When not being used in the Lewis Gallery, our nineteenth-century vitrines (glass display cases) are hosting displays from our collection in the Main Library Lower Level – Information Desk area. Our first display, on view now through November, is a selection of sheet music from the Portland Room Archives.
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century musical life revolved around the family piano, and sheet music was provided for home performing mostly from publishers in New York’s Tin Pan Alley. But most large cities had their own small music publishers (who were usually instrument and sheet music sellers) and many songwriters would publish with local firms or simply publish their own works.
Portland could boast several such publishers, including the Paine family, whose most distinguished member, John Knowles Paine, was Harvard’s first Professor of Music. J.K.’s father Jacob and uncle William sold instruments and music at 113 Middle Street. The Paines published many of the compositions of Hermann Kotzschmar, the leading Portland musician of the period. Cressey and Allen had a music shop at 566 Congress Street; Cressey was also a composer and published many of his own pieces.
Many of the compositions featured in our exhibit were on local subjects: dance pieces named for Portland landmarks: the Forest City Polka, the Diamond Cove Waltz, and others in that vein. Others were hymns to local pride: Somewhere in Maine, Down in Maine. Patriotic compositions were standbys of the home music collection, and we have several from the Civil War to World War II.
We’ve included two items published “away”. The first, Kathleen Mavourneen, was a sentimental pseudo-Irish ballad popularized by tenor John McCormick. It was written by Frederick Nicholls Crouch, an English musician who lived and taught in Portland until his secessionist leanings made him unpopular in 1861; he joined a Virginia regiment as a trumpeter. The other New York publication is perhaps the most familiar college song of the 1920s, Rudy Vallee’s Maine Stein Song.
We hope that local music lovers, local history buffs, and everybody else will stop by the lower level and see this exhibit!
I spent last Friday in Augusta at the Maine Humanities Summit sponsored by the University of Maine Humanities Initiative. I also participated on a panel of academic and public librarians to explain the role of libraries in the “public” humanities. The attending group was made up of the converted, those of us who see in others and experience in ourselves every day the “Power & Pleasure of Ideas” – to borrow a phrase from the Maine Humanities Council. We spoke of public libraries being a provider, presenter, collector, promoter and organizer of the humanities. So it was on fertile ground (and with gratitude) that our individual presentations were received. There was little if any surprise just appreciation.
I am always fascinated by the surprise that folks have upon rediscovery of the public library or coming up against the popular notion that the public library is not long for the world. Paul Krugman’s recent New York Times blog post “In Praise of Public Libraries (Personal and Trivial)
” speaks to the simple delight in finding a space in the community that has some infrastructure, a culture of sharing and no expectation of you except civil behavior. Meanwhile, beyond offering a sweet spot in the daily grind, public libraries everywhere are gearing up their summer reading programs and reaching out to kids and families to do what we can to bring the beauty of the arts and the humanities (literature, history, art, music and much more) to the neighborhoods and towns across the country. Quiet magic – day in and day out. No chest pounding, no vapid self-promotion, just quiet and sustained effort to experience the “Power and Pleasure of Ideas”.
Derivative tends not be a compliment as it implies lack of creativity or more recently a bad financial instrument. But let’s be honest, many great ideas in all areas aren’t new (like bookmobiles) and libraries mostly work with the basics of those ideas and spin them to serve some niche. PPL like other libraries lends a variety of unexpected materials including telescopes (brought to us through our partnership with Cornerstones of Science), Kill a Watt energy detectors (given to us by a private donor),and most recently ukuleles modeled on the idea first demonstrated by the Newport (Maine) Cultural Center and neighboring Falmouth (Maine) Memorial Library.
Even Isaac Newton acknowledged the contributions to his work of those before him. It is a pleasure (and an ethical obligation) for us to acknowledge this tradition of public libraries.