Tin Pan Alley Sheet Music Artifact at Tenement Museum

Posted on: April 20th, 2010 at 6:39 am by and

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Two years ago, the Tenement Museum’s curatorial staff and team of architects, conservationists, and contractors were busy excavating and stabilizing the fourth and fifth floors of 97 Orchard Street. Even though the Museum opened its first restored apartment in 1992 and purchased the building in 1996, we didn’t have the money to start renovating the upper two floors until 2007. The building’s last residential tenant left in 1941, and the top four floors were boarded up soon after.

Part of the renovation process includes collecting artifacts that have been left behind. Most of these items are small bits of ephemera relating to daily life, but we take them pretty seriously. After all, we are a museum about daily lives, and most of what we find offers clues to a world that rarely exists in history books.  On the fourth and fifth floors, we found a number of objects behind walls and boarded-up fireplaces, under the floorboards, and sandwiched between layers of linoleum.

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[Photo Credit: Keiko Niwa]

Of particular note was this piece of sheet music, discovered in early 2008. The song title is “(Step By Step, Mile by Mile) I’m Marching Home to You” and was written by Abner Silver, Al Sherman, and Al Lewis. We’re no experts on pop culture in that era, but these three seem to have had hot careers during the Tin Pan Alley heyday in the 1920s and 1930s. Maybe readers know more about these particular songwriters and can help us fill in the gaps.

[audio:http://boweryboogie.com/content/uploads/2010/04/09-Step-By-Step-Mile-By-Mile-Im-Marching-Home-to-You.mp3|titles=09 Step By Step, Mile By Mile (I’m Marching Home to You)]

[Music for sampling purposes]

We do know that music was an extremely popular part of New York’s working-class and immigrant communities. Folks frequented dance and music halls, saloons and restaurants, and even played music at home. According to a New York Times article from 1930, a surprising number of apartment-dwellers had pianos.  In August 1930, when the Tenement House Department initiated an intensive drive to end violations of the 1929 Multiple Dwellings Act, over a thousand citations were issued for blocking fire escapes and party balconies.  The inspectors “found that the radio was so popular that families looked down upon their pianos as ‘white elephants.’ In fact, rather than pay $10 for moving them, the modern New York City family leaves ‘the piano high and dry in the old apartment for the landlord to worry over.’”

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[Photo Credit: Tenement Museum]

It’s quite surprising that tenement dwellers could even fit small pianos into their miniscule apartments.  And here you thought your neighbor with that Les Paul and Marshall stack amped at 11 was a nightmare!

Written by Kate Stober, Tenement Museum

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