Recently on June 9th-10th, I had the pleasure to present some treasures at the recent “Pride in the Library: LGBTQ+ Voices in the Library of Congress Collections” exhibit. This was in the Jefferson Building and there was great interest in what was on display. The attendance record (2,365 visitors over three days) illustrates the level of interest in the exhibit. One of the strongest impressions was the immense loss of creative forces our nation suffered due to the AIDS epidemic, and the history of persecution.
In my immediate vicinity, I was thrilled to stand by an original manuscript of Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland, String Quartet No. 1, op. 25 by Benjamin Britten, and The Hermit Songs by Samuel Barber. The connection between these three treasures is they are the results of commissions for the Library of Congress by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, supporter of twentieth-century composers. Can you imagine life without Appalachian Spring? I don’t even want to think about it. And having Britten’s beautiful manuscript of his string quartet brought home to me how important penmanship and copyists are; there is nothing as beautiful as a pristine, clear manuscript.
And the best connection for me was showing visitors the original score of the first song from Samuel Barber’s The Hermit Songs, then showing them the braille music version NLS Music Section has available for our patrons (BRM 17836.) When I pointed out the table of contents in the braille score, comments ranged from “Wow!” to “Awesome!” So happy to help our visitors make that connection. And the connection went deeper; I informed them that Mrs. Coolidge had commissioned Samuel Barber to compose these songs, and his favorite singer Leontyne Price premiered it with the composer at the piano! This happened in the Coolidge auditorium on the first floor of the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
My final encounter brought my experience at the exhibit to a satisfying conclusion. A young lady came by, stopped to look at both print and braille scores, but seemed keen on the braille example. I informed her she could touch it, and she told me that she used to know braille. When I asked her where she had learned it, she told me “my best friend in the 5th grade was blind and she taught me.” That is a beautiful connection.