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Five Questions with James Wintle, Reference Librarian, Performing Arts Reading Room

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This post was written by James Wintle of the Library of Congress.

James Wintle
James Wintle

Describe what you do at the Library of Congress and the materials you work with.

I work as a music reference librarian in the Performing Arts Reading Room. I help patrons both in person and online who have questions about the Music collections at the Library of Congress. The Music Division holdings include approximately 22 million items. Some are housed in archival collections and others are individually cataloged.

Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?

Letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart, March 3, 1770
Letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart, March 3, 1770

My favorite item in the Music Division is a letter from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to his sister Maria Anna Mozart (affectionately called ‘Nannerl’) written on March 3rd 1770. In this letter, the young Mozart describes his most recent stay in Milan, giving accounts of beautiful entertainments and lavish costumes in great detail. This letter, which seems to have been written by a surprisingly urbane fourteen-year-old boy, concludes with a postscript asking his sister to kiss their mother for him 1,000,000,000 (one billion) times. It shows the child inside the genius who despite his talent and sophistication was still just a young boy who missed his mother.

Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.

One of the biggest reasons I love working at the Library of Congress is that my curiosity is sparked on a daily basis. Most recently, I have been fascinated by the music manuscripts of the early American composer Anthony Philip Heinrich (1781-1861). He was one of the first professional composers in the United States and was known as the “Beethoven of America.” He gave his compositions very evocative titles and one in particular sparked my curiosity. It is a symphonic piece titled “The Ornithological Combat of Kings, or the Condor of the Andes and the Eagle of the Cordilleras” (1847). On further investigation, I found that Heinrich had become very close friends with John James Audubon, who had a major influence on him and how he thought about nature and its relationship to music. They were such good friends, in fact, that Heinrich was buried in the Audubon family vault in New Trinity cemetery in New York.

Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.

I always have a good time in the summer when I am able to represent the Music Division at the Library’s Summer Teacher Institute Open House. I especially enjoy helping non-music teachers find ways to incorporate music into their lesson plans. On one occasion, a science teacher was preparing a unit on environmental conservation and I was able to point her toward “Woodman, spare that tree” from 1837, which was the first American environmental song, written much earlier than she had imagined. She loved it and drew a cartoon that showed our interaction with her mind exploding in the last frame. It was cute.

What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you work with or the collections in general?

The main thing I would like to tell teachers about the Music Division is that there is something for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a music teacher or a music listener or someone who can’t carry a tune in a bucket, the Music Division has resources that can enliven your classes and engage your students. A great way to reinvigorate your classroom, especially in the STEM fields, is to relate it to the arts! The reference staff in the Performing Arts Reading Room will be happy to help you come up with ideas or realize your own!




  1. Este excelente trabajador de la Biblioteca del Congreso me trae recuerdos al prestigioso director de la Biblioteca Municipal de Arequipa, Perú, y notabilísimo poeta,César Atahualpa Rodríguez, quien siendo yo muy niño me orientó a leer EL TESORO DE LA JUVENTUD, gran colección de 20 tomos, cuna de mis conocimientos primarios sobre la cultura y la historia de la humanidad, la tierra y del Universo. Sabio casi primer maestro de mi vida a quien siempre le estaré muy agradecido.

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