50th Conference of the Association of Recorded Sound Collections: Recorded Sound in the Twenty-First Century: Preserving, Collecting, Collaborating, Connecting.

For a few days in May, as spring was just beginning to show its colours in Montreal, I had the pleasure and honour of attending the 50th Association of Recorded Sound Collections’ (ARSC) Conference as well as the pre-conference workshops held from May 10th to the 14th at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.

Indiana University, Bloomington Campus at Night

Indiana University, Bloomington campus at dusk

As reflected in this year’s theme, Recorded Sound in the Twenty-First Century: Preserving, Collecting, Collaborating, Connecting, the conference and workshops brought together industry professionals, librarians, archivists, record collectors and audio enthusiasts to share their knowledge and expertise on a variety of subjects from preservation, restoration, copyright, as well as media and cultural research on a range of musical genres.

The pre-conference workshops served as a primer for the topics which were to be addressed during the week’s conference sessions. Over the course of two busy days, we were invited to participate in a variety of workshops which enabled us to get hands-on experience, as well as an overview of theoretical considerations regarding many aspects of media preservation including phonograph disk playback and digitization, phonograph disc equipment setup and alignment, managing media digitization workflows, open-reel tape machine setup and alignment, open-reel tape playback and digitization, as well as video formats, file types and best practices. These workshops were provided by staff members from MDPI (Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative) at Indiana University and Memnon (a division of Sony, working in partnership with MDPI).

The three-day ARSC conference covered a wide range of topics from historical perspectives on sound recordings to metadata, digitization, emerging technologies, archival practices (from small to large archives, crowd-sourced to institution-based), restoration, preservation and accessibility. A number of the presenters hailed from academic and governmental institutions including the Library of Congress, Indiana University, University of Louisville, Library and Archives Canada, and Rutgers University, as well as a few private firms dealing with media restoration and preservation such as Richard L. Hess Audio Tape Restoration, George Blood Audio, and Meyer Media.

Other highlights from the week included tours of The William and Gayle Cook Music Library at Indiana University, the Archives of Traditional Music (including the Hoagy Carmichael Room), and the MDPI and Memnon facilities.

This year marked the 50th anniversary of ARSC, and, in conjunction with this, a new collective of Women in Recorded Sound was created to unite women working and sharing an interest in recorded sound, whether as archivists, librarians, collectors or general enthusiasts. TWomen in Recorded Soundhe kickoff meeting was held at Nick’s English Hut in Bloomington on Friday, May 13th, and was attended by close to 50 members! This welcome initiative was launched by Maya Lerman, Archivist at American Folklife Center, Library of Congress and Sandy Rodriguez, ‎Digital Special Collections Coordinator, University of Missouri-Kansas City. More information about the Women in Recorded Sound collective is available on the official Twitter page and Facebook group.

A number of social activities were planned during the week, including An Evening at the IU Cinema, also held on Friday the 13th, which was hosted by Rachael Stoeltje (Indiana University) and Matt Barton (Library of Congress). Over the course of the evening, we were treated to a carefully curated selection of films from the IU and LOC vaults. The evening began with Edison “Kinetophone” films from circa 1913. According to Matt Barton, Recorded Sound Curator at the Library of Congress, the Kinetophone films and oversized Edison Blue Amberol cylinders (on which the soundtracks were recorded) were digitized and synchronised before being output to ProRes video for the screening. This impressive restoration was made possible by George Willieman (nitrate film curator at Library of Congress) in collaboration with Gerry Fabris at the Edison site. The evening came to a close (quite appropriately given the date) with a screening of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on pristine Technicolor 35mm film!

In all, the week was rich in both content and presenters and was made even more memorable by the generosity of spirit of ARSC’s members. Not only were they willing to openly share their knowledge and insight, but they were also eager to engage ARSC newbies such as this archivist in conversation and give us a very warm welcome. And for that, I am truly grateful.

Touch Table comes to the Music Library

Touch Table Sign (002)The Library’s newest technology – an Ideum touch table is spending the summer in the Music Library.

The table is showing two exhibitions: complementary audiovisual items for the current John Rea’s Musical Universe exhibition and a carousel of images from Hubert Bédard and Hellmuth Wolff: Visionaries of the Early Keyboard Revival, showcasing organ plans from the Hellmuth Wolff Organ Collection. 

We hope you will stop by and try out the touch table.


Hellmuth Wolff Organ Collection

Over the past few months, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with the Hellmuth Wolff Organ Collection at the Marvin Duchow Music Library. My work involved sorting and describing the various items in the Collection such as organ plans, photographs, and other textual documents associated with the activities of the organ building firm Wolff & Associés.

Hellmuth Wolff (1937-2013) was an important and respected organ builder who took a leading role in the revival of historical organ building practices in North America in the early 1960s. Born in Switzerland, he studied and apprenticed in Europe and the United States before he immigrated to Canada in 1963 to work for the company Casavant Frères in St-Hyacinthe, Quebec. In 1968 he established his own atelier, Wolff & Associés, in Laval, and started a productive and influential career as a builder of historically-informed tracker organs. Between 1968 and 2008, Wolff designed, built, and installed fifty instruments in churches, universities, concert halls, and homes across North America.

Redpath Hall Organ, McGill University, Montreal, PQ: Front and side view with cross section

Redpath Hall Organ, McGill University, Montreal, PQ: Front and side view with cross section

The Collection, which is now located and available for consultation at the Marvin Duchow Music Library, consists of organ plans, pamphlets, concert information, photographs, posters, three-dimensional models, periodicals, and correspondence that document the industriousness of Wolff’s workshop, which was active from 1968 until 2012. Of great importance are the organ plans for nearly all of the fifty organs that Wolff built. These range from preliminary sketches to large-scale drawings, and thus form a unique opportunity to study the development of mechanical organ building in North America. The plans also attest to the mastery of Wolff’s craft, as the art of organ building requires a sophisticated familiarity with several disparate fields such as music history, acoustics, architecture, art history, and engineering. Notable organs that Wolff produced include the beautiful instrument at Redpath Hall on the McGill campus, which was completed in 1981, as well as the instrument at Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria BC, completed in 2006.

Photograph, Redpath Hall organ, McGill University, Montreal, PQ.

Photograph, Redpath Hall organ, McGill University, Montreal, PQ.

My work also involved curating the exhibition “Hubert Bédard and Hellmuth Wolff: Visionaries of the Early Keyboard Revival,” which will be on display at the Marvin Duchow Music Library until December. This exhibit, which was coordinated with Historical Keyboard Society of North America’s annual Conference held at McGill in May, was meant to showcase some of the items in the Hellmuth Wolff Organ Collection. This involved digitizing and reproducing several of the organ plans, as well as choosing photographs, CDs, and pamphlets for the exhibition.

Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC : Drawing of design on the case

Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, BC : Drawing of design on the case

The Hellmuth Wolff Organ Collection provides invaluable insight into the style, construction, and installation of the fifty organs produced by Wolff & Associès over the span of forty years. The Collection is thus an indispensable resource for not only documenting the evolution of Wolff’s style, but also for capturing the activities of a pioneer in the historical keyboard revival and the building of tracker organs in North America.

David Henkelman
Research Assistant

Marvin Duchow Music Library’s Audiovisual Archives Celebrate World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

In celebration of UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage, the Marvin Duchow Music Library’s Audiovisual Archives opened its doors on Monday, October 27, inviting visitors to learn more about its collections and services, as well as its ongoing preservation efforts.

In addition, special guests Gaétan Pilon and Meggie Savard from the Musée des Ondes Emile Berliner provided a wealth of information regarding the museum’s preservation and conservation efforts, while regaling us with stories of Montreal’s unique audio heritage.

Musee des Ondes Emile Berliner Berliner World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

Gaétan Pilon, President, and Meggie Savard, Development Director, from the Musée des Ondres Emile Berliner

As the preservation of unique performances on obsolete formats is of global concern, the McGill Audiovisual Archives plays a vital role in providing continued access to its unique collection for current and future students, teachers and scholars. In order to shed some light on the precariousness of some of these audiovisual formats, visitors were invited to view a display showcasing a sample of audio and video objects of interest.

Here, we see a few items showing various degrees of deterioration: the long-term effects of fingerprints on a shellac 78 disc, the delamination of an aluminum-based lacquered transcription disc, as well as a CD showing signs of “bronzing”, a form of CD rot.

Unstable formats, deteriorating materials, scarcity of playback equipment and parts in addition to qualified repair technicians are but some of the challenges audiovisual archivists are faced with when it comes to preserving content stored on the multitude of formats typically found in their care.

The open door event in celebration of the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage provided us an opportunity to share with our peers, students and faculty the importance of these preservation initiatives as we continue our efforts to ensure the accessibility of our audiovisual collections for generations to come.

Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada Collection

Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada Collection is now preserved in the Marvin Duchow Music Library’s special collections room and is available for consultation. For detailed information about the Collection, please refer to the finding aid on the McGill Music Library website. Certain restrictions apply.

Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada Collection consists of material gathered by former Schulich School of Music Associate Professor of Musicology, Dr. Paul Helmer for his book, Growing with Canada: The Émigré Tradition in Canadian music, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2009. The Collection contains original documentary evidence including interview transcripts and recordings, as well as Dr. Helmer’s notes and drafts for Growing with Canada and copies of primary and secondary sources.

Helmer book

Growing with Canada, jacket cover.

Growing with Canada is an account of the lives and legacy of 121 musicians who emigrated from Europe to Canada between 1933 and 1948.[1] Fleeing racial and political persecution in their home countries, these individuals made a lasting contribution to Canadian music. Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada Collection, then, constitutes an important resource for research in Canadian music culture of the twentieth century. Of particular interest are the interview transcripts described by Robin Elliot, Jean A. Chalmers Chair in Canadian Music at the University of Toronto, as “an invaluable resource of national importance.”[2] The Collection also contains Helmer’s edited transcripts (originally intended to be published in a second volume), audio recordings, and biographical information for each “émigré” musician discussed.

Dr. Helmer’s research files contain many gems for the scholar or the performer interested in Canadian music of the post-war period. As a performing musician, for example, I find Paul Helmer’s diary of notes from his studies with Béla Böszörmenyi-Nagy at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the summer of 1952 particularly fascinating.

Hans Kaufman with "Behind Barbed Wire," 7 March 2001.

Hans Kaufman with “Behind Barbed Wire,” 7 March 2001.

For those interested in the development of post-secondary music education in Canada, there are extensive files on Helmut Blume and Arnold Walter. These two musicians revitalised the Faculties of Music of McGill University and the University of Toronto, respectively, laying the foundation for growth and prosperity in the following decades.

Another important subject broached in Growing with Canada is the internment of “enemy aliens” by the British and Canadian governments during World War II. An unpublished collection of internment camp chronicles by Hans Kaufman entitled “Behind Barbed Wire” sheds light on the lives of internees.

Most importantly, however, the Collection contains the voices of European émigrés who fled racial and political persecution and found a new home in Canada.

The Marvin Duchow Music Library invites those who wish to consult Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada Collection to contact Cynthia Leive, Head Music Librarian.

[1] Helmer uses the word “musician” here “in its widest sense to include not only vocal and instrumental performers, teachers and educators, conductors, and composers, but also music administrators, musicologists, ethnomusicologists, lexicographers, broadcasters, managers and music patrons.” See Paul Helmer, Growing with Canada: The Émigré Tradition in Canadian Music (Montreal-Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press), 4.

[2] Paul Helmer’s Growing with Canada Collection, Box 1, S.1/F.1, i, Marvin Duchow Music Library, McGill University, Montréal, Québec.

Submitted July 28, 2014 by Eric Braley.

Audiovisual Archives: A Room Full of History, Treasures and Curiosities

In my first few weeks as audiovisual archivist at the Marvin Duchow Music Library, I’ve had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with the archives and the vast array of projects that await within; from sorting through stacks of audio/visual material (various tapes, LPs and 78s) and assessing the digitization and dissemination of 10 inch 78 RPM jazz recordings, to planning the ongoing preservation and conservation of our collections. There is much to be done and much to be shared. Being given the keys to the archives is like being granted access to a musical Shangri-la. Discoveries abound and possibilities seem endless, much to this archivist’s delight.

In our trust are some impressive collections including the David Edelberg Handel Collection, the world’s most complete collection of Handel long-playing recordings, as well as the Noel Vallerand Collection of Gustav Mahler and Richard Wagner recordings.

One of the projects we are currently working on involves a unique collection which belonged to the late Ted Comben, head of the jazz department of the much-lamented Sam the Record Man store, formerly located a few short blocks away from the Library on Ste. Catherine Street. Tucked into the one of the shelves among the LPs, was a copy of Mr. Comben’s obituary, paying tribute to this iconic and notoriously acerbic jazz buff.

J J  Johnson - Dial J J  5 (3)

Dial JJ 5,  by J.J. Johnson

Working our way through the collection in order to eventually bring it all to the public’s eyes and ears, we find some top rate jazz LPs such as Thelonius Monk’s Five by Monk by Five issued on Riverside’s Contemporary Series (Thelonius Monk, piano; Thad Jones,  cornet; Charlie Rouse, tenor sax; Sam Jones, bass; Art Taylor, drums) and J.J. Johnson’s  Dial J.J. 5 released on Columbia (J.J. Johnson, trombone; Bobby Jaspar, tenor sax, fl & cl; Tommy Flanagan, piano; Wilbur Little, bass; Elvin Jones, drums).


Part of the fun of going through collections is finding bits and pieces of related material, as well as some choice recordings. Among the great LPs in Mr. Comben’s vast collection were a few quirkier selections such as this gem, from Dr. Samuel J. Hoffman dubbed “Haunting themes for the Theremin… an unforgettable musical experience.”

Hoffman Theremin LP (3)

Music Out of the Moon and Music for Peace of Mind, by Dr. Samuel Hoffman

After an early start as a violinist under the name Hal Hope, Dr. Hoffman (a podiatrist by trade), went on to become an accomplished thereminist, recording on various soundtracks (Spellbound, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World, etc.) as well as releasing three albums under his own name.

This LP features two of these three albums: Music Out of the Moon (1947) with works composed by Harry Revel and arranged by Les Baxter, and Music for Peace of Mind (1950) with works composed by Revel, and arranged by Billy May.

Part lushly-orchestrated lounge jazz, part ethereal mood music, this is the stuff space-aged easy listening dreams are made of. In fact, Music Out of the Moon is reported to have been brought by Neil Armstrong on Apollo 11…

Did you know the Music Library has a theremin expert on staff? David Curtis could tell you more about the history of this unique and historically important early electronic instrument.

Threshold concepts and music information literacy

In 2000 the Association of College and Research Libraries published a document, “Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education,” which quickly became the foundation of 21st-century library instruction. That document is now undergoing a radical revision.

The old standards define “the information literate individual” as someone who can identify when information is required; efficiently locate relevant, high quality information to address this need; and incorporate new information ethically into her own creation. A lengthy checklist of specific practices draw a composite sketch of this individual. To mention only 3 of the over 50 characteristics, the information literate student “confers with instructors and participates in class discussions,” “identifies keywords, synonyms and related terms for the information needed,” and “legally obtains, stores, and disseminates text, data, images, or sounds.”

These standards have been incredibly useful for librarians as they collaborate with faculty to arm students for success in the information age, but as my examples above may suggest, they could also raise obstacles. They are extremely prescriptive and task-oriented. Given the number of habits the information literate student is meant to adopt, the challenge of producing one at the end of 4 years of post-secondary education was well nigh impossible. The concept of information literacy was rigidly contained within its hierarchy of standards, performance indicators, and outcomes.

The proposed new framework, now available in 2 draft sections, takes an entirely different tack. It adopts the pedagogical approach of “threshold concepts.” Threshold concepts are (to quote the glossary found at the end of the 1 draft document) “core or foundational concepts that, once grasped by the learner, create new perspectives and ways of understanding a discipline or challenging knowledge domain.” Instead of dictating a master set of skills that defines the information literate person, the new framework presents 6 fundamental ideas that act as the passage from novice to expert in the understanding of our information environment. These are:

  • Scholarship is a conversation
  • Format as process
  • Research as inquiry
  • Searching is strategic
  • Authority is constructed and contextual
  • Information as commodity (This concept has not yet been released but was mentioned at the recent online consultation held by the chairs of the ACRL task force charged with the revisions, Craig Gibson and Trudi E. Jacobson.)

What’s reassuring is that all these concepts already percolate through the instruction I do at McGill thanks in large part to the exemplary models of my colleagues in the Schulich School of Music faculty. “Scholarship is a conversation” is one of the core principles music students are introduced to in first-year history classes. One of my favourite exercises with students explores threshold concept #2. We brainstorm as many sources of information useful to the music scholar and I shock them with the admission that as a librarian I can see value in all of them. There’s information to be gained from any source – from the shoddiest vanity press publication to the most authoritative peer-reviewed title – it all depends on knowing one’s question, critically evaluating the sources and their relevance to the question, and deploying the evidence in a reasoned way in whatever new creation one produces as a result of the inquiry. i also love exploring the mechanisms (for example, comparing the peer review process with Wikipedia’s “world brain” philosophy) that shape the information we take in daily.

So while the information literacy conversation shifts – for the better I hope – the fundamentals remain surprisingly consistent. I look forward to more conversations on this topic with my colleagues at McGill, across the country (here’s a shout-out to Laura Snyder’s forthcoming presentation on “Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy for Music” at this year’s CAML conference), and internationally through MLA (here’s hoping the Public Services Committee’s plenary proposal on the revised ACRL framework and the future of MLA’s own “Information Literacy Instructional Objectives for Undergraduate Music Students” is accepted…)


Bonne fête Le sacre du printemps

Le sacre sketches by Valentine Gross-Hugo (1913)

Le sacre du printemps sketches by Valentine Gross-Hugo (1913)

Le sacre du printemps, the brilliant, game-changing ballet that sprang from the collective efforts of composer Igor Stravinsky, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky, conductor Pierre Monteux, designer Nicholas Roerich, impresario Sergey Diaghilev and the dancers of Les Ballets russes turns 100 today. At the premiere, the modernist rhythms, harmonies and dance movements brought to life the “primitive,” ritualistic Tableaux de la Russie païenne [Scenes of Pagan Russia] and in the process shocked many and divided public opinion. Today, this seminal work is widely appreciated and universally recognized for its  influence on classical music and dance.

In 1987, the Joffrey Ballet staged the first full revival of the 1913 production turning to the research of dance and design historians Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer to recreate the original choreography, costumes and scenic elements. Two videos in the Music Library’s collection explore their work: Stravinsky and the Ballets russes [DVD 1915] and The search for Nijinsky’s Rite of spring [DVD 1537]. The Mariinsky Theatre staging of the same production is also recommended viewing.

Newcomers to Le sacre may also be entertained by the 2005 BBC film Riot at the Rite and A Riotous Premiere – Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring presented by Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra [DVD 1536 and on the SFSO website].

For the scholar, there are many resources available including Pieter C. Van den Toorn’s Stravinsky and the Rite of spring: the beginnings of a musical language [ML410 S932 V38 1987, ebook version (McGill access only)] and the Stravinsky chapter of Thomas Forrest Kelly’s First nights: five musical premieres [ML63 K44 2000]. Researchers can also arrange to consult the Music Library’s copy of Boosey & Hawkes’ 1969 facsimile edition of the score [ML96.5 S865] and will soon have access to the Centenary edition of Le Sacre du printemps consisting of 3 volumes: the autograph fair copy, the version for piano four hands and a collection of studies entitled Avatar of Modernity.