Program features music boxes, phonographs and more
Residents listened to Christmas music the way it was played more than 100 years ago at the Carroll County Farm Museum's antique music display on Saturday afternoon.
As part of the Farm Museum's Christmas events lineup, the museum teamed up with Frederick-based musician Gary Schwartz to offer Music Through the Ages, an educational program focused on the history of how people listened to the first recorded music. The display is also open to museum guests from 1 to 4 p.m. today.
"Prior to the age of automation, you would have had to have either played an instrument or have had somebody play one for you," Schwartz said to a group of museum visitors who had joined him in the room where he had set up a collection of music players dating back to the 19th century.
Using a reproduction of a stringed keyboard, called a virginal, from the 1570s, Schwartz first demonstrated the kind of music a person would have heard in parlors and at parties in the 16th and 17th centuries, were they talented enough to play for their guests or wealthy enough to hire a musician to play for them.
"This is how people would entertain themselves," he said, pressing the keys to get a noise that sounded more like a harp than a modern-day keyboard.
Next, he showed the visitors the music boxes that gained popularity in the 19th century, one with metal bird figures that, when the box is wound up, strikes small bells in the box to play a tune.
In the later part of the 19th century, he told visitors, technology was developed that allowed for music listeners to purchase and play recordings on interchangeable metal discs, which look similar to the records of the mid-20th century but incorporated perforations in the disc to produce sound.
Eventually, he said, those machines were replaced by phonographs, with their widely recognizable horns.
For one group of visitors, he played a recording of Gene Autry's Christmas classic "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
"It's really neat," said Susanne Bowers, who had stopped in to see the music display on her way out of the museum. "Of course, I like Gene Autry's 'Rudolph.' It reminds me of being a child."
Schwartz, who offers piano and voice lessons and educational programming under the name Music by the Master, has been interested in the history of how people have listened to music through the years since he was a child.
Although plenty of people learn how to play a musical instrument, far fewer are taught about the history of listening to music, he said.
Often, students who visit his home for instrument lessons have never seen anything like the music boxes, phonographs and metal disc players he keeps on display.
"When students come in and see these, they go, 'Wow,' " he said. "They're enthralled."
Because of their fascination and his own interest in the machines, he said, he makes sure to incorporate a little music history into every instrument lesson he teaches.
"Unfortunately, they don't teach stuff like that in school," he said.
So the opportunity to host the educational program at the Farm Museum, he said, was especially exciting.
The pairing of the music program with the museum's holiday programming, which centers on the theme of the 1822 poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore — commonly known as "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" was a perfect fit, said Stefanie Strosnider, Farm Museum curator.
The museum wanted to focus on American Christmas customs, she said, and music is a major part of that.
"Music is a very important part of parlor tradition," she said. "Especially around Christmas."
Schwartz, who has been collecting old music players for decades, said the connection between Christmas music and the antique machines is undeniable. When he purchased one of his disc players, it came with 11 metal discs of various music. Of those 11, he said, two were recordings of Christmas music.
"Most of the time you hear music boxes, it's always playing Christmas music," he said.
For Linda Cole, who visited the museum Saturday afternoon with her family, including her daughter and granddaughter, that's one of the best things about the holiday season.
"It is such a part of Christmas," she said, adding that she has collected music boxes for years. Every Christmas season, she puts them on display at her house along with the rest of her Christmas decorations, she said.
Finding such a well-maintained collection on Saturday at the Farm Museum on her family's yearly Christmas visit, she said, was a welcome surprise.