There’s Nothing Like a Real-Life Encounter with Music

Some weeks, it’s so busy around here that there just aren’t enough hours in the day, and this last week was certainly one of them; however, I wouldn’t trade my experiences this week for the world. As if everything else that happened in my life weren’t enough (which it was), the highlight of this week was getting permission to hold Stravinsky’s baton. I had to sit down afterwards and put my head between my knees to keep from fainting. Yes, Igor Stravinsky!

This was in the back rooms of the Dallas Public Library, and we had just finished a conference about social media and music, and press kits and how to construct them. At lunch, several of us were talking, and I got to relate one of my favourite stories about why children need to be exposed to music history. A couple of months ago, I was volunteering at the library, and I was talking with one of the pages, who was in his twenties, while I was preparing books for shelving. He asked what I did for my job, and I explained that I was a classical singer, specializing in early music. So he asked, “Like the Beatles?” I said, “No, much earlier.” “Like Sinatra?” I explained that I specialized in music from 1100 to 1750. And he said, “Dang! They had music back then?”

And I thought, this young man has been deprived of almost a millenium of music. Not only European music that we are all familiar with, but music from the New World, which started to be composed early in the 1500s, and was composed continuously to the present day. And he was black, and probably could not named a black musician prior to . . . perhaps Louis Armstrong, missing out on all the black composers of renaissance, baroque and classical music, opera, songs, sacred music, as well as the incredible piano repertoire left us by black composers.

huge arched room several floors tall, completely lined with books from floor to ceiling; reading tables in the center of the room

The Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College in Dublin
Chris Hill

And libraries are the repositories of this information. Yes, a lot of information is available on the internet, and yet this young man worked in the library, dealt with the classical music scores and recordings every single day, and yet had never had the curiosity to crack open a book . . . whereas I cannot walk by a shelf of books without wanting to know what is on it.

So the next time the library in your town is faced with budget cuts, remember that young man, who didn’t know they had music before Sinatra . . . and think about how children in your community would be deprived of their own music heritage. And then go down to your city council meeting and tell them the library shouldn’t be first on their list.

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