By the late 19th century, Lithuanian communities in the US had founded choirs, choruses, orchestras, and music societies as well as record companies that produced and distributed recordings of Lithuanian performers. Recordings in the US pre-date those in Lithuania itself and reflect the myriad avenues and social spheres in which the immigrants lived. The music drew on well-known Lithuanian composers and folk music but included new work created in the US. The Mahanojaus Lietuviška Mainerių Orkestra (The Mahanoy Lithuanian Miners’ Orchestra), founded in the coal mining regions of Pennsylvania, recorded under the Columbia Records label and specialized in folk music. The first Lithuanian chorus was established in 1885 in the parish of St. Casimir in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The first orchestras were in Shenandoah and Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania and were made up of fourteen and twelve musicians respectively.
Researchers have documented the wide use of music rolls for pianolas in the Lithuanian American community. Through the early 20th century, these rolls provided music in the everyday life of immigrants. The rolls varied in genre and were sold only in the United States. For a household, the big investment was the pianola itself which could play the rolls and serve as a regular piano.
The Museum’s collections of piano rolls were produced between 1916 and 1934 and include unique and rare samples. According to music scholars, the Museum’s holdings are the largest collection of the Lithuanian music rolls in existence.
Owning a piano that used music rolls enabled the owner to play a wide assortment of music without knowing how to play an instrument. Music rolls consist of a continuous sheet of paper rolled on to a spool. The spool fits into the player piano spool box and the free end of the music sheet is hooked onto the take-up spool which unwinds the roll at an even pace across the reading mechanism (the “tracker bar”). The music score to be played is programmed onto the paper by means of perforations.