The following is a guest post by Senior Cataloging Specialist Sharon McKinley.
The Library of Congress has amazing depth in its holdings of sheet music, thanks in large part to Copyright deposits. It’s Showtime is a database of excerpts from operas, musicals and musical revues, films, and more. You’ll find over 18,000 shows and productions dating from the 1690s to the present, containing more than 67,000 songs. They come from all over the world and cover every conceivable topic, portraying the culture and history of their time and place in wonderful ways.
There is a lot of exciting material waiting to be discovered, much of it rare. The database includes early opera excerpts, music published in newspapers, manuscripts, and unpublished film music. There’s an astonishing array of musical styles. Opera composers largely forgotten today put out large quantities of music for popular consumption. We have hits and flops by famed Tin Pan Alley songwriters, and self-published music penned by our relatives and friends. College and other amateur shows were often written by folks who went into fields other than music. Women are well represented, some of them complete unknowns with a talent they used to the greater glory of a school or civic group. The history of immigrants to the United States can be traced here, and there is a wealth of African-American songs and minstrel music, all showing both a proud past and the stereotypes that were prevalent in the past two centuries.
It has been a special joy to discover, along with American music, large numbers of songs from musicals and films produced in Europe between the two World Wars. We have music from countries as diverse as Germany, Azerbaijan, Greece, Indonesia, and Albania.
The one downside: the music has not been digitized. There’s just too much of it! Over time, we hope to start getting it online for your research and enjoyment. But it’s here to be found, so start digging!