The following is a guest post from Agnieszka Zagozdzon, who has been researching American Musical Theater collections in the Performing Arts Reading Room nearly every day for the past six months! We asked Agnes to share more about her project and experience at the Library of Congress in this blog post.
Every researcher in the Performing Arts Reading Room has his or her favorite place at one of the desks. Mine is B 21, because it’s pretty much in the middle of the room and I have a good view at everything that’s going on around me. You can tell from afar – by the jacket and the thick scarf that I wear indoors – that I’m not American; I’m German and even though four months have passed, I’m still not accustomed to the American passion for air conditioning.
I came here because I’m currently writing my doctoral dissertation on the topic of the American Broadway Musical; more specifically, I’m here to examine the different styles in the orchestration of musicals written between 1930 and 1960. There are hardly any books about Broadway orchestration – and none in German – but even if you happen to find one, there are mostly only very broad and superfluous descriptions in it, such as, “Orchestrator A favored a rather classical style with a large string section, whereas orchestrator B was known for his authentic swing sound, using no strings at all.” However, I want to know exactly how these orchestrators worked – what their styles and characteristics were – and that’s why I decided to come to Washington D.C. to the Library of Congress. Nowhere else in the world do you have such a huge collection of orchestrated original scores for musicals. Furthermore, the access for all researchers is open, no matter where they are from!
Lucky for me, all of the librarians and music specialists here are extremely helpful and very, very patient whenever I need something from their vast archives – be it a list of contents of a certain collection or boxes filled with scores. Not to mention: where else could you be working on the original scores of The Sound of Music while Julie Andrews herself walks right past you!
So I sit there every day at desk B 21 and go meticulously through the scores, page by page, and analyze them: how did the orchestrator use the first violins? Are there any saxophones? And if so: what do they play? Apart from that, all sort of additional, interesting and sometimes funny information can be found in these materials – notes from the songwriter to the singer (like e.g. in one of the piano vocal scores from My Fair Lady: “Rex – call Julie immediately.”) or remarks regarding a certain performance style (two of the scores from The Pajama Game are supposed to be played in a “tempo di beer garden” – I really have to investigate this one when I’m back in Germany, in detail).
There is a lot to do and many, many scores to examine – and as always: there’s not enough time. Still, I haven’t given up the hope that one of the librarians might accidently leave some kind of a “master key” lying around somewhere – and then I could also spend the Sundays at the Library and continue my work or just roam through all the archives! But first I would switch off the air conditioning.