What else do you do with music? Well, you can read it and write it, too. Or learn about it, a particular piece or song or genre. Or even analyze it.
The Music Section has traditionally not provided music that is strictly for listening. This is because such music is readily available and accessible to anyone, via radio, CDs, iPods, You Tube, to mention a few. And our mission is, generally, to provide what is not otherwise available to the visually impaired.
The audio catalog that the Music Section used to produce for cassettes (and now cartridges) was called the “Instructional Cassette Recordings Catalog.” The first word in that title, “instructional”, is the key to the character of the audio collection. “Just listening” was not considered instructional. While that can be debated, we have recently inaugurated a practice that combines the best of both worlds.
Thanks to the recent acquisition of a large portion of the Smithsonian Folkways catalog, along with agreements on its use and adaptation by NLS, we have begun to offer music-only titles that were originally on CD (or cassette, or vinyl LP) for which we have also made available the liner notes. Those notes have never been accessible. But by including them, we have indeed made the music instructional.
The liner notes for each title have been narrated and edited into the recordings of the songs. There is an introduction to the set of songs that begins the narration, and each song is preceded by the notes on the song that are contained in the liner notes.
Not only have we added a narration of the notes, we have also converted them to a braille text, which is an exact replica of the printed liner notes. A digital braille file has been included with the audio files of the book, whether downloaded from BARD or on a cartridge, and can be accessed by braille-aware devices. A patron may also request an embossed copy of these notes from the Music Section. An announcement to this effect is made at the beginning of each such audiobook.
For many of the Smithsonian Folkways titles, the liner notes are of significant value, often incorporating field research conducted while gathering the music recordings. The diverse recordings are a treasure chest of our musical heritage, including everything from traditional American folk music to contemporary world music. The often comprehensive liner notes document the musicians and their stories and allow for music appreciation at its best.
All of us in the Music Section are excited about this project and look forward to steadily adding to the titles produced so far. To date, they include A History of Jazz: the New York Scene (DBM03615). It deals with the New York jazz scene from 1910 to the 1940s.
You can also find The Collector’s Paul Robeson (DBM03613), which gathers a cross-section of this political activist and actor’s very broad repertoire, and I Sing Because I’m Happy by Mahalia Jackson (DBM03638). The Mahalia Jackson title includes not only her songs, but also actual interviews with Mahalia from the 1950s.
If folk music is your first love, you have much to anticipate. If it isn’t, be prepared to be seduced into its world.