
Many of the compositions featured in our exhibit were on local subjects: dance pieces named for Portland landmarks: the Forest City Polka, the Diamond Cove Waltz, and others in that vein. Others were hymns to local pride: Somewhere in Maine, Down in Maine. Patriotic compositions were standbys of the home music collection, and we have several from the Civil War to World War II.
We’ve included two items published “away”. The first, Kathleen Mavourneen, was a sentimental pseudo-Irish ballad popularized by tenor John McCormick. It was written by Frederick Nicholls Crouch, an English musician who lived and taught in Portland until his secessionist leanings made him unpopular in 1861; he joined a Virginia regiment as a trumpeter. The other New York publication is perhaps the most familiar college song of the 1920s, Rudy Vallee’s Maine Stein Song.
We hope that local music lovers, local history buffs, and everybody else will stop by the lower level and see this exhibit!