Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer Internship at the Library of Congress!

As of today, I've completed 2 weeks of a 10 week internship at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I'm working the music division providing bibliographic access, which is a fancy way of saying we take items and add metadata, so people can find the items. The old word for this was cataloging.

The project I've been working on so far is the World War I sheet music collection, a large ongoing project we're trying to get ready for the 100th anniversary of the start of WWI, which happens this August. For the project, the library has been scanning and cataloging 14,000 of pieces of sheet music (about 100 archival boxes) from 1917-1920 for internet consumption. Most of the music came in as copyright deposits, since at the time people had to send in copies of everything they wanted copyrighted (no longer: see this post).

During the very early part of the 20th century,  sheet music was the main form of disseminating popular music. Since recording was not quite cheap and effective yet, amateur musicians would buy the music and play it on their pianos, with themselves or others singing the melody. Occasionally, a traveling vaudeville show might come through town featuring that year's popular tunes, but otherwise people had to reproduce the music on their own.

During the American involvement in WWI (1917-1919), U.S. sheet music had an amazing topical focus on war, and all of this music that anyone copyrighted at the Library of Congress. Most of my work in music analysis has been analyzing just the exemplar or "best" music, but there's something to be said for looking at ALL the music produced in a genre at a time, even the mediocre ones, to see an overall picture. Such as just how many songs Americans wrote about about killing the Kaiser—it's really amazing.

Besides written music, the Library of Congress also has recorded music and other items such as Gerry Mulligan's baritone saxophone, several Stradivariuses, and Fritz Kreisler's violin (a Guarneri). The strangest item: a parachute Danny Kaye used in a movie.

Vocab: melody, baritone saxophone, vaudeville

1 comment:

  1. That project sounds so cool. When my Grandma died we found among her things lots of yellowed and decaying sheet music from the 1910s-1930s, some of it from he mother, and it is a fascinating time capsule of the era.