Identifying the "Mrs." : Self-Published Sheet Music in Canada

Submitted by shawreb on
Rebecca Shaw, Music Archivist

Although there were some efforts in the early 1800s to publish sheet music in Canada, the sheet music publishing industry did not take off until the 1840s. Early Canadian music publishers, including A. & S. Nordheimer (established in Kingston in 1842 and Toronto in 1844), were initially established as music and instrument importers, who expanded their businesses to include music publishing. Later, many of these same companies diversified their businesses further to include piano manufacturing. Nordheimer established their piano factory in 1890.

Front cover of "Mrs. Morrison's Toronto Opera House : Galop" by Friedrich Zikoff (Toronto: A. & S. Nordheimer, n.d.). The image shows the Toronto Opera House on Adelaide Street West with horse-drawn carriages and people riding and walking in the foreground. Mrs. D. Morrison (Charlotte Nickinson Morrison, 1832-1910) opened the theatre on September 21, 1874 and managed it until the end of the 1877-1878 season.

Many of the early Canadian sheet music publishers are represented in our Canadian Sheet Music collection, which contains approximately 4,000 items, over 2,300 of which are digitized. The publication dates range from 1846 to 1933. Here are some quick links, to help you explore the early music publishing industry in Canada (predominantly Toronto) via our sheet music collection:

Note that this list is not exhaustive, and does not include all Canadian sheet music publishers, or even all of those represented in our collection.

Self-publishing music in the 19th and early 20th century

Of course, submitting your music to a publisher was not the only way to distribute your compositions. Amateur female musicians who wrote 1 or 2 pieces often published their own songs and drew their own designs for the front covers. But who were these women? In such cases, the publisher is often identified as "Mrs. so-and-so", with her husband's surname and first initial or full name. Mrs. Morrison (the dedicatee in the Nordheimer example above) is identified as Mrs. D[avid] Morrison. Setting aside the historical, legal, and cultural underpinnings of this particular etiquette, it can present a challenge to the modern researcher when trying to identify who a person was. What follows are three examples of compositions published by "Mrs. so-and-so" and some preliminary information about who they were.

Mrs. David Green

Our Canadian Sheet Music collection includes three self-published songs with music and lyrics by Mrs. David Green: "My Sweet Aloy" (1917); "There's Nobody Just Like my Mother" (1918); and "Take me Back to my Dear Old Childhood" (1919). Although the publisher for each of these songs is listed as Mrs. David Green, she uses her own name (including her maiden name) as the composer and lyricist: Bertie Aiken-Green. She also includes her home address on the sheet music: 44 Proctor Boulevard, Hamilton. The woman, drawn on the front cover of "My Sweet Aloy" may be Bertie herself, but this is not certain.

Cover of "My Sweet Aloy" by Bertie Aiken-Green.

Alberta "Bertie" Aiken and her twin sister Ella Euphemia Aiken were born on July 8, 1873 in Wentworth County, Ontario to Samuel and Lucy (Zimmerman) Aiken. Her parents were farmers in Glanford. She married David Green, an undertaker from Hamilton, on September 30, 1896 in Glanford. They had one son, Caswell Raymond Green (born July 18, 1899), who is listed in the 1921 census as a candy manufacturer, alongside his father. Bertie died in 1924 from breast cancer. From her marriage until her death, she lived at 44 Proctor Boulevard, Hamilton.

Mrs. George W. Loree

"The Garden Here Below" with words by Mrs. Geo. W. Loree and music by Vivian Brooks (Rockwood, n.d.).

"The Garden Here Below" with words by Mrs. George W. Loree and music by Vivian Brooks was self-published by the lyricist, rather than the composer. Mrs. George Loree, or Mary Loree (nee Sunter) wrote the following lyrics:

[Verse 1]
Our influence is surely felt,
No matter where we go,
On landscape clear, or on the veldt,
In the garden here below.

The Master of us one and all,
Is watching what we sow;
The harvest time comes at His call
In the garden here below.

Then careful be to sow no weeds,
And let each other know,
That time is short for sowing seeds,
In the garden here below.

We'll walk by faith and not by sight,
And we will have no woe,
If the Master comes at dead of night
To the garden here below.

[Verse 2]
Let love and kindness be the seeds,
And be careful how we sow,
For tears will water the ugly weeds,
In the garden here below.

Then Master of us one and all,
Is watching what we sow;
The harvest time comes at
His call In the garden here below.

[Chorus repeats]

The text, with its simple gardening allegory, and Christian religious references, was likely influenced by her life experience. Mary Sunter was born into a farming family on May 26, 1864 in Eramosa Township, Ontario to Margaret McIntosh (1834-1913) and William Sunter (1831-1917), who emigrated from Scotland in 1847. She married George Loree, also a farmer from Eramosa Township, on December 25, 1884. They belonged to the Disciples of Christ. Mary passed away on October 13, 1936.

Mrs. C. Farmer

"June Waltz" from Compositions for Piano by Hazel Cornell, published by Mrs. C. Farmer (Toronto, 1919).

Cara Farmer (nee Cutten) was born on April 14, 1857 in Pugwash, Nova Scotia to Emily Black and John Cutten. Her father died in 1865, after which her mother returned to work as a drawing teacher. By the 1881 Canadian census, Cara had moved to London, Ontario where she is listed as a teacher. There, she likely met and married John Hughes Farmer (1859-1928), a graduate of the University of Toronto, a professor of Greek theology, and later Dean of Theology at McMaster University. She was bilingual and taught piano from their house at 750 Bathurst Street (see Might's Greater Toronto City Directory, 1910). She passed away on April 9, 1934.

The sheet music shown above does not contain music written by Cara Farmer, but rather Hazel Cornell, possibly a student of Cara's. The second piece in the collection, "May Day Waltz," was written by her son, Carl Victor Farmer (1894-1988). Another piece of music held in our Sheet Music Collection, "Three piano sketches" by Myrtle Jessiman (Toronto: Empire Music and Travel Club, 1917), is dedicated "to my teacher, Mrs. Cara Farmer". Cara Farmer also held the copyright for these sketches (granted on February 28, 1917), among others. The 1916 Catalog of Copyright Entries from the Library of Congress also lists three pieces by Muriel Watson, Hazel Cornell, and Florence Craig with copyright granted to Cara Farmer.

"Three piano sketches: comprising the select favourites of all nations" by Myrtle Jessiman, dedicated to Mrs. Cara Farmer (Toronto: Empire Music & Travel Club, 1917).

These brief biographical sketches, garnered from census records; birth, marriage, and death certificates; copyright registries; and city directories obviously do not tell the whole story of these women's lives. They merely offer a glimpse at each "Mrs. so-and-so's" identity. If you are in need of a mystery or a puzzle to solve, try your hand at identifying a "Mrs." in our sheet music collection. They are composers, lyricists, publishers, and dedicatees.