Roots Salon Halcyon Daze: Songs in the Parlor, Jamie revives a tradition

Feb – March 2023 update

St Brigid’s Salon and Tea

There are two Salons coming up.
Sun Feb 5 at 2 PM
St. Brigid’s Day in Glen Ellyn, IL
Read more here

Sun March 26 at 7 PM
Early Spring Salon at Tre Kronor
Read more here.

Roots Salon Spring Equinox

Report on the Epiphany Salon
Jamie was Salonnière Epiphany Night Jan 8, 2023 at Tre Kronor, and hosted a Salon where writers read their work and the work of others. Jamie opened the evening with a set of songs in a parlor setting.

Songs in the Parlor
By Jamie O’Reilly

Dorothy O’Reilly

My Aunt Dorothy (Dottie) left us in 1987. She gave me her piano when she passed away. It’s a little Yamaha spinet that’s beginning to show its age, but remains a relic to the style of singing I learned from her. Unlike my mother Winfred, a trained soprano, and me, and most of my siblings (who also sang in theaters, concert halls, on radio and in churches) parlor singing, tenderly sung and played on a piano in a living room was the only setting where I heard Aunt Dorothy. The piano bench was full of sheet music reflecting this tradition when I received the piano after her funeral.

This season, I’ve chosen the upstairs room of Tre Kronor Swedish Bistro, and where I sing acoustic parlor song concerts in the tradition of Dottie and my ancestors. John Erickson plays an old Wurlizter upright, Judi Heikes and others will read poetry. There are no microphones. No stage. No fancy lighting. Just a lovely, oak-wood trimmed, resonant room.

Wurlitzer upright

I’ve revived this intimate family salon tradition — begun in the early 1900s just a few miles from the O’Reilly home on Evergreen and Humboldt Blvd — to bring stories of Chicago’s immigrant history, and my love of neighborhoods, to the North Park community, home to Tre Kronor restaurant and its sister store The Sweden Shop.

I’m doing these concerts in part to refuel my love of live music, after the “Covid era,” and to celebrate the joy of the human voice, reflecting on my aural tradition in music and poetry.

Listen to Jamie sing Love’s Sweet Song, in parlor song style

Love’s Sweet Song by J.L. Molloy

Here is a little bit more about the Parlor Music tradition:

“In those days, if a family wanted to hear a popular new song, they would buy the sheet music allowing those able to read music and play an instrument to recreate the most popular compositions of the day in their own homes. As a result, such sheet music hits were dubbed “parlor songs.” (Syncopated Times)

“Throughout the nineteenth century, Americans took great delight in making music together by performing in instrumental and vocal ensembles, and by attending musical soirees, sing-alongs, and other interactive musical events. Families entertained themselves in the home by making music together. Parlor music — that genre of music created primarily for music-making in the home — became very fashionable as increased importance was placed on musical proficiency as a hallmark of good taste and moral reputability. Musical prowess, particularly keyboard playing, was highly prized, and a commonly-held value was that a proper education was incomplete without the study of music. Parlor music repertoire frequently included sentimental songs about romantic and maternal love, odes and tributes to historical figures and leaders of the day, and patriotic songs.” (Library of Congress, Ohio)

Listen to Waltz of the Years, with Jamie and John Erickson, piano
Lily Floeter, flute – John Floeter, bass
Waltz of the Years, song by Eamon Friel


Part of parlor music’s appeal was, it was easy to perform, had simple harmonies, allowed for limited vocal range, and had easily sung intervals.” (Twas Only an Irishman’s Dream)

Jamie’s Parlor Singing – Background
I sang my first parlor songs in the mid 80s, at museums, cultural centers, libraries and for special events. In 1991, Tom and Paul Amandes and I created A Season and a Time, a musical play about my Irish relations in early Chicago, commissioned by the Chicago Historical Society (now the History Museum.) This program led to In Old Chicago, the musical I perform at Chief O’Neill’s Pub.

Nell O’Reilly Tucker at the Socialist Convention 1908

I went on to sing Chicago’s Centenary program for the 1893 World Columbian Exposition, at the Chicago Cultural Center, with a small ensemble playing music in the style of the day.

In the early 2000s, the Irish American Heritage Center commissioned a program of Irish Vaudeville songs for which I performed with a quartet. Musician and historian Paddy Maloney and I gave talks on the history of Irish American popular song.

The subjects of parlor songs often reflected a middle class search for novelty and we sang a fair amount of them, with stereotyped characters on the cover of sheet music. We sang Kosher Kitty Kelly and My Irish Prairie Queen and Rings on Her Fingers, and other quirky, not woke songs.

Jamie on singing Irish Vaudeville

Home Theme
The theme of home and emigration – pride in the homeland — were common in 19th c songs.

Dreams of home, as in Stephen Foster’s Home, Sweet, Home, was one of the all-pervasive themes in European and American songs from the first half of the century. The plight of departed loved ones and those they left behind, particularly in Irish songs, was common. Songs of the departed in their final resting place: the gravesite had special importance in the pre-Civil war Anglo- Irish culture in the early 19th c. Visiting the grave of a loved one promised spiritual insights regarding both the deceased and the living. (Twas Only an Irishman’s Dream)

With our Harvest Home concert Sunday, October 9, we will feature songs of home, of heart and hearth where we lived and loved, of pride of place, cities and towns, of the homefront during wartime, and as a final resting place

Listen to Michael Smith sing Siever’s from Spoon River Anthology

Siever’s by Michael P. Smith, as Jamie will sing in Harvest Home

Jamie, singer and John Erickson, pianist
Judi Cogan Heikes

For the October 9th concert, we’ve expanding the parlor repertoire from 19th c. ballads and songs my relatives sang at the turn of the last century, to include Swedish songs, folk-waltzes, Americana anthems, 50s French pop, WWII blitz songs, art songs, jazz standards and originals from my late partner Michael Smith – whose songs arguably belong in the classic song category.

Songs will be rendered in the parlor-song style in a two-part program in the O’Reilly salon tradition, including poetry and instrumentals.

Among the writers featured will be Carl Sandburg, Zelda Fitzgerald, Muriel Rukeyser, Dora Read Goodale, Gabriela Mistral, Emma Lazarus, Wendell Berry, Shirley Jackson, Edgar Lee Masters, Ruth Comfort Mitchell, Siegfried Sassoon, Tex and Dorothy O’Reilly.

More about the Tre Kronor concert here.

In Old Chicago Oct 20 at Chief O’Neill’s

More about In Old Chicago here.
Jamie & Co bring “In Old Chicago,” back to the pub. With parlor songs, poetry,
soaring anthems, folk-tunes and stories about Chicago at the turn-of-the last century.