Sheet Music of the Week: Commemorating World War I

“The Flag of My Heart and Home.” Words and Music by Ben Aaronson. New York: Patriotic Pub. Co. of America, 1917.

The following is a guest post by Carlos Martinez III, Office of Strategic Initiatives.

The centennial of World War I gives the American public the opportunity to learn about and commemorate the sacrifices of our country’s war heroes. The digital collections of the Library of Congress offer a broad range of materials related to World War I, including photographs, documents, sound recordings, and sheet music. In connection with the anniversary, the Library of Congress plans to digitize additional primary source materials from the period.

I assisted the Office of Strategic Initiatives with several of these projects,  and created records for items in the World War I sheet music collection. The material is contained in 94 archival boxes. Sifting through the boxes, I saw firsthand how war affected sentiments of the time.  Rhyming and alliterative titles like  “The Kaiser Will Be Wiser” and “In Flanders Fields” were popular. This music is a rich set of primary sources that allows teachers and students to learn more about the era by exploring the feelings expressed in the sheet music.

The melodies and stories convey much about the daily existence of the American population during the era. Original sheet music cover art often depicted the country’s feelings of patriotism and pride.  A song called “The Flag of My Heart and Home” includes lyrics like “All those grand old Americans who fought for me and you”.

“We’ll All Do Our Bit.” Words and music by Frederick S. Adams. 1918

Lyrics and titles for many of the song sheets also reflect a strong sense of unity, honoring those who were fighting abroad. The original manuscript “We’ll All Do Our Bit” reveals a unified national commitment to the war effort. The first stanza reads, “Our boys in France wait their chance to fight for freedom’s call.”

This collection is especially distinctive from other institutions’ sheet music collections because the Copyright Office, within the Library of Congress, receives original handwritten manuscripts submitted for copyright deposit. Looking at the original manuscript and comparing it to its final printed version allowed me to see how in many cases the composer changed entire sections of songs prior to publication.

My task of creating simple metadata records was the prelude to the digitization project. The first step in this process was to assign to each piece of sheet music a unique digital object identifier. It’s a small but crucial step,  part of a larger workflow that will enhance access. When the items are scanned and complete catalog records are created,   the collection will be available to anyone interested in viewing the material or playing the music.

As with every digital collection, there are challenges associated with bringing such a large collection online.   Since the sheet music was in fragile and delicate condition,   ensuring proper care of the materials was a must.  Some of the items encountered during the digitization process were ultimately set aside for conservation.

One of the strategic goals of the Library of Congress is to continue to acquire, preserve and provide access to the universal collection of knowledge and the record of America’s creativity. This digitization effort helps to preserve the originals by reducing the need to handle them physically. Through commemorative scanning efforts, such as this, the public will be able to relive the songs and stories of World War I. For more information on World War I, please visit the Library of Congress’ Guide to World War I Materials.

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