Music, song, and dance played as important a part in people’s lives in the past, as they do nowadays. The crucial difference is that the further back you go the more likely it is that the people had to make their own, rather than listening to, or watching others do it for them. Before recorded sound (i.e. about 1900), if you wanted to hear a song or a tune you had to be in the presence of the performer, or make the music yourself.
People sang and whistled all the time – at home, at work, in the pub – and there was plenty of instrumental music around, too. Not everybody was a maestro musician, of course, but a surprising number could knock out a tune on a mouth-organ, concertina, melodeon, or tin whistle, and many homes had a piano. Many ordinary people became very skilled at providing the music that was needed at local level – and those who wished to take it further could join a brass band, choral society, or the parish choir.
Step dancing was common in pubs and homes, but most villages also had the occasional organised dance (or ‘hop’) in the village hall, or schoolroom, and there was always dancing at weddings, harvest homes, and other special occasions.
Tradition played an important part in the local scene, but few communities were completely isolated from the popular culture of the time. People travelled to local fairs (where there were dancing booths), and to local towns (where there were theatres and music halls) and the latest hits and fashions filtered through – even if they took a little while to get there.
SEARCH THE DATABASE FOR: