Friday, February 8, 2019

Tin Pan Alley

by Kathryn Albright

This will be my last post for Sweet Americana Sweethearts as a regular contributor to the blog.  For this last post, I would like to resurrect one of my earlier posts that had to do with the Grandma's Wedding Quilts Book Set. If you haven't had a chance to read any of the stories, they are delight. The writers here at Sweet Americana Sweethearts, each chose a cousin and then figured out ages and plot-lines for them. What an undertaking for our fearless leader ~ Zina Abbot! She kept us all in line.

While most of the heroes and heroines of the book set lived in the west, my particular heroine grew up in the east. Here are some of the "behind the scenes" of Gloria's Song.

What do the famous songwriters Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin, Oscar Hammerstein II, George M. Cohen, Cole Port, Jerome Kern, and Scott Joplin all have in common with the hero in Gloria's Song?

They all found their way to Tin Pan Alley during their musical careers.

Tin Pan Alley, NYC (Wikimedia CC)
Now days, music popularity is determined by how many times a song is streamed from the internet. Back before CDs and vinyl records, a songs popularity was determined by how many sheet music copies it sold.  From 1880 until 1953, Tin Pan Alley was the absolute center of the sheet music publishing industry in New York City. It was located on West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan.

When vaudeville singers would perform in NYC, they would often stop by Tin Pan Alley to find new songs for their acts. Musicians, Broadway singers, songwriters, and song pluggers found their way to Tin Pan Alley. Song pluggers were pianists and singers who were hired by the publishing company to familiarize the public with new songs and hopefully make the song a hit. George Gershwin got his start as a song plugger.

Gloria's Song is set in 1889. At that time, the popular songs coming out of Tin Pan Alley were ballads or comic novelty songs. These are the types of songs Colin McDougal, my character was trying to write. "Where Did You Get That Hat?" was a popular song of the day and one that I mention in my story.

Colin McDougal helps manage a tavern in a small town along the Potomac River. He has a knack for playing the piano and can play a tune easily after only hearing it once. He brings in a lot of business to his family-owned tavern, but secretly he hopes that one day, one of the songs he composes, will make it big on Tin Pan Alley.

At the same time, the growing piano-making industry likely gave song publishers a boost in sales. Several large furniture factories moved into the piano-making business and suddenly upright grand pianos became affordable for the middle class. It became the epitome of "class" to have a piano in your home and if you had a daughter, for her to learn to play.

Gloria, in my story, is such a daughter from the upper class. Outside of Tin Pan Alley, the popularity of classics and romantic music continued strong. Romantic composers wrote between 1815 and 1910. I envisioned some fun scenes between Gloria and Colin that incorporated their clash of music types.

One last thing that sparked my interest in writing Gloria's Song...  As some of you may know, I dedicated this book to my mother and I set the story on the Potomac River where my mother's family originates. My mother took years and  years of piano lessons and is a marvelous pianist, yet she has often remarked how her sister can sit right down and play anything at all simply by sight-reading it. To be able to "sight-read" something means that you can play it quite well without any practice. That was the seed of the idea for my story, Gloria's Song.

And now you know!

* * * * * * * * * 

I have loved being a part of this amazing group of women writers and I have learned so much
 from reading their posts! It was our love of writing and love of American history
that brought us together and I will forever be grateful for my time here. I wish all the authors
 and all the readers here a wonderful 2019 filled with sweet happy-ever-afters!


Gloria Palmer has always done the proper thing expected of her as the daughter of a shipping tycoon. The approval of her family and friends mean everything. And yet, when the perfect suitor offers for her… she hesitates.

Colin McDougal has little use for those living on the fancy side of the trolley tracks. He’s too busy managing the family pub and, in his spare time, writing down the lively tunes in his head. So, when Miss Palmer asks for his help to prepare for a music audition, he is flummoxed. What does he know of highbrow music?

But with each practice session, their feelings for each other grow. When it comes time for Gloria to make a choice between what is proper and what she desires, will she realize that if music can cross class lines—and the trolley tracks in town—perhaps it can also harmonize two hearts.* * * * * * * * *
You can find Gloria's Song in ebook and paperback HERE and all the other wonderful stories of Grandmother's Wedding Quilts HERE.

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