Ideas

brainiac

Old tunes come out of the archives, just in time for Christmas

Sheet Music Plus

This holiday season, what do you give the pianist who has everything? How about the toe-tapping music to “Down at Jasper Johnson’s Jamboree” or the “Sycamore Sapplin’ Rag”?

These are just a few of the pieces now for sale through a collaboration between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and online retailer Sheet Music Plus. Together they’re selling reproductions of more than 400 pieces of largely forgotten sheet music from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The move gives new life to pieces — including selections of ragtime, African-American music, and political and patriotic tunes — that previously had been relegated to the museum’s archives.

“As a general rule these pieces have been hidden and haven’t been available,” says Jenny Silva, the CEO of Sheet Music Plus. She adds that the company’s staff chose pieces that featured interesting musical progressions or had some historical significance. “Our group was most excited about the rag time. A lot of the music has a geographical bent, with titles like the “Texas Steer Rag” and “My Home in the Old Bay State.”

Advertisement

The sale comes about now because of improvements in methods for securing digital files — each piece of sheet music will cost $6.99, can only be viewed on the web, and can only be printed once. The collection is mostly piano music, and many of the pieces feature lavishly illustrated covers. Silva is especially fond of the drawings of flying machines, which feature in a whole little genre of music about the fanciful inventions. For example, there’s “Come Josephine In My Flying Machine (Up She Goes!)” . . . into the great wide Internet.

Kevin Hartnett is a writer in South Carolina. He can be reached at kshartnett18@gmail.com.