Yesterday's home entertainment centre

Huge numbers of pianos were in front parlours through Victorian and Edwardian times and into the 1920s. Central to home and community entertainment, they also stoked the flames of love for courting couples.

Piano in the Parlour is a musical and social history that looks affectionately at a period when pianos were the most cherished domestic possessions in New Zealand and many other countries.

Brought to life by contemporary real-life stories and graphics, Piano in the Parlour recreates a century of home musical culture between the 1820s and 1920s.

Who played and sang? What did they play; where and how did they perform? Who looked after them: the music publishers at home and abroad, entrepreneurs and companies including Charles Begg & Co, the Dresden Piano Co and Auckland's Eady stores that serviced and sold pianos, and the old-time piano teachers.

Pioneers would go to extreme lengths and spend a fortune to put a piano in their homes, as shown in the Oscar-winning film, The Piano, which was set in New Zealand. That was fiction, but similar real-life stories are in this book.

Piano in the Parlour also looks at how and why piano culture declined in the 20th century.

Words and music (with chord symbols) are included for 17 songs commonly played and sung in the piano's heyday: Rule Britannia!, Auld Lang Syne, Home! Sweet Home, Annie Laurie, Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep, Come Home Father, Beautiful Dreamer, I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen, When You and I Were Young Maggie, On the Ball, Love’s Old Sweet Song, The Holy City, Waiting at the Church, Keep the Home Fires Burning, Alexander’s Ragtime Band, Love’s Garden of Roses, Hine e Hine.

Though Piano in the Parlour is set mainly in New Zealand, the piano culture was similar elsewhere in the English-speaking world, particularly in pioneer and post-pioneer societies in the British Commonwealth and the USA.

Beautifully produced hardback edition in full colour

Table of contents: click here to see the table of contents and more pictures.

Index: click here to see the full index.


There are some books that immediately endear themselves to you like a lost labrador. This is one. John MacGibbon takes a theme (the history of the piano, upright and otherwise, in the New Zealand home) and plays an absorbing set of literary variations which combine social history, music and unabashed nostalgia into a nicely packaged excursion through the domestic history of the piano.

Written with a sense of time and place, it would take a hard unmusical heart to resist this book. There's even a selection of music from the Edwardian and Victorian parlour – including that peerless hymn to the benefits of temperance and the evils of alcohol, Come Home, Father.

Who knows, MacGibbon could be launching a new piano age.

Christopher Moore – 'Book of the Week', The Press, Christchurch

I write to congratulate you on Piano in the parlour. It is, really, a very fine coverage of the subject…you’ve drawn on an immense number of sources, and the quality of your illustrations and layout for a book of this kind is really impressive.

George Griffiths, Dunedin musicologist








JOHN MACGIBBON trained in classical piano and graduated to playing keyboards in nightclubs and musical theatre. Still an active pianist, though retired from professional playing, he has written books on Scottish emigrants, war history and the sheep industry. He is also a free-lance writer and book publisher.