Miss Irene Millen and Mrs. Ida Reed during the early days of the Music Department

by Tara Goe

The Music Department at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh celebrated its 75th anniversary a few years back. It’s recognized as one of the largest and most diverse music collections housed in a public library, offering everything from books and music scores, to sound recordings, periodicals, as well as numerous special collections and resources related to the ongoing history of music in Pittsburgh.

Every day we, the librarians in the Music Department, serve an eclectic group of musicians and researchers; we find scores for musical theater students, working musicians, parents and music teachers, as well as people both young and old who want to get started playing music. We have learning resources — instructional DVDs, guides, and music scores for pupils of all levels. But aside from the electronic piano in our department (which I assure you gets daily and frequent use) one thing we have not historically had on offer are musical instruments for practicing and borrowing.

About a year ago I began doing some research into the feasibility of loaning out musical instruments; it seemed a natural fit for our department since we’re all about lowering barriers to musical exploration.

About a year ago I began doing some research into the feasibility of loaning out musical instruments; it seemed a natural fit for our department since we’re all about lowering barriers to musical exploration. Initially I was looking at traditional musical instruments — guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, accordions — but then I came across the Music Tools collection at the Ann Arbor District Library and it completely expanded my ideas about what might be possible. Our department has long thought about how we might bring some of the Music Department’s resources to the Labs @CLP, but what would it mean to bring some of what The Labs provides into the Music Department?

Drummer and Music Librarian extraordinaire Tim Williams makes beats with the Roland TR-8

Pittsburgh has a really creative and diverse electronic and emerging music scene. It occurred to us that this might be an audience that has traditionally not visited the Music Department and that maybe by providing them with electronic musical instruments and gear, as well as educational classes and programs that meet their interests, we might be able to build meaningful relationships with a new audience of music creators.

Our first step was to reach out to local musicians to help us build this new collection. The items we ultimately decided to purchase were based on votes cast by local creators and sound-makers.

This past October the Music Department was awarded an Innovation Grant to explore some of these ideas and circulate electronic gadgets and gear. Our first step was to reach out to local musicians to help us build this new collection. The items we ultimately decided to purchase were based on votes cast by local creators and sound-makers. Additionally, an important partnership with local instrument manufacturer Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers was established with help from our IT Department. We will be circulating one of their SV-1 Blackbox units, as well as having one on offer in our department for in-house exploration.

Coming soon to CLP’s Music Department: Pittsburgh Modular Synthesizers SV-1 Blackbox

The collection will launch in February 2017, and while the Music Department does not currently have an in-house classroom ideal for musical exploration, we’re thinking about other ways we might act as an “incubation space” for local and emerging musicians. One possibility we’re considering: while we can’t currently offer a traditional Musician-in-Residence Program perhaps we could do the next best thing and commission works by local musicians, ideally inspired by the people and places of Pittsburgh, such as different neighborhoods, historical figures, sports teams, or even the library.

Taking a cue from our historical Pittsburgh Sheet Music Collection we are thinking about how we can connect the old with the new, the analog with the digital. Musical works have long been inspired by or commissioned to celebrate the many wonders of Pittsburgh, and now we’re wondering what it would look like to take that into the electronic and seriously synthesized realm. Perhaps in the coming year we will be able to engage some of our local avant-garde musicians and sound-makers in creating some new works that celebrate Pittsburgh.

Just a few of the locally-inspired works to be found in our Pittsburgh Sheet Music Collection (l-r: Duquesne Garden Waltz, Kennywood Park Waltz, Lucky Bits Are Haunting Me: Theme Song Written for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

We’ll be returning here later this year to discuss what we’ve learned from this project — both successes and failures. And perhaps we’ll even have a few sound pieces (or a Carnegie Library theme song) to share with you!

 

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Tara Goe is the Film Specialist in the Music, Film & Audio Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main. She previously worked for the Oakland Public Library and was a founding member of that city’s Rock Paper Scissors Art Collective. Her burgeoning curiosity about electronics and programming inspired her to build her first musical instrument — a miniature synthesizer that fits in an Altoids can.

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