Category: Eresources (page 1 of 4)

Meet the Problem Solvers: Peter Laurence, Sound Recording Librarian

What does a Sound Recording Librarian do?

I oversee our library’s sound and visual media collections, which range from early disc recordings over a century old, to newly released digital AV content. My work includes selecting new recordings that support our music department and students, setting priorities for preserving and digitizing our older recordings, answering research questions, and teaching and outreach. I especially enjoy the outreach part, and right now I’m very focused on new ways of making our collections accessible for research.

Do you have a favorite memory from your time in the Music Library?

Having 9th Wonder post photos of our Classic Crates hip hop collection to his Instagram account. We talk a lot about discoverability in libraries these days. That was it!

What project are you most proud of that you’ve worked on in the Music Library?

Our library has a large collection of early Arab and Arab-American 78rpm shellac disc records that was undiscoverable for many years. As of last year, we have catalogued around 550 of these in detail (in Arabic) in our HOLLIS catalog. It was a great collaborative project that succeeded due to the efforts of many others besides me, including three grad students (Farah Zahra, Farah El-Sharif and Faris Casewit) and and their language work over several years, a Middle East colleague in Widener Library (Nada Hussein) who did the initial training, and our own music cataloger (Anne Adams) who prepared the data for the catalog.

What’s your favorite library-related moment in a movie, novel or TV show?

I think I have to pick a song on this one. “Faster Pussycat To The Library!” by Sam Phillips: “If you don’t know what to do, I’ll look it up for you.”

Where do you find comfort and strength in a scary and unknown time?

Harvard offered a wonderful mindfulness and compassion meditation class this summer for library staff called Skills for Inner and Outer Belonging. It made a big difference for me, and I’ve continued this practice for at least 15 minutes in the mornings before work.

Is there a collection at Harvard Library that you’d like to see digitized and made freely available to the world?

It’s tempting to pick one archival collection, but I would have to choose all the rare and still digitally unavailable “commercial” recordings that we have in our recordings collections, especially our Archive of World Music.

Elisha Jewell is seated and holding a recording device. She is facing Peter Laurence, who is also seated. They are both holding vinyl records. There is an open archival box behind them.

Preservation Services intern Elisha Jewell interviews Sound Recording Librarian Peter Laurence about the Classic Crates collection, 2019. Photograph: Catherine Badot-Costello, Book Conservator for Special Collections

Sullivan, Unparalleled Musico

Hardened operetta fans have good reason to feel lucky this Friday the 13th: it is the 169th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Sullivan, whose music put wings on the House of Lords, enchantment in the Vicar’s teapot, and wind in the sails of the Pinafore.  Those who love W.S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan and the fourteen operas they wrote together remain as passionate as they were a century ago, as a glance at Savoynet or the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive will tell you.

Giuseppe and Marco Palmieri. Digital ID: 1610539. New York Public Library

Giuseppe and Marco Palmieri
The Gondoliers
Image courtesy NYPL

Savoy scholarship has recently flowered: the past two years alone have seen The Cambridge Companion to Gilbert and Sullivan, Carolyn Williams’ landmark Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody, Regina B. Oost’s Gilbert and Sullivan: Class and the Savoy Tradition 1875-1896 (a thorough examination of the commodification in, of, and around the operas) and The Japan of Pure Invention, in which Josephine Lee considers the racial implications of The Mikado‘s production history.

Sullivan himself always longed to be appreciated for his serious compositions.  If you wish to explore his depth and range, the Loeb’s record stacks offer recordings of his grand opera Ivanhoe and his cantata The Golden Legend.  Among the Victorians, this setting of Longfellow’s poem of true love, evil and redemption was second in popularity only to Handel’s Messiah.  For more Sullivan without Gilbert, try The Beauty Stone or The Emerald Isle or The Contrabandista.  Or sample his wildly popular parlor songs, including his setting of Kipling’s Boer War appeal “The Absent-Minded Beggar” and the inevitable “Lost Chord.”

If only Sullivan’s entire legacy had had as faithful a guardian and as staunch a promoter as his work with Gilbert did.  For over a hundred years the family-run D’Oyly Carte Opera Company staged the Savoy operas in accordance, as nearly as possible, with Gilbert’s directions, providing an enduring link with the original productions.   Performance styles may have evolved a little: we invite you to compare, say, the 1928 Yeomen of the Guard with the 1958 and 1964 versions, and then hear a non-D’Oyly Carte interpretation, like the 1993 recording with Bryn Terfel and Thomas Allen.  The 1966 taping of The Mikado offers a chance to see John Reed, Kenneth Sandford, and other D’Oyly Carte stars in their prime.  Sadly, rising costs and the Arts Council’s infamous denial of funding caused the D’Oyly Carte to close in 1982, and  it is hard to hold the LP of the company’s final concert without a sigh and a tear in the eye.

If you need a fix right now and cannot make it to the library to hear our G & S discography, Naxos Music Library offers subscribers a variety of goodies while the Internet Archive’s treasure trove (which includes the notorious Groucho Marx Mikado) is available to all.  I cannot let the occasion pass without mentioning With Words and Music, a bizarre but entertaining B movie about a bookie who mounts a comeback for a washed-up troupe of Savoyards.  You imagine a team of desperate screenwriters, robbed of their rest in some dingy, labyrinthine studio basement, cranking out the script at 4 am after discovering a mutual love of melodious topsy-turvydom.  Interesting recordings and sheet music (scroll down for all the Sullivan: they have him under “Arthur” and “Arthur S.” and just “Sullivan” and everything) are free to all at the Library of Congress, as well.   Sullivan did his duty; I have done mine.  Go ye and do yours!

-Sarah Barton

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