Most well-born ladies of the period took up the study of a musical instrument as part of their well-rounded education. The pianoforte was a favorite as the lady might accompany herself singing or might become a sought-after party guest to accompany around-the-piano impromptu group singing which was so popular among all age groups . Lizzie Borden took up the piano as a teenager but in the end abandoned the serious study of music as she felt her playing was inferior. Sister Emma Borden also played, as her school records at Wheaton Female Seminary attest. Andrew Borden had to pay five dollars per term to furnish Emma with a practice instrument. By 1892, even middle class families could afford to own a parlor piano. Different sources list Lizzie’s piano as either a square parlor grand or an upright grand. Considering the decade of her piano playing, a square parlor grand is more likely. These were somewhat large, boxy instruments with thick carved legs.
In 1892, the most popular tune of the time was After the Ball, a waltz by Charles K. Harris. He had written the piece in 1891. According to Wikipedia:
“In the song, an older man tells his niece why he has never married. He saw his sweetheart kissing another man at a ball, and he refused to listen to her explanation. Many years later, after the woman had died, he discovered that the man was her brother.
“After the Ball” became the most successful song of its era which at that time was gauged by the sales of sheet music. In 1892 it sold over two million copies of sheet music. Its total sheet music sales exceed five million copies, making it the best seller in Tin Pan Alley‘s history.”
The song is still familiar to many and is often the last selection played at dances and cotillions.
Did Lizzie amuse herself at the piano on Second Street as an adult? – Most likely she did. She would also have a handsome piano in her parlor at Maplecroft. It’s fun to picture the sisters around the piano at Christmas trying out a few carols and Christmas tunes from the hymnal. Two other huge hits of 1892- The Bowery and Daisy Bell (A Bicycle Built for Two).