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Shepherding Students from Rice University

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Left to right: Tracy Wu, Jeewon Lee, Charles Halka, Clara Yang, Makiko Hirata.

Earlier this month, the Music Division welcomed five graduate students from The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University for a week-long research experience as they scoured through our collections in hopes of developing a new concert program based on materials only available at the Library of Congress. Tracy Wu (violin), Clara Yang (cello), Makiko Mirata (piano), Jeewon Lee (piano), and Charles Halka (composition) all received an extensive orientation to conducting research in the Music Division (a very different experience from research in a university library). The group researched all week and left DC with plenty of food for thought as they work to develop a new program to perform both at Rice University and in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium next March. Charles Halka, composer and musicologist, will be composing a new work for the program and I had the opportunity to ask Charles about his experience here in the Music Division. Here’s what he had to say:

What were your expectations before arriving at the Library of Congress?

Rice University students Makiko Hirata and Tracy Wu explore the collections on a special tour of the Music Division's stacks.

Our expectations were that we couldn’t possibly grasp the vastness of the Library of Congress’s holdings, and after spending only fours days (or even, hypothetically, four months) we still feel the same way!

Do you know yet what you’re planning to program?

As of right now, here’s the program (in no particular order):

Charles Ives – Piano Trio (violin, cello, and piano)

Rebecca Clarke – Piano Trio

Ruth Crawford Seeger – Diaphonic Suite No. 4 (duo for violin or viola and cello)

Samuel Barber – Souvenirs (piano 4 hands)

Charles Halka – new short piece for violin, cello, and piano 4 hands

And possibly this piece, though we’re not certain yet:

Leonard Bernstein – Scenes from the City of Sin (unpublished early work for piano 4 hands)

What was your favorite discovery or favorite item that you had the opportunity to investigate?

My favorite materials were composers’ correspondence and sketches. Being able to see both words and music written in a composer’s own hand offers a wealth of information about that person’s personality. Bernstein and Copland’s correspondence is very entertaining, especially the doodles in Bernstein’s composition sketchbook during his undergraduate years at Harvard. Oh, and it was a huge ego boost to see Bernstein’s B average grades in counterpoint/harmony:-)

Looking back at your week in the Music Division, how did your experience compare with your initial expectations?

Prior to our visit we had enough time to build up a lot of anticipation and some pretty big expectations, so we were really pleased when these expectations were met and, in most cases, surpassed. The distribution of records among the online catalog, the card catalog, the finding aids, and even the unprocessed collections took some getting used to, but we ended up with a greater appreciation of just how long the Library has been collecting items as well as the difficulty in cataloging such a large and continually expanding collection.

Look for more blog posts about how the Rice students’ program is developing, and – for readers in the DC area – keep in mind their performance in Coolidge Auditorium on Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5, 2011!

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