Five (and a half) Questions: Loras Schissel, Acquisitions Specialist

Loras Schissel, with a Port Royal Band Book. Photograph by Pat Padua.

In the Muse chatted recently with Senior Acquisitions Specialist Loras Schissel.

What are you working on right now?

I’m putting the final touches on the personal correspondence for the American composer David Diamond, which is neat  because it’s not only David corresponding with other musicians and other New York type people, but he was real thick with writers. So there’s a huge back and forth with him and E. E. Cummings – he set a lot of Cummings songs and such. He also corresponded with Carson McCullers, and there’s a whole bunch of artists and painters and sculptors he was friends with. It’s a real nice look into New York in the 30’s and 40’s  and the whole art scene at that point.

Tell me about your musical interests outside the library.

Everything interests me! Right now I’m working on my concerts [as conductor] for the summer, and those are with the Cleveland Orchestra. My debut concert conducting the Milwaukee Symphony is in June, and that will be a film music concert, leaning towards a lot of John Williams music, because I’ve known John for a long time so it’s nice that I can borrow stuff out of his music library that isn’t published. I have a big concert later this year that will be a challenge to program. The Cleveland Orchestra asked me to do a concert on September 11th as a memorial for the tenth anniversary. How do you program something like that? It has to somehow commemorate what happened but at the same time be somewhat hopeful. People don’t go to a concert just to be sad.  We’re also helping the Sousa family with a family photo album, which is why I’ m standing here talking to you because I was just scanning some pictures for the Sousa family.

What instrument do you play?

Tuba! That was my main instrument in school. Tuba and string bass. But I don’t get much of a chance to play those, even with ensembles that I conduct. If I have a guest conductor, when I ask if I can play along with the tuba section or the string bass section the answer is always a resounding no.

I remember doing an interview with NPR with Thomas Hampson and specifically telling the commentator “Don’t ask me about singing because I’m an instrumentalist.” So on air the guy immediately asked me about singing, with Thomas Hampson right there. I said I can’t help you with this, I’m a tuba player! Tom Hampson said, “Oh you’re a tuba player too?” and we realized that we were both picked to be tuba players in high school because we were both very tall and could walk around with that instrument on our shoulders.

Do you have any favorite item in the Music Division collections?

Well every day is always a gift because you never know. That’s why I come to work everyday. It’s not to get paid. If I had my druthers I’d just spend all day in the stacks,  because you can’t walk by something on the shelf and pick it up and not get something out of it. Whether it’s a copyright deposit torn out of a spiral notebook from some hip-hop singer that wrote down his rap to copyright it, to conducting Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and being able to run downstairs and look at the manuscript full score and being able to see if that’s an F-sharp. So for the intellectually curious I can’t think of a better place to work in the world. I don’t know why more musicians don’t come by here. Interestingly enough, conductors are the hardest people to get to come use our stuff. For some reason they’re not inquisitive types. And players aren’t either. Which is funny. It’s the whole turn around – up until the early twentieth century the most important person musically speaking  was the creative  artist, the composer. But since the twentieth century the most important people have been the re-creative artists – the interpreter.  It’s the fiddler who plays someone else’s piece, it’s the singer who sings a composer’s song. A violinist like Itzhak Perlman makes more money in one evening than a composer makes in a whole year.

I associate you with Sousa because that’s the project we did for the Performing Arts Encyclopedia, but are there  any other collections you’re particularly attached to?

Any of our American composers! I feel lucky to have known most of these people. Morton Gould, who for some people is the guy who wrote the American Salute, but for me he’s the really sweet guy who got me into ASCAP – he was my sponsor. Ned Rorem who is very much alive and is probably one of my closest musical friends.  The film composers too interest me a ton. Knowing David Raksin put me in touch with people like Nicholas Slonimsky and the Zappa crowd.

The Zappa crowd?

You don’t think of Nicholas Slonimsky being part of  it but probably one of Frank’s best musical friends was Nicholas Slonimsky. They could sit down for a whole afternoon and talk about the Second Viennese School. Zappa adored that stuff. Remind me – I have a tape of David Raksin interviewing Frank Zappa and Pierre Boulez together. I knew Boulez. Another reason to come to work every day. And it’s not just working for these people – these people are our friends here. A composer like Aaron Copland used to come by.  [Former Music Division Reference Specialist] Wayne Shirley used to tell the story of seeing a tall guy come into the reading room and go over to the card catalog and thumb through the cards. Wayne finally realized who it was and went over to him and asked “Can I help you Mr. Copland?” He said “No, I was just making sure you had all my stuff.”

7 Comments

  1. Jane Howington
    April 14, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    How marvelous to be a conductor! As a child in the 1950s, I watched Edwin Franko Goldman conduct a band concert on Belle Ilse in Michigan. He had a long beard, erect carriage, and a sense of humor. Big barges were passing the island and blowing their horns. Mr. Goldman halted the band, turned and directed the big boats!

  2. Butch Marshall
    April 22, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Maestro Schissel, you can play tuba in my band any day!

  3. Bill Jeczalik
    March 15, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Greetings from South Florida. You guest conducted twice for our community band, The Symphonic Band of the Palm Beaches, several years ago. You gave great inspiration to our group. We have a different conductor now, and doing very well. symbandpb.com We all would like to hear from you.

  4. stephen halpern Ph.d
    August 25, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    I would like to email Loras John Schlissel to ask him an important questios.

    Steve

  5. Timothy D. Hill
    May 24, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Dear Mr. Schissel,
    I am working with a client who has a copy of the “Stars Spangled Banner”
    It is an exact copy of the 1840 Cist Copy held by the Library of Congress.
    It is on what appears to be parchment.

    Can you offer any assistance?
    Regards Timothy Hill

  6. Clyde Foster
    November 27, 2017 at 2:58 pm

    I have regularly attended your concerts at Blossom over many, many years. I thank you for the excellence of those concerts and the way you conduct yourself (pun intended). Your Armed forces medley is particularly moving. I would suggest an addition. To recognize all those who suffered and died for freedom in our own country, could you not add “We Shall Overcome” or in some way “Lift every Voice and Sing”? This would affirm the ongoing efforts to realize what we celebrate and claim as an ideal. Again, thank you for all that byou do and in such a wonderful way.

  7. D Alan Fowler
    September 11, 2018 at 11:58 am

    Good morning. I am trying to get in touch with Loras Schissel. We met a couple of years ago at a clinic he presented in Georgia and then last December a buddy of mine and I visited with him at the Hilton in Chicago. I recall discussing The Transit of Venus.

    My assistant band director has never been to Washington, and for Fall Break next month, I am bringing him to D.C. along with my 6-year-old.

    I am curious if perhaps we could get to see Loras at the Library of Congress and perhaps if he could have a few minutes to visit. Elijah, my assistant, would love to meet him, and my little girl, Grace, will think it is so cool I know someone who works at the L.O.C.

    I’ve sent him a facebook message but it does not look like he received it.

    Please advise me how to get in touch with him.

    Thank you.

    -Alan

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.