Oil Shows, Rodeos, and Ufos: A Canadian Prairie Sheet Music Collection

By Luyk, Sean; Leung, Colette | Fontes Artis Musicae, January-March 2016 | Go to article overview

Oil Shows, Rodeos, and Ufos: A Canadian Prairie Sheet Music Collection


Luyk, Sean, Leung, Colette, Fontes Artis Musicae


Often regarded as ephemeral and overlooked as a worthy object of study, sheet music has become increasingly valued for the insight it provides about the time and place in which it was written. Sheet music reveals a wealth of information not only about musical style, but also about the people who enjoyed and collected it. The cover art, advertisements, and lyrical content provide a glimpse into the social and cultural codes of its time of writing. This is especially true in light of the growing availability of digitised sheet music. There are currently over 200 free, subscription, and for-fee digital sheet music collections available on the Web, including the Sheet Music Consortium (SMC), which aims to further increase the accessibility of sheet music through metadata harvesting and linked data initiatives.

Collection History

The Walder G. W. White Sheet Music Collection was generously donated by Walder G. W. White to the University of Alberta Music Library in 2011. Prior to White's donation, the University of Alberta Libraries did not have extensive sheet music holdings. As was the case with many Canadian libraries, the University of Alberta Libraries did not actively collect sheet music, except for the odd item of regional interest, or items which served immediate user needs. As Helmut Kallmann explains, "Canadian libraries did very little to collect Canadian music publications as historical objects. If the music did not serve the needs of their patrons, i.e., if it was not required as music, it received very little attention." (1) White's donation has expanded the scope of the printed music collections at the University of Alberta Libraries considerably in this regard, and focused our attention on collecting rare, unique, and ephemeral items. Thankfully, many Canadian libraries now have extensive sheet music holdings, and there appears to be growing interest in developing these collections further.

One of the most interesting aspects of this collection has been in our close contact with its donor, and the interesting story of how his collection developed. Walder G. W. White (born in 1934), a native Edmontonian, began collecting sheet music in the 1950s. As a child, White learned to play the piano, and in high school took popular music lessons. He played 'Mairzy Doates' in a skit for a Friday concert at University High School, and from then on his interest in popular music grew. White's parents and teachers would bring him a new piece of sheet music every week as he continued learning piano. His ability to play the piano served him well as a student at the University of Alberta, when, for entertainment, fellow members of his fraternity would gather around the piano and sing the latest hit songs. White often found himself as the de facto piano player at these gatherings, and throughout his studies continued to collect sheet music, adding to the collection that he had accumulated throughout high school. Over the years that passed, White visited second-hand stores in cities and small towns throughout the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Manitoba, and along the West Coast of the United States to build his collection. Friends would also donate pieces to him, or acquire them while on trips to other countries on his behalf. White specifically looked for pieces where the music and lyrics were both entirely legible, and would "upgrade" for better copies of pieces in his collection as available. A discerning collector, White excluded any pieces failing to meet his strict criteria for quality. The result is a collection of ephemeral sheet music in remarkably good condition.

Collection Contents

The collection consists of over 6,000 pieces of sheet music from Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Europe, and Australia, including some in languages other than English (French, German, and Spanish pieces). The majority of the items are piano-vocal popular music pieces published between the late 1840s and the 1970s, with the earliest imprint date identified as 1842, and the latest as 1973. …

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