Can You Handle One More Nerdy Activity Post?

My husband and I visit antique malls and flea markets from time to time. He’s got a soda pop memorabilia collection, and I am always on the hunt for a new-old doll.

It’s gotten very difficult to find good signs and dolls in shops–at least out west where we are. Maybe back east they still carry these things in brick-and-mortar buildings. But what we are after has mainly moved to eBay and other internet sources.

The antique stores still have plenty of tchotchkes, especially ceramics of all type. Those don’t make me sad, but there is one ubiquitous offering which depresses me every time. It’s that bin of old sheet music.

They remind me of something nearly vanished from the culture: the active human connection with new music. By active I don’t mean passively buying iTunes for your iPod and plugging in. In an era when many people made music in their own homes, to promote new songs, music publishers hired salespeople/musicians called pluggers to demonstrate the music.

As ancient as I feel, I wasn’t actually around for those days, so my experience stems from watching Judy Garland in In the Good Old Summertime.

You can easily find old sheet music from movies, Broadway shows, popular singers of the day.  Usually, a particular stack has a bias toward a certain type of music.

Deanna Durbin, movie star

Deanna Durbin, movie star

Rudy Vallee First 20th c. pop star

Rudy Vallee
First 20th c. pop star

from the film 42nd Street

from the film 42nd Street

If you’re interested in finding specific vintage sheet music, Duke University has an archive for sheet music from the period 1850-1920.  Here are instructions from their website on ordering reproductions:

For information about obtaining reproductions of items in Duke University’s Sheet Music Collection, please contact the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library.

Please include the Title of the piece and its Call/Reproduction Number in all requests.

Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library
Duke University Box 90185
Durham, North Carolina 27708-0185
Telephone: (919) 660-5822
Fax: (919) 660-5934

For further information, see Contact Information* for the Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, at Duke University.

If you want to learn more about the history of sheet music, there is a great website which explains its longer history, as well as gives an opinion about music stores and pluggers which somewhat disagrees with what is presented in the movie above.


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing prompt

12 responses to “Can You Handle One More Nerdy Activity Post?

  1. We’re all musicians (flute, piano, drums, guitar) in our household, so we have a lot of sheet music. I remember being given a box of sheet music from someone’s estate and was thrilled by digging and playing through it all. On the flip side of nostalgia, I love that I can buy and download sheet music from the internet now relatively cheaply and also get bound collections from the library.

    • lucewriter

      Michelle, that would be so cool to be given that box of sheet music. But, yeah, it’s so nice to be able to buy sheet music you need online today. My daughter is a singer, and when she needs something quickly it’s so great. Plus, you can get it transposed too. But I feel that most of us non-musicians are missing something by not “having” to make our own music.

  2. Gosh, what a thrill to hear Judy Garland this morning. She still means a lot to me, and look how young she is. She used to be much older. Also a thrill to see Deanna Durbin and Rudy Vallee. You have inspired me to fly off to the nearest flea market and finger through the old sheet music.

    • lucewriter

      She means a lot to me, too! Hah, she “used to be much older.” I guess that’s true! I hope you find some great stacks of sheet music!

  3. You have great nerdy posts!

  4. What a cool post.. I too love antiques and such but never thought about sheet music. So many neat things one can collect.. And thanks for the wake up music 🙂

    • lucewriter

      Any time ;). There’s always that stack of sheet music, kind of forgotten, usually on or near the floor. Watch for it next time you’re in an antique store.

  5. I love the ways your interests and personality and passions burst forth from the words you write. It’s always a joy to visit your place.

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