Saturday, October 08, 2005

Good Morning Baltimore!

Yesterday I attended the Music Library Association, Atlantic Chapter meeting (ATMLA) at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. I'm very glad my employer allowed me to go during my first week of work. I was a member of this chapter when I worked at WETA, and went to their meetings in Charlottesville and College Park. The weather wasn't great--it rained most of the time. But there were some very interesting sessions (which I'll talk about), a detailed tour, and a big dinner afterwards at a great upscale place called The Brewer's Art.

I think it's important that I keep going to MLA conferences, even though the job I'm in right now isn't directly related to the field. I have been trained as a music librarian, and it's important to keep up the contacts and my knowledge. One of the things I like about regional chapter meetings is that the sessions are often extremely music-focused, and intensely personal to their presenters. There were three presentations yesterday.

First off was a talk by Peabody archivist Elizabeth Schaff and graduate assistant Brad Saylor on the great jazz/Latin guitarist Charlie Byrd (1925-1999). Byrd's collection is located at the Peabody Archives. Byrd gave it to Peabody because they had "a guitar program that he wished would have been there for him when he was looking for a [graduate] program," according to Saylor. During this presentation a short performance was given by Peabody guitar student Jorge Amareo. He played two pieces by Agustin Barrios-Mangore, and a "Joropo," which mixes double and triple meter to create some nice spicy rhythms. One of Byrd's most famous accomplishments was in bringing bossa nova back to the United States and popularizing it in the early 1960s. He also enjoyed playing classical style and studied with Segovia in several masterclasses. Kudos to Schaff and Saylor for an excellent presentation of this excellent collection.

The second presenter was Peabody musicologist and faculty member Mark Katz who talked about "file sharing as a tool for living." He mentioned driving listening to the radio and hearing a Violent Femmes song. He used his cell phone to leave myself a voice message with a couple of lyrics. Later, he "Googled" the lyrics and confirmed what the song was. He used file sharing tools to listen to the song, and in doing so, came to appreciate and experience the song on a new level. He did all this without the mediation of calling a radio station, asking a librarian or a record store employee, or a printed catalog. And he listened to it without buying any other song from the album he didn't want.

Katz skillfully skirted all talk about DMCA, copyright, or the legality of file sharing. He talked about how the dissemination and cognition of music was changing. I've been wanted to read his Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music, and now I think will do that sooner than later. He gave a list of references, which if anyone wants I could send them. He also talked about the profileration of MP3 blogs, which I'm embarrased to say that I don't know a lot about. He referred to four ones in particular:

1) Music for Robots (Alternative pop music)
2) Sabadabada (Brazilian bossa-nova)
3) Soul Sides: Music for Rhythm Addicts (Little-known urban, rhythm & blues, soul)
4) Wakingear (Eclectic)

Katz made an interesting point that the shuffle function and indeterminancy allowed by iPods to pick music from various genres could radically change the way users appreciate music. By freeing themselves from the physical artifact, listeners are able to experiment with genres they normally wouldn't experience. It could even affect genre formation and create new roles for tastemaking and music criticism much as political blogs have restructured political communications between candidates, media, and the public. Of course these things are already happening, and I'm probably just slow to acknowledging them.

The final presenter of the day was Lisa Woznicki (Library Liaison for Art, Music and Theatre Arts, Towson University), whose presentation was titled "Overcoming Performance Anxiety: A Bibliotherapeutic Approach." Woznicki, who has suffered herself from performance anxiety, gave the ATMLA librarians in session a background into this social phobia, and suggested that the music library in particular was a comfort zone in which performers could seek answers on overcoming these problems. She handed out an extensive 2-page bibliography, in four areas (clinical/scientific description of the problem ; psychological self help/self-esteem assessments and action plans ; New Age/holistic self examination and goal setting ; and introspective/meditative explorations on performing (often from mature musicians) in which patrons might be seeking answers. Performance anxiety is one of those topics that performers wouldn't feel comfortable about talking with their teachers. The librarian can be a neutral, non-threatening, even sympathetic ear who could help the student find their away around their performance anxiety by recommending relevant and helpful books and articles. Woznicki was very thorough and convincing in her presentation, as well as being an inspiration. Bibliotherapy, I like that.

After a very thorough tour of Peabody (including a look at their humongous Holtkamp organ), there was a smashing-good wine and cheese party where I smooshed, ate and drank good wine and hors d'ouevres, enjoyed a brief performance by four Peabody vocal students (doing a motet in which the bass "bzzzzed" like a bee for a lot of it), and talked shop and brought many of my colleagues up to speed on what I've been doing since I left the Chapter in 2003. (I've been in the Midwest Chapter of MLA for the last two years--both are great).

We walked up Charles St. to The Brewer's Art, a swanky up-scale brewpub, which serves great food and even better beer. I enjoyed two glasses of a honey ale--which made my night. It's so nice to be able to sit at a table of librarians now and feel like a professional. I might not know or have experienced everything they have in their long careers, but at least there's a basis of common experience from which we can talk. And these people enjoy good music, good food, and good drink. My trip to Baltimore was a very rewarding experience.

Current audio: The whir of my computer and the pitter-patter of rain drops outside.


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