Magazine article American Libraries

A Melodious Meeting in Memphis: Music Library Association Annual Meeting

Magazine article American Libraries

A Melodious Meeting in Memphis: Music Library Association Annual Meeting

Article excerpt

The Music Library Association marked its 75th anniversary February 22-25 with a festive meeting held, appropriately, in a city that served as an incubator for many of the nation's most beloved genres of popular music--Memphis, Tennessee.


As one would expect, music permeated the gathering, not only in program topics ranging from digitizing sheet music and using iPods for reserves to Memphis blues and the songs in the Elvis movies, but also in performances by members that included an opening-session chorale that urged attendees (to the tune of "Heartbreak Hotel") to patronize the MLA Store and the closing-night concert by the MLA Big Band--an annual highlight of the association's meetings.

A good chunk of the MLA's 75-year history--as well as its present and future--was on display at the first plenary session, which featured a panel made up of Dena Epstein and Joseph Boonin--both members for more than half a century-mid-career librarian Amanda Maple, and newcomer to the field Michael Duffy.

Epstein, who retired in 1986 after 22 years as assistant music librarian at the University of Chicago, spoke of her struggle to enter the field in the 1930s. Finally she managed to land a job cataloging pre-Civil War African-American music that had been donated to the University of Illinois, which later became her thesis topic.

Boonin interrupted his career as a music librarian at New York Public Library with a 31-year stint in the music-publishing business. Assessing changes in the field, he feels we are moving into an environment where resources are available largely or solely on the Web, and predicts the demise of the CD by 2010.

Maple, music librarian at Pennsylvania State University, concurred, warning that the shift away from ownership will present new access issues. "No matter what kinds of access," she declared, "one of the gifts our profession has given the world is the ability to organize the material for future retrieval."

Duffy, who entered the field at Northern Illinois University in 2002, said that when he taught music in the public schools he found that "the library was drawing me much louder than the classroom." Stressing the need to stay current with communication and digitization technologies, he warned that librarians also need to be aware of and sensitive to patrons' diverse comfort levels with technology.

What's "Shakin'"?

To commemorate its diamond anniversary, the association commissioned a new work by Augusta Read Thomas, composer-in-residence with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. "Shakin'"--envisioned as a tribute to both Elvis Presley and Igor Stravinsky--had its premiere performance by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, which cocommissioned the work, on February 24, during the conference.

At a panel shared with Memphis Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor David Loebel, Thomas discussed the piece and spoke of her creative challenges. Both Thomas and Loebel worked at the music library while students at Northwestern University, and the conductor called his four years there one of the highlights of his college experience, "to the point where I very briefly considered becoming one of you. …

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