You can learn to play an instrument at home, and once you do, your social life will improve, you’ll earn more money, and you’ll look like the young debutante pictured on the cover of this 1947 catalog, who manages to be composed and elegant even while playing piano at a dangerous angle in a low cut dress with her arms awkwardly crossed.
The U.S. School of Music was a family-run business from 1897 to 1967 when it was purchased by a New York publishing house. It still serves aspiring musicians today, albeit in a highly modified form…because music and music-making has changed drastically too.
Gone are the days when a piano in the house was an aspirational indicator of social and cultural status. In the 1920s the USM ran one of the most famous mail order advertisements of all time: “They Laughed when I Sat Down at the Piano…but When I Started to Play!”
20 years on from that ad, not much had changed. This multipage brochure and course catalog carefully walked you through the benefits of making music and the process of deciding what to play. You had plenty of time to read and make a carefully considered decision, because you were sitting home alone at night wondering why you didn’t have more friends calling you demanding to come over.
Clearly, it’s because you can’t play the clarinet, joining your piano- and guitar-playing female friends in a band. Oh, the evening fun you could have! Think of the money you could make! For example, consider former USM “student” Lawrence Welk – he learned the accordion and was now a famous dance band leader.
In 1947 USM offered nearly two dozen courses at a cost of just $1 a lesson, a fee which would surely be repaid in pleasure, popularity, and pecuniary gains.
There were no bass or drum courses, even though an upheaval in pop music would soon change music-making drastically.