Case in Point


This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Tin Pan Alley, “Better Late than Never” and the Church

The Biblical Songbook, the American Songbook and the Church

  “Tin Pan Alley” – Ah, the name has a ring and a magic to me that moves my feet to tapping and my tongue to singing. “Tin Pan Alley” is another way of saying “The Great American Songbook.” From time to time, I’ll be here on The World and Everything In It to look at popular American musical creativity and ingenuity — and to talk about that music in the context of the Church.

 That may seem a bit unusual. But stick with me, I hope to make it enjoyable.

Von Tilzer Today I want to go back to about 1900. A man named Monroe Rosenfeld — a songwriter-journalist with the New York Herald Tribune — was doing a series on American popular music and he was interviewing the prominent composer and publisher of popular music, Harry von Tilzer. Von Tilzer’s office was located at 45 West 28th Street in midtown Manhattan.

 During the interview, Rosenfeld heard music from one of von Tilzer’s upright pianos in an adjoining room. Some song-plugger was banging away on the keys. Rosenfeld thought that the playing sounded like noise from the banging of tin pans. That’s because it really was “tinny” music.

 (“Better Late Than Never” by Daniel May and Marc Ferrari) 

 You see, to emulate a sharp, metal sound that was clear and unmuffled, von Tilzer had wrapped the piano strings in paper to give them a distinctive tone. Realizing that almost all the piano music in that vicinity had that same sort of sound, Rosenfeld called 28th Street “Tin Pan Alley” — and that became the title of his famous Herald Tribune series.

 Thus, the name given to American popular music around the turn of the 20th century and for the next few decades.

 By the early years of the 20th century, Americans were humming, singing and playing sentimental ballads or blues or rag tunes written — not by Europeans — but by American composers and lyricists.

 I am an unabashed fan of the music of Tin Pan Alley or the Great American Songbook — that is, American popular music written from about 1900 to about 1960. And I’m particularly interested investigating the Christians, broadly speaking, who contributed to this great musical tradition.

 We’ll talk about more about that in future segments.

 But for the moment…

 This is Bob Case for “Singing in the Shower: The American Songbook and the Church.”


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