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Pic of the Week: Picken Dynasty Begins in Music Division

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The following is a guest post from Music Archivist Chris Hartten.

Laurence Picken. Photograph from Picken Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress.

Laurence Picken (featured at right as our Pic of the Week!) first made his mark in academia as a scientist, but here in the Music Division we remember Picken as an eminent musicologist who spent nearly sixty years studying the musical traditions of East Asia. After making important strides in medicine as an officer-in-charge of a blood transfusion unit during World War II, Picken was invited to travel to China in 1944 on a scientific mission. It was this trip that would lay the foundation for his lasting interest in ancient East Asian music. After over 20 years of continued research and publication on Chinese and Japanese music, Picken changed disciplines and became a professor of Oriental Studies in 1966. Among his many accomplishments in musicology, Picken founded the journal Musica Asiatica.

Picken’s interest in the music of the Chinese Tang and Song dynasties culminated in his publication of the seven-volume Music from the Tang Court (1981-2000). He also wrote extensively on the folk music and instruments of Turkey and the Middle East. The Laurence Picken Papers provides a rich collection of research materials in East Asian music and contains papers, lectures, transcriptions, correspondence, and other documents related to Picken’s work.

Comments (8)

  1. Do you have a copy of a video about L.E.R. Picken and his Tang Dynasty Project? It was called: “On the road to Tang through Cambridge.” It was made by a team, and some members were Drs. Elizabeth Markham and Rembrandt Wolpert.

    • Thanks for your question, Bo. Questions about our collections should be directed to reference librarians via the Ask A Librarian e-mail reference service. You can contact a librarian in the Motion Picture and Television Reading Room using the online form available here:

  2. Some years ago (after Dr L.E.R. Picken’s passing) I heard via the vine
    that the Library of Congress had awarded funds for the continued study and research publication of ancient Chinese music along the line’s of the old Cambridge “Tang Music Project.” Since then I have been disappointed to hear nothing further on the matter.
    I would like to ask: first was such a grant really made? and second, if so what is the current status?

  3. Dear Library of Congress,
    Will you make an item record for the film “On the Road to Tang,” which you helped to fund and apparently hold a copy of in your collection? Searching for this film on the Library of Congress’s online catalog, nothing is found, reference librarians respond saying they know nothing about it, and there is similarly no mention of the film in the finding aid for the Laurence Picken Papers. It’s a truly perplexing situation, one that does not help to further Picken’s aims to make China’s Tang repertoire much better known throughout the world as a treasure of world culture.

    • Dear David,
      Thanks for your comment. Please contact our colleagues in the Moving Image Research Center via the “Ask a Librarian” tool: The Music Division isn’t able to assist with your inquiry.
      Best wishes,
      The “In the Muse” Blog Team (NAB)

  4. Dear Nicholas A. Brown,

    I tried that several years ago. Staff in the division you are referring me to checked, then emailed me to say “We do not own this film.” Later, I spoke to the vice director of the music division of your library and was informed that of course you do own a copy, since your library helped to fund the film. She said she would check into why there is no item record, but apparently that was never done. Will it be, so the public knows the film exists in your collection?

  5. The staff member who confirmed that your library owns a copy of the film is named Jan Lauridsen, and she told me that she was on the library’s staff when the film was produced. She agreed that it was strange that the motion picture division of your library would have told me that they do not own a copy of the film, then said she would work to get to the bottom of this and get back to me. I never heard back and mention of this important film never appeared in the finding aid for the Laurence Picken collection, nor in a library item record.

    • Dear David,
      Thanks for these additional details. We are looking into this and would appreciate it if you could forward any previous messages about the film to concerts [at] We would be happy to correspond with you via email to provide further assistance.

      Best wishes,
      The “In the Muse” Team

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