Recently on June 9th-10th, I had the pleasure to present some treasures at the recent “Pride in the Library: LGBTQ+ Voices in the Library of Congress Collections” exhibit. This was in the Jefferson Building and there was great interest in what was on display. The attendance record (2,365 visitors over three days) illustrates the level of interest in the exhibit. One of the strongest impressions was the immense loss of creative forces our nation suffered due to the AIDS epidemic, and the history of persecution.
In my immediate vicinity, I was thrilled to stand by an original manuscript of Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland, String Quartet No. 1, op. 25 by Benjamin Britten, and The Hermit Songs by Samuel Barber. The connection between these three treasures is they are the results of commissions for the Library of Congress by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, supporter of twentieth-century composers. Can you imagine life without Appalachian Spring? I don’t even want to think about it. And having Britten’s beautiful manuscript of his string quartet brought home to me how important penmanship and copyists are; there is nothing as beautiful as a pristine, clear manuscript.
And the best connection for me was showing visitors the original score of the first song from Samuel Barber’s The Hermit Songs, then showing them the braille music version NLS Music Section has available for our patrons (BRM 17836.) When I pointed out the table of contents in the braille score, comments ranged from “Wow!” to “Awesome!” So happy to help our visitors make that connection. And the connection went deeper; I informed them that Mrs. Coolidge had commissioned Samuel Barber to compose these songs, and his favorite singer Leontyne Price premiered it with the composer at the piano! This happened in the Coolidge auditorium on the first floor of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
My final encounter brought my experience at the exhibit to a satisfying conclusion. A young lady came by, stopped to look at both print and braille scores, but seemed keen on the braille example. I informed her she could touch it, and she told me that she used to know braille. When I asked her where she had learned it, she told me “my best friend in the 5th grade was blind and she taught me.” That is a beautiful connection.
Recently, I read Willie Nelson’s autobiography “It’s a Long Story.” Willie and his sister Bobbie were raised by their paternal grandparents who were avid amateur musicians. From when they were very young, the Nelson children spent much of their time making music together and singing gospel songs at their church. Willie still cherishes those times […]
We’ve discussed show-tunes, Broadway, and the Great American Songbook on the blog before, but we have yet to talk about perhaps one of the most influential composers of American standards: Irving Berlin, who happens to celebrate his 129th birthday today. Along with penning a few Broadway scores, including the score for Annie Get Your Gun, […]
Everybody knows someone who gets a lot of mileage out of limited knowledge. People with this talent sound like experts and can dominate conversation at a gathering for 10-15 minutes until they have to leave to “refresh their drink” or to “catch up with a friend.” Well, I am here to offer you a chance […]
In honor of Black History Month, this blog post will highlight materials in the music section that are written by or about African American composers. These composers wrote in many styles, including popular, Western classical, jazz, gospel, and more. Here is some music by three Black composers that we have available in our collection. Harry […]
For many music lovers, the end of January brings to mind two birthdays: Mozart’s on the 27th, and Schubert’s on the 31st. Could a composer born between these two giants, end up being overlooked? Perhaps. It was while preparing my blog about the Viking Opera Guide (BRM29585) that I learned that the 29th of January […]
Since we are on a roll talking about BARD, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the new (or newly digitized) titles that we’ve uploaded to BARD over the past few weeks. Talking Books Uncle Dave Macon (DBM03766) This is a look at “Uncle Dave” Macon (also known as “The Dixie Dewdrop) and […]
On this day, over two hundred years ago, a historic concert took place. It was in Vienna, in the middle of the Advent season, and Beethoven needed some money. “But, Beethoven,” you would say, “surely he was doing fine! He is Beethoven! Everyone loves him!” However, in Vienna in 1808, just because everyone loved you […]
While reviewing our file archive, I came upon a letter sent to us in 1989 and experienced a sharp reminder of how our services have advanced in filling requests. At times, I have flashbacks to the pre-internet era and usually shudder. Speedy communication is one of the positives of the medium, it seems to me. […]