Saturday, June 7, 2014

Just a few notes on working at the UNC Music Library

Among several other commitments, this summer I have been working at the UNC Music Library. The Music Library is tucked away in the bowels of Wilson Library and therefore is at times overlooked, but the library has a great staff and lots of interesting materials that I am just beginning to delve into. My job for the summer is to catalog a collection of sheet music that is primarily from the early 20th century. While I have never cataloged before, my Organization of Information course (INLS 520) and lots of help from my supervisor, Renée McBride, have helped me start making a dent in the piles of scores. While the progress I have made in the few short weeks I have been working so far is nearly imperceptible, I have come across a couple pieces of music that made me pause for a second and look at them more closely at them.

The first of these scores is "Gloomy Sunday" (or "Szomorú Vasárnap"), popularly known as the "Hungarian Suicide Song." The cover is still under copyright, but here's a link to an image of it. The song has supposedly been connected with nearly twenty suicides in Hungary and the U.S. These individuals left suicide notes with quotes from the song or were even found holding the sheet music for the song. While many are fascinated by the song's preoccupation with death and the urban legends that surround it, I was primarily interested in it because of its longevity and transfer from one culture to another (I also enjoy minor music). It was composed by Rezső Seress and the lyrics are by László Jávor. It became popular in the United States when it was translated from Hungarian to English by Sam M. Lewis in the 1930s. Since then it has been famously sung by Billie Holiday as well as by numerous other artists such as Mel Tormé and Sarah McLaughlin. For more artists and both the Hungarian and English lyrics, visit Wikipedia. In addition to the lyrics found on Wikipedia, the English version includes an additional final verse that lightens the somber song by suggesting all of the negative thoughts that came before were simply part of a dream and that the singer's love did not leave him.

Two other scores that I cataloged interested me simply because of their connections to the south generally and their candid lyrics and cover illustrations. These two songs are "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes" and "Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina." Click here for a picture of the second song's cover. Both songs also reference a place where one would rather be and display a strong sense of home. As someone still adjusting to my new home, these lyrics resonated with me. "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes" tells the story of a man who has just become a father and who is returning to Tennessee to meet his son (the owner of the ten little fingers and toes referred to in the song) for the first time. The lyrics to the song can be found here. In "Just a Little Bit South of North Carolina" a man sings of his desire to return to his sweetheart in South Carolina, which he refers to as "paradise." Click here for a version of the song by Dean Martin.

Beyond sharing a little bit about the music and lyrics, I especially wanted to post about these songs because it gives me a chance to share the cover illustrations. Because of the vast number of scores that need to be cataloged, scanning these covers is far beyond the possible scope of the project. Still, as someone interested in making and studying art, I think the covers are quite noteworthy. I have been doing my best to accurately describe the covers in my MARC 500 fields, but obviously these brief comments do not come close to replicating the images included here. These remarks do not even mention colors and typically only describe concrete subjects and not abstract designs. Hopefully descriptions will become increasingly more representative of all kinds of images as the field of library science progresses. Still, I understand that most people searching for these materials would plan to use them for the musical information they contain rather than their visual attributes.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about these three songs and hopefully I will find time to share a few more before the summer is up.