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Learning on the Job

Learning something new is always a special moment.  And in the course of my study of music, I am always learning something. In addition to the fulfillment of satisfying some questions, or following a score as I listen to it, the background of how some pieces of music came to be are sometimes a story unto itself.

I asked my colleagues to tell me what fascinating things they have learned in the course of their daily work life. The good news is there was instant response.  The bad news is I can’t possibly list everything, but I think the details I do present will be interesting.  And one never knows; you could be a contestant on Jeopardy! and these details could make a difference.

For myself, reviewing liner notes from the Smithsonian Folkways Collection always provides a special insight, as well as reviewing articles I choose for one of our magazines, Contemporary Soundtrack.  Alonso Cruz, the Blind Troubador of Oaxaca (DBM 04094) not only introduces our patrons to several Mexican folk songs, it presents a haunting version of La Llorona, (The Weeping Woman.) The story is used to warn children not to venture very close to any river or lake, or La Llorona will drown you as she takes you into the water, replacing two of her children she lost by drowning as an act of revenge upon her husband. It would certainly keep me on dry land.

Another recent discovery was an interview with Bob Dylan, included in the most recent issue of Contemporary Soundtrack. Many journalists have hoped for such a prestigious interview, but Tony Glover, a harmonica player, shows us an intimate look at the early Bob Dylan.  Tony Glover is also known as ‘Little Tony Glover’ and is included in our collection with harmonica instruction,   Blues Harp: an Instruction Method Playing the Blues Harmonica by Tony “Little Sun” Glover available at DBM 00680. How about that?

Katie Rodda has also been inspired to dig deeper into Appalachian folk tunes after reviewing liner notes. But, as a twentieth-century music fan, she has learned more about John Cage and his unique contributions to the American collection. Check out her blog post featuring the piece Organ2/ASLSP (As Slow As Possible) and the “Cage” organ in Germany.

Lindsay Conway now counts Joaquin Rodrigo, composer of the beautiful Concierto de Aranjuez, (BRM35101) as a favorite.  As with many of our inquiries, the request of a patron led her to more information about Rodrigo, and she is now studying his songs for voice and piano, as well as his life story and close relationship with his wife. I also learned that the melancholy second movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez (for guitar) was composed at a time when his wife, Victoria, suffered a miscarriage.

Brian McCurdy provided me with several interesting and contrasting entries, from the popular field to the classic. He learned The Girl from Ipanema was a real person, and she competed on Dancing with the Stars. Earth, Wind, and Fire recorded “September” in one take; I believe it, they are such a great group. And upon his death in 1977, Paul Desmond, the legendary saxophonist who played with Dave Brubeck, donated all of the proceeds from “Take Five” to the American Red Cross. And while I’m sure he knew how they would sound, I am saddened to learn that Richard Strauss never heard a complete performance of “Four Last Songs” in his lifetime.

And much of our continuing education is a result of the Section Head, Dr. Juliette Appold, and her idea of the American Composers and Musicians from A to Z series we have had the pleasure to publish. This comes from Juliette’s keen interest in American music from her time in college. She loved learning and sharing information about George Walker as much as about Charles Atkins. We have enjoyed the challenge of finding and researching American composers and musicians to present to our readers.

Learning is a lifetime commitment; count me in!

You can download the braille scores from BARD, or request copies and other accessible music materials from NLS by calling us at 1-800-424-8567, extension 2, or by emailing us at [email protected]. You can visit our website at any time to learn more about the NLS services and collections available to you.

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