In Concert

Get a flavour of the music collections of the Library of Birmingham – quirky, practical, historical, contemporary

Staying tuned – alternative engagements — April 15, 2020

Staying tuned – alternative engagements

Producing online content sounds an easy thing to do, but it isn’t. Particularly if you’ve had next-to-no warning that it will be needed. Sound familiar? As a library, we’re finding our way around the perils (and pleasures?) of making YouTube videos and other streaming content. This may form an important part of the library’s offer over the next few weeks or months. We’re lucky that some library services continue: there’s still access to e-books, e-audiobooks, and e-magazines for example.

Compare our situation with that of many arts organisations. Their primary purpose is to perform; take away that and they lose nearly all contact with the audience, their customers. Orchestras and other music groups in the UK run on a (comparative) shoestring. In normal times, their backroom staff have a job keeping things running smoothly. Online content and engagement can feel like a luxury to be tackled only when circumstances allow. And then the world turns upside-down. Continue reading

Made in Birmingham – Part 1 — April 8, 2020

Made in Birmingham – Part 1

We’re back! It seems a long time since the last post, and it is – more than a month in fact. And hasn’t the landscape changed? Library staff are all now working from home and trying to find their way around the new normal.

This blog must also alter somewhat – I have no access to any of our stock now so the focus will change. Music will still be central of course.

A week or so ago, a BBC report caught my eye and got me thinking. The US Library of Congress hosts a National Recording Registry. Every year they select 25 recordings (music or speech) which they regard as ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ to life in the US. Continue reading

Music and W.H. Auden – a taster — February 19, 2020

Music and W.H. Auden – a taster

In the UK, February is LGBTQ History month. A timely reminder of this, together with the poet W.H Auden’s roots here in the West Midlands led to the idea for this post.

[clicking on an image will give the full picture]

In a fascinating article about Auden and music on the British Library website, Valentine Cunningham starts his essay in this fashion:

Poetry and music have always gone together. And of all the great modern poets who have kept alive the ancient alliance between poetry and singing, there’s no one to beat W H Auden. Auden sang without stop.

Continue reading

A Chinese puzzle — January 28, 2020

A Chinese puzzle

Some time back, a post From Russia with some difficulty … looked at the troubles we’ve had as a library in obtaining Russian material over the years. These continuing difficulties pale into insignificance when compared with accessing China’s music publications and composers. Equally over the past 120 years, many Russian composers have enjoyed Western representation and a large number of works are considered part of the classical music canon. Chinese representation is extremely low.

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

‘The Colliers’ Rant’ and other miners’ ballads — November 9, 2019

‘The Colliers’ Rant’ and other miners’ ballads

The nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution in the UK was fuelled by coal; lots of it. The work was hard, dangerous, required very long hours, and prior to 1842, could involve the whole family.  Health and safety was far from the minds of those demanding the constant production of coal: no safety equipment, hardly any light, little ventilation or heat regulation, and the ever-present danger from the build-up of gases.

[Images courtesy of the National Coal Mining Museum. Clicking on the images will enlarge them.]

Continue reading

Shopping for music at M&S — October 15, 2019

Shopping for music at M&S

Here in the UK, Marks and Spencer has been part of the high street for well over a hundred years. Institutions have to change to survive though. Nowadays M&S is associated with food, clothing, home wares, and financial services. Back at the start of the twentieth century, the M&S Original Penny Bazaars (both market stalls and shops) sold haberdashery (small scale sewing requirements) and household items. So no food or clothing at all, and everything was a penny (1d).

[Click on an image to enlarge it.]

Another item the original shops sold was sheet music. Continue reading

Back to the (start of the) 80’s — September 14, 2019

Back to the (start of the) 80’s

Over the next couple of months, I’ll be looking at the outer temporal extremes of our song sheet collection. This time, we’ll be quite modern; next, we’ll see what hit songs looked like in the early eighteenth century.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, we stopped collecting single song sheets early in the 1980’s. Maybe because the publishers went off producing them in favour of song albums. Anyway, following an entirely unscientific trawl through some of the boxes, here’s my selection. How many can you recognise or sing bits of from first time around?

It’s 1980 (or thereabouts) – the year of John Lennon’s death. The CND protest started at Greenham Common; Alton Towers opened. A record number of people in the UK were unemployed; Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister. The TV show Yes, Minister started broadcasting.

Continue reading

Sullivan without Gilbert — August 21, 2019

Sullivan without Gilbert

If you know anything of the composer, Arthur Sullivan, it will almost certainly be from his partnership with W.S. Gilbert. That series of 13 comedic, satirical operas the two men collaborated on still feature in the repertoire 150 years on. The Savoy operas’ combined commercial and artistic success has overshadowed the rest of Sullivan’s varied output for almost the same length of time.

Kenilworth – a masque of the days of Queen Elizabeth (first performed 1864)

640px-Kenilworth_Castle_gatehouse_landscape
Kenilworth Castle (via WikiCommons)

As a student graduating from the Leipzig Conservatoire, his final work in 1861 was a suite of pieces for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. This calling card did him well; a performance the following year in the Crystal Palace marked him out as a composer to watch. From this came his first commission, Kenilworth. 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

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