This weekend I attended a fantastic performance of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue performed by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Before the concert, the conductor explained a little bit about the piece and about the life of George Gershwin. Gershwin, who died young at the age of 38 of a brain tumor, got his start as a “song plugger” in New York City in the early 1900’s. I was a little unclear about what a “song plugger” was, so my grandparents (and Wikipedia) had to explain. Evidentally, in New York City, from about 1885 to 1930, there was an area of the city called “Tin Pan Alley” where stores selling sheet music would hire “song pluggers” to sit near the window and play songs in an effort to get people to buy their sheet music. Before radio and television (and iTunes) one way that people would find new music is by buying sheet music and playing it on the piano at home. The name “Tin Pan Alley” is somewhat of a mystery, but what was surprising to me is that it was located on 28th street between 5th and 6th avenue, an area that is only 5 blocks from my office that I have walked by dozens of times. I had never syspected that the area just above the Flat Iron building had such historical significance, nor have I ever noticed the worn bronze plaque which stands in silent comemeration.
People are still alive today who visited Tin Pan Alley. I would guess that not many of them are using iTunes or MySpace, but it is amazing how much things have changed even within a single lifetime. I wonder what is in store for the music industy. When I tell my grandchildren about casset tapes and CD’s, will they be as amazed as I am now at how much technology has changed?