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Filling gaps – diversifying our collections — September 29, 2020

Filling gaps – diversifying our collections

In Classical music through a Caribbean lens , I looked at some current black British composers of classical music for a Windrush Day post. My research for that, together with a desire to broaden further our stock in the Music Library, led me to discover what was available out there to buy. 

Here at the start of Black History Month, let’s see what we’ve achieved so far. Continue reading

Copland away from the Rodeo — September 9, 2020

Copland away from the Rodeo

Looking through our study scores the other day, I was struck by how many works the American composer, Aaron Copland, composed which aren’t Rodeo, Appalachian Spring, or El Salon Mexico. Don’t get me wrong – those are great pieces which seem to distil visions of America into sound. Who could listen to the open, slow-changing harmonies of Appalachian Spring without seeing the wide-open spaces of the USA in their mind’s eye?

Let’s see what else Copland composed during his long life. I shall be learning along the way as much as anyone else. Continue reading

Rebel guy – songs and lyrics of Joe Hill — January 9, 2020

Rebel guy – songs and lyrics of Joe Hill

A slim, battered volume in our folk section caught my eye recently. This interest ramped up when I read the following down the long edge of the front cover:

Originally published on the 40th anniversary of his murder at the hands of the authorities on November 19, 1915.

OK… that was the hook. So who exactly was Joe Hill? And why did he merit publication by the radical American folk imprint, Oak Publications? Read on to discover what I found. Continue reading

‘Birmingham Sunday’ – songs of protest from the ‘other’ Birmingham — July 25, 2019

‘Birmingham Sunday’ – songs of protest from the ‘other’ Birmingham

The success of the civil rights movement in the US resulted in many changes during the 1960s. One aspect of the protest took its form in music – songs which both documented abuse and discrimination, and gave voice to demands and hope. It’s far too large a subject for one post, so I decided as a start, to focus on songs associated with Birmingham, Alabama taken from a book in our stock.

Carawan  Freedom is a constant struggle  (publ. 1968)

Freedom is a constant struggle
The front cover

Continue reading

Saturday Night: learning to play the guitar the BBC2 way — March 7, 2019

Saturday Night: learning to play the guitar the BBC2 way

How many ways are there to learn the guitar nowadays? Lots – ranging from online videos and virtual tuition, through CDs and sheet music, to actual teachers or learning from your peers. It seems odd now that 50 years ago, BBC2 ran two series of guitar lessons, broadcast on Saturday evenings. Unfortunately, it appears that none of the episodes survive.

The host / tutor on both occasions was John Pearse , a well-known guitarist and singer on the British folk scene. The first series was ‘Hold Down a Chord’ (broadcast 1965); the next, ‘Fingerpicking’. The book I’m going to look at was issued to complement the second series.

Continue reading

A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening … — February 14, 2019

A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening …

This Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d spend some time at the movies. Nothing more recent than the 1940s though. Of course we’ll have more recent sheets concerning love, but this was a quick trawl through that small part of the collection where love leads the title.

Let’s start in the 1930s …

Youmans  Love is like a song (publ. 1930)

Love is like a song
A striking front cover

It’s easy to see who was expected to sell this song sheet, and it certainly wasn’t Vincent Youmans, the composer. Gloria Swanson’s character is shown striking various poses, giving the impression of an independent, sassy woman. What a widow, the film, is reportedly lost, with only a trailer and soundtrack now known. It’s described as a ‘pre-code’ movie. That intrigued me, so I went looking.

Continue reading

‘Get Along Little Dogies’ – the music of Cisco Houston — January 24, 2019

‘Get Along Little Dogies’ – the music of Cisco Houston

Once again, our folk collection here is the source of this post. This unassuming volume, 900 Miles – the ballads, blues and folksongs of Cisco Houston, is yet another Oak Publication.

houston 900 miles
The front cover

These earlier posts taken from other Oak Publications: The ‘House of the rising sun’ blues …Hard-hit People: Songs of the American Great Depression, and A Time of Trial: More Songs from the American Great Depression took me on fascinating journeys, and I expect this volume to do the same. Interestingly enough, this is the only obvious library copy in the UK, despite it still being on sale.

Continue reading

‘Beyond the sea’ – the Mayflower tercentenary song book — November 22, 2018

‘Beyond the sea’ – the Mayflower tercentenary song book

Today is the major American holiday of Thanksgiving, so I thought I’d revisit a post I wrote last year, looking at something in our stock which commemorates the sailing of the Mayflower.

The Mayflower was the ship that transported the first group of Puritans from England to the New World. It sailed from Plymouth in the summer of 1620 with 102 passengers. They weren’t the first group of people aiming to settle in the New World, of course. But when they landed far from where they had intended to settle in Virginia, they had to form their own colony on Cape Cod.

The Mayflower carried not only people fleeing religious persecution, but also adventurers and traders. With the prospect of trying to survive a bitter and snowy Massachusetts winter, tempers started to fray, with some individuals wanting to go it alone. It quickly became clear that all the surviving settlers had to work together for the greater good. Continue reading

A Time of Trial: More Songs from the American Great Depression — August 23, 2018

A Time of Trial: More Songs from the American Great Depression

I’m returning to Hard-hitting Songs for Hard-hit People, a song collection about the American Great Depression. Last time , I looked at agricultural workers. This time, working, or more likely, unemployment.

‘You’re dead broke’ 

Destitute_man_vacant_store
Unemployed, destitute man in San Francisco. (Photo credit: Dorothea Lange. Public domain)

In his publisher’s forward, Irwin Silber, sets the picture of the early 1930s American Great Depression brilliantly:

The central fact was mass unemployment. Everything else – the soup kitchens, the home relief lines, the unmitigated misery of the old, the sick, the feeble who had no resources and no place to turn – all these stemmed from the fact that in some basic, incomprehensible way, the system had fallen apart at the seams. Factories, mills, and mines closed down and people were thrown out of work. This began a cycle of business failures, wage-cutting, lockouts, land evictions which … produced … the most massive economic collapse this country has ever known.   

Continue reading

Hard-hit People: Songs of the American Great Depression — May 17, 2018

Hard-hit People: Songs of the American Great Depression

If like me, you’ve read any of the Depression era novels by John Steinbeck, you can’t but remember the poverty, the difficulty of obtaining employment, and the world which his characters inhabit. This was the time of the ‘dust bowl’ environmental disaster which affected the marginal Southern Plains area of the United States (parts of Kansas, Oklahoma, and the Texas Panhandle), and also the resulting mass migration of people to California in search of jobs.

What I’m going to be looking at this time, is a collection of songs from the era, collected by Alan Lomax and others.

Hard-hitting Songs for Hard-hit People ed. by Alan Lomax, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger (publ. 1967)

Hard-hitting songs for Hard-hit people
The front cover

It’s a substantial book, containing numerous songs, their context, and a selection of sobering photos. The bulk of its content was ready for publication in the 1940s, but it took twenty years for it to be published. In fact, John Steinbeck provided the foreword for this collection. Here’s a sample: Continue reading

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