What is The Parlor Songs Academy?
The Parlor Songs Academy site and domains (.com, .ac) are the primary product of The Parlor Songs Academy, a Tennessee unincorporated Association. The association was established for and is dedicated to the preservation of popular American music and musical culture with the following three primary functions:
1. Preservation of musical manuscripts and related documents
2. Education about the music and musical culture of America
3. A Forum for study and discussion of related issues.
The association is organized exclusively for educational, literary, and scholarly purposes.
We feel it is vital to share these works of art through education and exposition. This is accomplished through articles about the music, composers, lyricists, cover artists, and others who contributed to the early development of American popular music. These articles and essays also address issues of historical perspective and include publication on the World Wide Web, CD-ROM, lectures, books and other forms of information distribution.
We also have added the Academy Store where you can purchase professionally notated reproduction scores (music & lyrics) for any of the public domain songs published on our site. You also can buy CDs of some of our best music as well as some free screensavers. Be sure to check it out.
Germantown, TN 38139
Richard G. Beil
The Parlor Songs Academy
The Story Behind The Collection
The Academy site has its origins in the attics of our homes and
the unwanted trash of other people, We hold a very large personal
collection that makes for one of the largest private collections showcased
on the web.
The original basis for the Parlor Songs concept was Rick's personal collection of old sheet music. For twenty years, the sheet music gathered dust in my parents attic until they brought the collection to me in 1996. On first viewing I was stunned, overwhelmed by the variety of the music and the awesome beauty of the covers. Though these sheets have nominal value as collectors items (some exceptions are quite valuable), I felt that the covers and music needed to be preserved in some way. I then began a project to digitize(scan) the covers and "play" the music through Musical
Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) so as to preserve it and share it with those who
might be interested.
Hence, the ParlorSongs Collection was born and found it's first home on the
web on my personal pages at geocities.
Since January of 1996, I have been sequencing the music
and scanning the covers and now have over 1,600 (as of January, 2012) songs completed.
Over 1,300 of these now are published on our site. The music spans all genres of popular music from around 1865 to the 1950's.
website collection became ParlorSongs.com in the summer of 2002. From then till late 2011 Robert Maine partnered with Rick and helped develop the site layout and coding. In
January of 2012, With a new partner, Richard Beil, The Academy was formed and the Parlor Songs Association, Inc. became parlorsongs.ac, the "ac" being the designation for an
academic site. Rich brought an incredible array of talent and energy to the Association
and his singing and recording production brought our music to a new level of
professionalism. In January of 2013 Rich left us and once again, Rick is handling the
site as he was in the beginning.
Parlor Songs continues to be the premiere on-line magazine about American Popular Music
during the "golden age" of song. We have pioneered the use of musical examples, sheet
music cover images and manuscripts combined with insightful commentary that sets a new
standard for the use of the web as a medium for such an enterprise.
In the years since I started, I have continued to add
to our collection through estate sales and auctions and as a result, I continue
to find fresh material and ideas that will provide you with new entertainment
and educational experiences for quite some time to come.
We are dedicated to the preservation of these works of art and the
music they represent. Our association has been established to help guide the
standards for digital preservation and to acquire and rescue musical manuscripts
that are in danger of being lost to our future.
We have also tried to expand our value as a sheet music study, educational and collectors resource over the years. Our essays and features are carefully researched and
we attempt to make them as accurate as possible. In addition, we have included
some collection guidelines and tips that may help sheet music collectors in
valuing and adding to their collections. You can read all about it in our essay
on collecting sheet music. don't miss it!
The Evolution of Our Technology
Most of the MIDI files were originally created using a CASIO keyboard, my trusty
mouse and the music notation software "Rhapsody" from Passport Designs (who
have since been dissolved). The songs are all General MIDI format. If you have
a wavetable soundcard or are using the Apple Quicktime extension, you will have
a more realistic listening experience and get maximum enjoyment from the collection.
More about that later.
In late 1998, I began a process of re-quantizing and re-tracking all of the
songs to provide for a more realistic performance sound. We obtained the incredibly
powerful software package "Cubase VST" in early 1999 and with that software
are more able to create the nuances of performance that a live performance could
offer. All songs after the February 1999 Featured page were created using Cubase
and many prior to that date have been re-engineered. Also, in late 1998, we
began digitaly recording some of the songs into sound files for distribution
on CD for some of our fans. Since then we have begun producing CDs of some of
the more popular themes and now have completed three collections on CD. For
more information about the CDs, visit our
Our search for newer and better ways to present our music continues and in
August, 2000, we implemented the biggest innovation in presenting our music
since our site began in 1997. The Sibelius Scorch format, a professional notation
software, allows for the creation of a music file that through the use of a
free browser plug-in, displays the music and lyrics of the song as it plays!
The Scorch format is a tremendous advance in the presentation of MIDI generated
music as it allows for a full audio and visual enjoyment of the music. Once
again, we are the first site of our kind to implement this innovative approach.
All of the song scores are faithfully reproduced exactly as written in the
sheet music to preserve the original scoring and sound. We have resisted the
temptation to orchestrate or embellish the music in ways that detract from the
original composer's intent and to ensure a truly genuine Parlor Songs listening
Although most of the MIDI files are voiced for grand piano, some use idiomatic
voices. For example, some of the Tangos such as
"Irresistible" are voiced for Tango Accordian, or listen to
"Nearer My God To Thee" for a full church pipe organ sound. Finally, you
can hear a song written for Hawaiian steel guitar by listening to
Hawaiian Lullaby. For a feast of Hawaiian music, see our December 99 feature.
For more information about getting the most out of your computer's sound, read
Do You Hear What I Hear?
One unfortunate consequence of using MIDI files for the presentation of music on the net is
the wide variety of sound systems installed on PC and Mac systems. Though we have to admit that
Mac systems tend to be more consistent thereby guaranteeing a fairly unifor listening experience,
PC systems vary tremendously.
As we create our music, the volume, balance, stereo stage and dynamics are all carefully set
according to what I hear on MY system and how it sounds to ME. Though General MIDI commands respond in the
same way in all players, the sound quality can vary tremendously. For example, if I add a crescendo
to the music, no matter what sound card you have, you should hear an increase in sound level. On the other hand, if I add in a guitar sound, you may or may not hear something that sounds like a guitar. Though almost all of our music is played for piano, even that can be inconsistent. Some of you may hear a near perfect piano sound while others of you may be hearing a rather unrealistic "electronic" sound that is an imitation of a piano. The range of sound you hear can go from "being there" to a cheesy 1980's electronic game sort of sound.
Let's test that theory right now and see what sort of system you have.The following files were created to sound "exactly" like the instruments listed. Listen to each one and decide if what you hear is "realistic" or not.
Did you hear realistic sounds or were they all similar and without clear definition? If realistic, wonderful, chances are you are hearing our music (and that of other midi music authors) as intended. If not, then maybe there are some things you can do to improve what you hear.
Wavetable vs. FM sound synthesis.
Computers generate MIDI music in one of two basic ways; either the sound card uses what is called FM synthesis, or in newer cards, wavetable technology is used. FM synthesis generates a sound based on a General MIDI instrument sound layout of usually 128 sounds. The sounds are created internally and are approximations of the instrument. Sometimes they sound real, usually they dont.If you have a sound card in your computer that uses only FM synthesis, what you hear now is about the best you will ever hear. If so, we kindly suggest you consider replacing your sound card with a wavetable card, particularly one capable of using sound fonts.
Why wavetable? The FM (Frequency Modulation) synthesis method uses a signal
to modulate the frequency of another signal, and the results sound like arcade
games from the 1970s. Each FM voice needs at least two signal generators, and
the more sophisticated FM systems may use four or six operators per voice. In
general, however, FM synthesis is not as desirable an asset in your sound circuitry
as wavetable synthesis. Technically, wavetable is also a form of synthesis too
but if you want to re-create the sound of an existing instrument or other
sound using a sound card, the easiest way is to make a digital sample and then
modify it to change the pitch. That is how wavetable synthesis works, someone actually records the real instument and from that, generates a wave sample that the sound card can use to recreate the instrument sound. Sample-based synthesis is called wavetable
synthesis because of the way samples are stored and retrieved. If you're buying
a sound board or a sound-enabled system, make sure it has this type of synthesizer.
Sound "fonts" are instrument wave tables if you will, that can be used by your sound card to improve or change the sound of the instruments it synthesizes. Some sound cards use a fixed wavetable to generate sound and the user has no control over how they sound. Others, such as the Soundblaster Live! series offer you the opportunity to change the wavetable references the card uses to generate instrument sounds. The result has been an ability to customize your sound output and generate some exceptionally realistic sounds.
Getting the Most From Our Music.
So, where do we go from here? Our first recommendation, if you are running
a PC is to get a wavetable card that uses sound fonts if you don't already have
one. Even if it does not use sound fonts, it will be an improvement over an
FM synthesis card. Obviously, you enjoy listening to music on-line, otherwise,
you would not be visiting our site and others like it so why not enjoy the music
as it was intended to be heard? If you have a Mac, you really don't need to
do anything except be sure you are using the latest Apple Quicktime extension.
Once you have a wavetable card then you need to find a General Midi sound font
that gives you accurate sounds of instruments. A sound font is a group of wave
samples that can be loaded into the memory of your sound card and used by it
to generate sounds. If you have a Soundblaster Live, one annoying feature to
me is the default to its "environmental" sound. To me, the sound is
still much like FM synthesis and the clarity of instrumental presentation is
poor. Turn that off and stick with your sound fonts. Finding a good General
MIDI sound font is fairly easy. In fact, the ones that usually come with the
sound cards are adequate. I have searched a number of sources and have found
one that I believe gives an excellent overall balance and realism.
Finding a good piano sound font is another question. Reproducing the complex
sound of a piano has been a problem ever since the first recordings. Creating
a good sound font that results in an accurate representation of a piano across
the entire range of the instrument has proven to be a difficult task. I have
tried and listened to several and have settled on one that I use primarily and
another that is a good compromise. The difference of course can boil down to
personal preference. The best overall piano sound font in my opinion, is the
"pianissimum" that can be found at http://space.tin.it/musica/almarzai/sfe.html,
among other sites. A second one that is fairly good is a sample from a Kawai
grand, which can be found at: http://www.hitsquad.com/smm/programs/KawaiStereoGrand/
. I recommend these two fonts and suggest you try them for use with our site
music. When using these, turn off all the "environmental" and other
effects and just enjoy the pure sound of a piano.
One other suggestion we have for you is that you definitely stop listening
to our MIDI files! What? Yes, stop listening to our midi files and listen to
(and see) our music using the Scorch player. All of our music is notated using
Sibelius and with it, you can fully enjoy the music as it was written with all
the lyrics and performance markings. There is no better way to enjoy "midi"
music on the net. We know many of you have not yet downloaded the scorch player
but do yourself a favor and get it right now at the Sibelius
music site. With Scorch you will see everything and as well, will hear more
than you do when you just listen to the midi files. The Scorch files include
all repeats as written, our midi's do not. Rather than devote extra time to
creating midi files, we are putting our energy into doing the best we can with
the Scorch format.
The Next Level.
About external MIDI generators...in progress