Many of Isabella’s characters played musical instruments, the most common of which was the piano.
Sadie Ried was a talented pianist in Ester Ried, as was Dell Bronson in The King’s Daughter.
Dell’s beloved piano was located “in the little summer parlor,” and she often turned to “her dear piano” for company.
She touched the keys with a sort of tremulous eagerness, and soft, sweet plaintive sounds filled the room.
But a piano was an expensive luxury the majority of Americans could ill afford, despite ads like this one that invited buyers to purchase a piano (or organ) on credit.
For those who could not afford to have a piano in their home, there were plenty of other musical instruments to be had.
Many ladies strummed guitars (Louise Morgan played one in A New Graft on the Family Tree), and some even learned to play banjo.
But one of the most popular musical instruments during Isabella’s lifetime was the autoharp.
Autoharps were extremely affordable—some styles were priced as low at $5.00.
Even better, they were easily portable. They went from home to school, from church to social functions—anywhere musical accompaniment was needed.
Autoharps were relatively easy to learn to play, and thanks to some astute publishing houses, sheet music for the autoharp—from hymns to operas to college songs—was plentiful and affordable.
By 1899 manufacturers began advertising the autoharp as “America’s favorite instrument.”
Autoharps remained popular for decades into the twentieth century. School teachers across the country used autoharps to introduce children to the basic principles of music and singing. And their distinctive sound became a mainstay in early country music recordings.
Have you ever heard an autoharp played before? Have you ever played one yourself? Tell us about it!