Tickling the Ivories with Jane

Tickling the Ivories with Jane

pride-and-prejudice-and-pianos1I’m a piano player, but I’m no Jane Fairfax or Georgianna Darcy. I identify with Elizabeth Bennet, who was much more interested in dancing than in practicing the piano.Like Elizabeth, I’ve had someone tell me, in lecture mode ala Lady Catherine de Bourgh, that she would have practiced hours a day if she’d had the chance to take piano lessons as a child. Not me. There were days when I watched “Charlie’s Angels” or “The Brady Bunch” or just stared at the wall instead of playing my Bach. Still, I practiced a few minutes most days, and can play most easy songs and hymns.

Jane Austen was more dedicated to her piano than I was. She practiced every morning before breakfast. According to her neice, Jane played like Anne Elliot, tickling the ivories for the enjoyment of her family. Also, like Anne, she preferred to play fast. Unlike Mary Bennet, Jane shied away from playing or singing in public

Many of the songs she preferred are no longer popular today. Her music collection contained English folksongs, Irish and Scottish airs, music from popular plays, as well as pieces by now-obscure classical composers.Back in Regency England, sheet music was expensive, so she copied a lot of music by hand into the Austen family music books.

The University of Southampton’s Hartley Library owns the Austen Family Music collection today (though I believe it is only part of the collection since I also read that Chawton House Trust owns some of Jane’s music.) Recently, the library began sharing the digital versions online. I thought it might be fun to play some of the music Jane played, so I visited the site. One of the books is labeled with Jane’s name and the first page notes that this book contains “Juvenile Songs & Lessons.”  Below this, it reads, “for young beginners who don’t know enough to practise.” That sounded like something I could handle, so I looked through the book. My pie-in-the sky dream was to make a little video of myself playing Jane’s music. When I finally found a piece that looked like it was indeed for young beginners, I found that it was too difficult to read from my tablet, and when I printed it out, I couldn’t make out the lines of the staff.

So, since I was unable to play any of the music for you today, I’m sharing some youtube versions of tunes Jane kept in her music books. Here are two pieces that are still familiar today:

Robin Adair

O Waly Waly

I’d love to know which Jane Austen character you resemble musically. Perhaps, you’re like Catherine Morland, and you don’t play an instrument at all. Or maybe you’re a Marianne Dashwood, and you love to express your emotions through song. Are you an Emma Woodhouse, who intends to practice but never gets around to it? Or are you more of an Elinor Dashwood with more practical things to occupy your time? Please let us know in the comments which character is most like you.

14 Responses to Tickling the Ivories with Jane

  1. Thank you for sharing the 2 pieces of music. I played the flute, but never applied myself. I played because I liked it so am similar to Elizabeth Bennet, but I am also similar to Catherine Moreland in that I did no keep it up. I do rarely take it out and play…about once every 2 or 3 years.

  2. First, I just want to say your video clips were delightful. My Scottish blood especially enjoyed the bagpipes…men in kilts…be still my heart.

    I still remember my shock and pain when my parents sold my piano…because I would not practice enough or as much as they thought I should. My father’s aspiration for me was that I play at church. His mother and sisters had and he thought his daughter should also. Because I loved the more classical music, my piano teacher said I could not do both as classical music and church music were two different things and it confused me. He wanted me to concentrate on the classic music. I was caught between the two factions. I never played again and that was more than 50 years ago. I don’t know who I would be in the musical lineup of Austen women… as I am no longer proficient. I enjoyed your post.

  3. What a lovely thing to share, and what an interesting post! I too play the piano, though I’m currently between instruments. Moving will do that to you. At one point in my life I was close to being a Georgiana Darcy (sort of) or even a Mary Bennet given that I don’t sing well. But I’m more like Jane in that I don’t like to play for others outside of my family. Maybe when I get a piano again, I’ll go back to being like Anne Elliot, practicing every morning. I hope I can find that discipline again!

    • Aww. I hope you get a piano soon. I know how that feels. Haha. You’re funny about the Mary Bennet. I remember a few college days when my roommates and I would play the piano and belt out the words to Broadway Musicals, so I guess I was once a Mary Bennet also, but I would never have done it at a big party.

  4. I am most like Lady Catherine. In High School I played the clarinet. I enjoy listening to worship music. Thank you for this wonderful post. 🙂

  5. Lady Catharine’s bit about how proficient she would have been is my absolute favorite line from P&P.

    But can we talk about this movie convention of pianists having conversations or flirts with people in the middle of a piece? Jane Austen knew well enough to have Lizzie wait for a pause to ask Darcy if he means to scare her, but in the movies they always just play right along through those conversations. My husband and I tried this for a few times and though he’s a pretty decent pianist, he needs to read while he plays.

    For my own part I’d have been a Jane Fairfax back in the day, but I haven’t quite figured out where to put the rosewood grand marimba, so for me, it’s dancing lately, middle eastern and largely partnerless, since I’ve come to the realization that my husband will not be as enthusiastic about it as I will. So, a different introverted performance-oriented music thing. Funnily, we do manage English country dance together, though.

  6. What a fun post, Rebecca! I love this line, “for young beginners who don’t know enough to practise.” That’s funny. That would have been me. A tried piano, did it for a year, and gave up. Mostly because the teacher said all students had to perform before an audience once a year. When that time came, I quit instead of playing in front of an audience. So, is there a Jane Austen character who is so shy, she gets in her own way? I can’t think of one right now, but there must be . . . Maybe Fanny Price.

    Thank you for the music. It was great 🙂

    • Thanks, Summer. I can relate to not wanting to play in public. I’ll have to go back and read the Mansfield Park piano scenes. I can’t remember how Fanny felt about playing in public. I remember she liked to play by herself though.

  7. I would have to say that when it comes to music, I am part Marianne and part Jane Fairfax. I love to play piano for personal expression and find it to be a very enriching past time. I especially enjoy playing the sheet music from the Austen film adaptations.

  8. I’m definitely a Catherine Morland. I took piano lessons in school many moons ago but never kept it up. I’m sorry now because I did enjoy it at the time. I love music, couldn’t do without it.

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