Scanning Again

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I have decided to move from my high school position to a middle school position in my district (we have strong bidding rights based on seniority). Part of the decision to move is based on the fact that every student at my new school will have an iPad next year.

Rather ironically, I am moving from the newest building in the district to the oldest building in the district.

Four other schools (and possibly a 5th) are also going all-iPad, one high school (my former former [yes, two formers] high school position), three elementary schools, and perhaps one other middle school.

I leave my highly organized, highly structured environment that I built from scratch at my old high school position to a middle school position where the entire room is in need of a lot of work.

This includes the middle school music library, which is in complete disarray. It looks like the library was in order at one point, but it now contains multiple numbering systems, skipped/missing numbers, and more. I need to digitize the library anyway–but my job this summer is not only scanning music, but completely re-working the storage of music, the music catalog itself, and physically taking inventory of each and every piece. This may sound like an unhappy chore to some people, but I love making order out of chaos. I've done this at two schools, and this will be my third. What is interesting is that as I scan, type into a spreadsheet, and print and apply labels, I am getting these scores ready for permanent storage. I am reticent to throw away any song, even if I know it will never be used or the copies are so worn that they could not be used again. Realistically, the next trip for most of the music–including the music I will buy over the next years–will eventually all find its way from storage to a recycling bin (once copyright is figured out with converting paper to digital–schools cannot afford to replace traditional libraries at a 1:1 cost).

My scanning process remains the same as what I did last year, and perhaps I'll go over that in another post.

What I wanted to talk about tonight is the interesting progression of music at a very old school, as well as the need to leave a musical legacy in the music you choose for your program, as someone else will inherit it someday.

So far, I've come across pieces from 1897 through 2000, nothing newer at this point (I will come across those pieces at the end of the library). I've finished work on about 1/3 of the library (450 pieces), but I won't know the correct number of titles until I have finished, as I have come across file folders full of pieces that seem not to be in the catalog.

Nearly all the pieces are still under copyright (1929 is a good year to use as a starting point), even though a huge percentage are permanently out of print and will never be sung again. I would say that of the first 450, about 25% are pop songs from the middle and late 1900s. Few are what I would consider “lasting classics,” and the former directors at this school seem to have had a love for the music of the Carpenters and Neil Diamond (and not even the songs from those artists that we would most know them for today). I also note that none of the songs have been purchased in a quantity (or remain in a quantity–extant) to supply an entire choir, particularly when our current 6th and 7th grade classes will have about 140 singers (rehearsing in different hours of the day).

As I catalog the title, composer, arranger, publisher, publisher number, year of copyright, original price, number of copies, genre, and musical period in my spreadsheet, I am also gaining valuable data to bring to our district curriculum director. Schools in our district are expected to buy music out of building capital or even booster funds…yet the music itself is our curriculum (*in secondary schools). If I can make a case that the majority of our songs were copyrighted in the mid 1900s, with many of those being “pop” songs, I might be able to obtain more funding for music for our school, and all the schools in our district.

I find it fun to be working with music that is so “old.” The least expensive piece was $0.12, the most expensive so far was $1.95. The going price of music today is $1.95–the most common price I have seen thus far is $0.30. It is fun to see the main arrangers of the day. We are used to seeing the names of Shaw, Huff, and Emerson–a generation earlier saw names like Lojeski, Leyden, Metis, Stickles, and Warnick. I was reminded today that there was a time that Hal Leonard was located in Winona, Minnesota (it is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin today).

But as I go through this music, I am realizing how much of the music will never, ever be used again. At my old high school, we had to buy a certain amount of pop music for our show choirs–and hopefully most of those songs are (or will become) standards that can be used again. Funding is so limited that it is important to make wise choices not only for your current choirs, but for choirs in your future. This, of course, applies to band music, too–but bands for the most part are a little more protected from the “pop” influence (marching band is another matter altogether).

I still have at least 900 titles to go through before I'm done with this project, and perhaps I'll find a lot more music that can be used today.


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