When we’re not awarding honors to Knighted former Beatles, we in the Music Division are caretakers of one of the great performing arts archives in the world. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and a lifetime could be spent studying just the online collections in the Performing Arts Encyclopedia (the website formerly known as I Hear America Singing). But then you’d miss the deep catalog available on the Library campus, from a 15th-century manuscript on vellum to back issues of Creem magazine; exhibits in the lobby of the Performing Arts Reading Room; the popular concert series in the Coolidge Auditorium; and, last but far from least, the expertise and enthusiasm of our diverse staff.
You can get a sampling of the breadth of the Music Division’s collections just by taking a look at the calendar – if that calendar happens to be equipped with the birthdays of a wide range of composers. November 24th was the birthday of Scott Joplin, prominently featured in our online Ragtime presentation. November 27th is the birthday of Mabel Wheeler Daniels, featured in our online presentation on American Choral Music. December 4th was the birthday of jazz guitarist Jim Hall, who just this year spoke about his life in music with my fellow blogger Larry Appelbaum – see the webcast here. And last but not least December 16th marked not just the birth of a blog; it was the birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven. The Performing Arts Encyclopedia has dozens of Beethoven-related titles online, from an arrangement of the Petunia Waltz for guitar, the manuscript score for the Jüngling in der Fremde, and a selection of letters in his own hand. You can even listen to his works as performed by the Juilliard String Quartet in our hallowed Coolidge Auditorium.
When I started working on digital projects in the Music Division, my first assignment was on a team preparing materials to be digitized for what would become a presentation of Historic American Sheet Music. This huge collection of mostly piano/vocal arrangements includes early works by Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern, but the best part of working on that material was discovering the colorful art work illustrating forgotten hits of yesteryear: the remarkable graphics could be at times bold, otherworldly, and romantic. Watch this space for highlights from this and other collections.