There is an assumption in the latter part of the 20th Century that music only became part of everyone's daily life with the invention of recorded sound or earlier, the mass production of certain musical instruments. We, who are so used to turning on a radio, TV, or stereo as part of daily life need to be reminded that mid-19th Century Canada was not a silent world musically. Singing was certainly a part of all religious worship even among the Presbyterians many of whom still regarded the organ as the devil's instrument. Many people played musical instruments - pianos, organs (melodeons or harmoniums), even the saxophone was being accepted in major European orchestras by this time. Most of the instruments we use in orchestras, bands, in popular and professional entertainment had been invented by the 1860s. Music was just being introduced as part of the general school curriculum both in Canada and the United States. The father of public music education in the United States, Lowell Mason, was known to many Canadians as a prolific composer of hymn tunes, religious anthems and as a popularizer of serious classical and romantic composers.
The singing school movement, begun in the United States of America just after the American revolution, had shaped the musical interest and abilities of several generations of English Canadians by the 1860s and there would have been many people in Upper Canada at mid-century who had some musical instruction in singing, reading music, participating as soloists or as members of a quartet or small choir. To be able to sing, play an instrument or dance competently were social skills valued by most of the community at that time.
Music in the Home
At the moment, at Upper Canada Village, we have a piano at the Loucks' farm, one in the Robertson house, and a melodeon recently purchased. We have used on site at various occasions, violins. (fiddles), guitar, bagpipes, flutes of different kinds, bassoon, banjo and baritone horn. These are all representative of a variety of musical instruments that were available to the people of mid-century Canada. The dominant instruments were piano, reed organ, violin (fiddle) and members of the flute family. These are the instruments available for sale and advertised locally. These are the instruments for which there were teachers available. Vocal and instrumental sheet music was sold in most communities and Canada had a thriving industry in the production of music, instruments and books for home entertainment. Often in the evening, after supper or on festive occasions, families and groups gathered around a piano and sang to entertain themselves. Often, the evening's repertoire was wide-ranging and indiscriminate, from sacred to popular, old songs and new ones, American, British and Canadian patriotic songs, minstrel melodies, classical and romantic - the very best and the very worst all mixed together.
Music in the Community
Even when the community came together to entertain itself or to be entertained by members of the outside world, a local concert would present a great variety in musical selections. Often, a local soprano would attempt a religious selection, a sentimental song and an operatic aria - all in the same program. Every person - sometimes unwisely - was encouraged to share his or her musical talent and all were applauded loudly for the effort as well as the result. Men were encouraged to sing patriotic, sentimental or comic songs, singing was considered a "manly art - the emphasis frequently on 'feeling". Music was unashamedly emotional - it was meant to "move" its listener and tears, a flushed cheek, a racing pulse, even spiritual ecstasy were its natural reactions. Although most music was of British, American or German origin, there is evidence that a population whose immediate ancestors were immigrants had its own musical traditions linked to region or ethnic origin -Scottish and Irish songs and dances, German folk songs, French songs and dances, sea and lumbering shanties, Italian love songs - all were part of an individual or regional repertoire. In many generations, the French-Canadians had a tradition of home musical entertainment involving fiddle music, song, step dancing and a genuine folk tradition, especially in the music of the voyageurs or boatmen of the river where singing went on from early morning, when the canoe men picked up their paddles, until sundown. An old voyageur said in 1855, "Fifty songs a day were nothing to me. I could carry, paddle, walk and sing with any men I ever saw... No water, no weather, ever stopped the paddle or the song." (Alexander Ross, The Fur Hunters of the West: London: 1855.)
Also, among the popular amusements such as sleighing, skating, horse-racing, dancing ranked second to none for French-Canadians in the winter as for their English counterparts also. In French Canada, dance tunes were played by the village fiddler and during the latter part of the 19th Century, clarinet and guitar became common. Even when several musicians were available, they played in unison rather than harmony. Most played by ear. Folk dances in Upper Canada were square dances, reels, jigs and hornpipes and in the towns, minuets, waltzes, schottisches, polkas and quadrilles were the favourite dances. No Scot could hold a celebration without the bagpipes. William Dunlop said, "if a Frenchman has a fiddle, sleep ceases to be a necessity of life."
Entertainers from outside the local area were frequent. Many Upper Canadians could clearly remember the excitement of the Jenny Lind tour in 1851 - even though she only gave two Canadian performances -both in Toronto. There were others equally famous and talented - pianists, soloists, The Germanians (an orchestra of Berliners), instrumentalists, - many of European as well as American fame. For the less pretentious, there were travelling minstrel shows, family group entertainers (The Hutchinsons) and other groups of the Mrs. Mumphries variety. These visited the smaller centres of population. Even a Mrs. Mumphries might attempt an operatic aria - however incompetently - as part of her performance. She would also present popular and temperance music with equal gusto and perhaps more success.
Music in the Church
All religious denominations and groups (except for certain Quaker bodies) used music as part of religious worship. The Anglicans of the 1860s were struggling with the introduction of a new hymn book that challenged the supremacy of the. Psalms with two "new" traditions - Latin and Greek hymns of the early Church newly translated into English poetry and the use of canticles and chant as part of the movement towards a more catholic or high church form of liturgical worship with an emphasis on the sacraments. All of this was quite new to Anglicans of the 1860s and they were struggling to adopt musically and not without strife or pain. Many churches were raising funds for the purchase of an organ, or a newer and better organ and books of liturgical music for choirs. Most Anglican churches now had a regular weekly choir practice. Other denominations certainly used hymn singing as part of worship even though the Presbyterians regarded unaccompanied metric psalms as the only proper religious music. If a church lacked an organ, they used what they had: a fiddle or violin, a piano (popular with Baptists) or even wind and string instruments were available. Some churches had a precentor who chose the tunes and sung out the 'lines" where congregations lacked books or music literacy. Music was certainly also part of the Sunday school movement as well as the Temperance movement with or without religious affiliation. Songs were meant to inspire, instruct and often to engage the singer in emotional commitment. Most denominations worked toward the production of an approved hymn book or collection whose theology supported the denominational view - not always an easy task. Often there were several books in use where local congregations were unable to decide. Hymn collections specifically for children or Sunday school use were popular.