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Three printed music scores inside wood and glass display case.
Photo of collection items on display in the Coolidge Auditorium lobby on March 14, 2024, for the Sō Percussion concert.

One Student’s Week of Discovery in the Music Division

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The following is a guest blog by Charlotte Stephens, MLS Candidate, University of Kentucky, who spent a week supporting the work of the Library’s Music Division as part of her academic study.

As a master’s student of library science, the Library of Congress has always loomed large for me. The size and scope of the collection, cultural significance, and reputation are immense. There is simply no other institution that compares. So, when I arrived from the University of Kentucky for my Alternative Spring Break program, I had a healthy amount of awe. I spent March 11–15, 2024 working with the Music Division of the Library of Congress and I am pleased to share a bit about my experience with readers of “In the Muse.”

My time at the Library of Congress was every bit as extraordinary as I anticipated. On my very first day, I got to see a letter from Mozart to his sister Nannerl, a manuscript score from the first performance of “Rhapsody in Blue,” a note written by President Lincoln to Francis Maria Scala, Tony Walton’s costume designs from “Anything Goes,” and the piccolo used to first perform Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Image of individual standing behind a table with music scores and photos.
Charlotte Stephens pictured with a collections display prepared for visiting music students on March 15, 2024 (courtesy of Nicholas Brown-Cáceres).

The opportunity to see all these cultural treasures is something I will value for the rest of my life. However, what has stayed with me is the personal connections to history that the Library of Congress is able to provide for visitors. On my first day, I joined a tour of collection materials with a descendant of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. During her lifetime, Coolidge provided steadfast support to musicians and composers, commissioning some of the most significant modern chamber music. Her legacy continues to shape the Library of Congress’s programming—including through use of her carefully designed and acoustically superb Coolidge Auditorium. In addition to being such an iconic and influential figure in American music history, Coolidge was also a beloved matriarch. For her great-grandchild, seeing the items in Coolidge’s collection provides personal meaning as much as cultural significance.

Individual wearing a yellow collared shirt and maroon sweater poses next to a bust of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge.
Ms. Sara Coolidge poses with a bust of her great-grandmother Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge. Hanging on the wall is John Singer Sargent’s charcoal drawing of Mrs. Coolidge. March 14, 2024 (Library of Congress/Shawn Miller).

This helped shape my thoughts for the rest of my week with the Music Division. My primary focus was creating a display for the Live! at the Library concert with Sō Percussion and Dominic “Shodekeh” Talifero. I researched the performers and composers for the concert, their past repertoire, and connections with materials in the Music Division’s collections. I was able to explore just a handful of the remarkable special collections, including the Ella Fitzgerald Collection, the George and Ira Gershwin Collection, and the Seeger Family Collection. We view this material as historically significant, but these items also have great personal meaning and represent the lives of real people to whom we can connect. This resonated with me as I read through a letter from Bobby McFerrin to Leonard Bernstein. After receiving the letter, a reminder was written on the back for Bernstein to follow up with McFerrin with new contact information. Such a relatable reminder helps humanize these great artists.

At the end of a whirlwind week, I am still in awe, this time because of everything I contributed to. I helped show collection materials to the cast of the new feature film (“Shirley”) about Representative Shirley Chisholm starring Oscar-winner Regina King. I walked the stage where Elton John and Bernie Taupin will soon receive the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. And, I created a successful collections display for the Music Division’s concert featuring Sō Percussion and  Shodekeh. Even after these amazing experiences, I keep thinking back to the personal connections. I will treasure the staff who, even as they worked tirelessly to produce incredible events and exhibits, took the time to make me feel welcome. I will hold onto the moments where I connected with Live! At the Library patrons, whether to offer them help or just a friendly face. And, I will remember the emotion of Music Division guests as they uncovered gems of the past. These people are the Library of Congress. I’m honored to have spent a week among them.

To learn more about fellowship and internship opportunities at the Library of Congress, click here.

Additional Resources

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Collection at the Library of Congress
Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress

 

Comments (3)

  1. WONDERFUL!

  2. That is a wonderful blog. Kudos to you and the Library of Congress. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Thanks for your comment, we are glad you enjoyed the blog!

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