Posts Tagged ‘Mahoney Music Collection’

IMG_0300Well, this is it.

It’s my last day.

Today I get to turn in my key, submit my last time sheet, and clean up all my files on the computer, and I have to take home my sweater, wrist warmers, blanket, and refillable Einstein Bros. coffee mug . . .  plus say goodbye to probably the coolest job ever and all the wonderful people I’ve worked with.

The Archives and Special Collections has been an oasis for me through the grueling voyage of undergrad – tucked in the corner of the library, above the crowded sidewalks and away from the drama and stress of school.

I started here the summer after my sophomore year, after miserably spending the previous summer as a waitress. I began as a temporary hire for Sarah, allotted 120 hours to put in basically whenever, doing a lot of photo identification and negative-sleeve making. But I also got to work with Jim Legg’s collection of slides from Wounded Knee during the volatility of the 1970s (wow!).

When the fall semester started, Doris adopted me from Sarah. I began to make box labels instead of negative sleeves, pull boxes for patrons, make inventory lists of incoming collections, take the recycling down, and pick up the mail. Sure, a lot of my job involved removing rusty staples (yes, my tetanus shots are up-to-date), spending hours at the temperamental photocopy machine, and leafing through old Volante newspapers or yearbooks for an answer to a patron’s question.




However, I did some pretty amazing things here, too. Simply working with the Mahoney Music Collection was a dream! – how did my two favorite things in the world, books and music, end up combined in the back of the USD library? Though I couldn’t work exclusively with this collection, there was almost always a little project with it to satiate me. Writing press releases, creating a LibGuide, managing the website records, creating little exhibits, helping patrons, and writing blog posts were just a few things. I was invited to just go back and browse the stacks if I wanted, to get to know the books, and I got to correspond with the donor, Dr. John P. Mahoney, and even meet him this summer! I met a lot of great books, too. And who knows?  – maybe I’ll be back in a few years to do my own research with the collection.




The archives have forever changed me. Now I can’t bring myself to use staples or tape on anything, and I have a mission to preserve all my photos in acid-free paper. I learned so much that I don’t think I can fit it all on a résumé. And, thanks to Sarah, I’ll never be able to listen to Kishi Bashi or Van Morrison without nostalgia of the archives. I will sorely miss everything and everyone here – how did I get so lucky?

So what’s next? I have a couple more days in sunny Vermillion, then it’s off to Ohio, where I’ll be attending grad school for my master’s degree in music performance at Kent State (they have an Einstein Bros. too, so the mug comes with!).



P.S. For the record: I never got the lights turned off on me in the back room. Once the power went out when I was back there, though, and the terrifying flickering before tipped me off.



P.P.S. And my desk piggy’s coming, too! 🙂



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"Methode de violon" Pierre Baillot

“Methode de violon” Pierre Baillot

The Archives and Special Collections has recently digitized Pierre Baillot’s Methode de violon from the Mahoney Music Collection. This French treatise was published in 1793 with contributions from Pierre Rode and Rodolphe Kreutzer. It can be viewed, with a number of other treatises from the collection, on the Digital Library of South Dakota.


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Summer projects in the archives can be tedious, monotonous, and seemingly endless. Luckily (this time) I got something fun . . .

The expansive Mahoney Music Collection is slowly being cataloged by the University library, and much of what is yet uncataloged lives in file cabinets and is simply called “Mahoney pamphlets” — though most items are small or fragile books that aren’t safe on the shelf.

This summer, I have had the pleasure to spend quality time with these lonely books as I update their records on the Mahoney website. Until the remainder of the collection is cataloged, the website is the only source to see all 5000-plus items. It is very important, then, that our web records are accurate, especially for the books that aren’t yet in the library’s catalog system.

Also stored in the pamphlets are small articles in magazines like Harper’s Weekly, Life, Scribner’s, Smithsonian, and People; concert programs from around the world; oversized monographs of antique, rare instruments by Stradivari or Amati with enormous photographs; instrument dealer catalogs and ephemera from the last 200 years; sheet music and method books both old and new, sometimes accompanied by vinyl recordings; and beautifully illustrated children’s books.

The majority of books in the pamphlet collection are written in foreign languages, ranging from German and Italian to Japanese and Catalan. Translating information made my job slow sometimes but nonetheless fun (Google Translate is my new best friend). I certainly learned a lot more Italian, German, and French vocabulary, and just by reading titles and bits here and there I learned a lot of history, too.

In the end, I went through around 930 items over the course of 2 months. For a summer project, this certainly was the best.

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The Archives and Special Collections had a special visit yesterday from students and professors on break from the Chicago School of Violin Making. Levi Samuelson, Thomas Price, Rebecca Elliott, Mary Jane Kwan, Andrew McGinn, Caitlin Cook, and Tommy Coleman made fast use of the Mahoney Music Collection.

Instrument makers showing off their "callused hands."

Instrument makers showing off their “callused hands.”


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American History in the

Mahoney Music Collection


This week we celebrate the birth of our nation, with this Friday marking the 238th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Throughout those two centuries, music has played a key role in shaping our American culture, and the Mahoney Music Collection is lucky to hold some of the best of our American music history. I poured through records, combed the stacks – and even got caught in the back room during a power outage! – to compile this feature on American music from the Mahoney Music Collection.


The American Violinist, J. F. Hanks (mid 1800s)

The American Violinist, J. F. Hanks (mid 1800s)

Beginners’ method book containing small exercises, music theory basics, and simple, two-part tunes. It gives information about the instrument’s construction, great violinists, playing in groups, and using the violin for teaching vocal music. Also has a supplement of Jacob Augustus Otto’s treatise.


One Hundred and Fifty Years of Music Publishing in the United States, William Arms Fisher (1933)

Fisher traces music printing in the U.S. from through the centuries.  The very first book of music, though “crudely-printed”, was 9th edition of The Bay Psalm Book in 1698 Massachusetts (previous versions only contained text).  Included are stories of prominent publishers such as Schirmer,  Lyon & Healy, and Witmark, plus numerous maps, portraits, and other illustrations.


A Treasury of American Folklore, B. A. Botkin (1944)

With a forward by Carl Sandburg and almost a thousand pages of tales, this book is really a gem of Americana. It covers everything from Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan to nursery tales and ghost stories. The reason it is part of the Mahoney collection is the large section of ballads and songs, arranged into chapters with titles like “Songs of Sailormen and Rivermen”, “Cowboy Songs”, and “Hobo and Jailhouse Songs”. Each individual song has a verse and chorus written out on the staff, then printed lyrics for the (abundant) remaining verses. Some even have a brief history of the tune. I didn’t recognize many of the titles, but just sight-reading some them was fun.


Ten Years a Cowboy, Tex Bender, the Cowboy Fiddler (1886)


Cowboy Fiddler, Frankie McWhorter & John R. Erickson (1992)




These two volumes are amazingly not about the same person. I was stunned to find Ten Years a Cowboy and learn about the legendary Tex Bender, and was even more excited to come across Cowboy Fiddler. Actually, there are four books in the collection about fiddling cowboys! Apparently there is an American tradition of cowboys playing the violin. Harmonica? – sure, they’re rather portable. But violin…? Cowboy Fiddler is the memoir of Frankie McWhorter, a cowboy who played in Bob Wills’s band. The other, Ten Years a Cowboy, is more mysterious. I couldn’t track down who this legendary fiddler was, or how he got his nickname, but this is another beautiful example of Americana. Fantastic illustrations accompany “the story, romance and adventures of a life on the plains with the varied experiences as cow-boy, stock-owner, rancher”.










Maud Powell, Pioneer American Violinist; Karen A. Schaffer and Neva Garner Greenwood (1988)

Among all our musician biographies, I felt I had to include Maud Powell in this salute-to-America post. For, not only was she “America’s first great master of the violin” when much of classical music was imported from Europe, but she was also a woman. Even today, there is a huge gender disparity in professional orchestras. At the turn of the 20th century, there was an even larger bias toward women performers. Maud Powell is a chapter in American history not only about music but also about feminism. She broke barriers to bring American musicians on par with European, and to bring female musicians on par with the men. One of my heroes.


. . . . and FYI, the United States shares its birthday with Charles Burney’s first history of music, A General History Of Music From The Earliest Ages To The Present Period.BUrney


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The Archives and Special Collections invites you to check out our new display featuring pieces from the Mahoney Music Collection. Items now on display in front of the Archives include:

  • Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1st edition
  • The Strad, Vol. 1
  • Portraits of Musical Celebrities, from Steinway & Sons (showing a testimonial from Franz Liszt)
  • “The miracle makers: Stradivari, Guarneri, Olivera”
  • Gabinetto armonico pieno d’instromenti ti sonori, indicati, spiegati, e di nuovo corretti ed accresciuti by Filippo Buonanni (1723)
  • 1616 Map of Cremona, Italy (the oldest item in the Mahoney Music Collection)


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John Phillip Sousa is widely known in the world of music as the “March King.”  Yet, his prolific compositional career included operettas, songs, and suites in addition to the more famous 135 individual marches: Stars and Stripes Forever, The Washington Post, Semper Fidelis, The Liberty Bell, Minnesota March, et al.

Sousa was more than an iconic American composer, though.  As a child he studied at the Esputa Conservatory of Music learning violin, piano, voice, and a variety of brass instruments.  When he was just thirteen years old, Sousa began an apprenticeship in the U.S. Marine Band, where he would work for the next seven years.  Besides that, he simultaneously played professional violin in theater orchestras.  He was a child prodigy, it seemed, and it took several years in the music scene for Sousa to give composition a try.

For a number of years, John Phillip Sousa traveled in Vaudeville shows, composed in a variety of genres, conducted, and again played professional violin.  In 1880 he was appointed conductor of the Marine Band, which flourished under his direction.  After that he led a civilian band bearing his name, all the while continuing to compose.  The “Sousa Band” toured the United States until the Great Depression, with a hiatus during World War I when Sousa worked for the Navy, also organizing bands.

Yes, John Phillip Sousa was a truly remarkable fellow, but what does he have to do with the Archives and Special Collections department? 

Recently, while shelving books in the Mahoney Music Collection, a small, green book caught my attention in the “PS” – American literature – section.  On the spine, under the title, gold letters read “John Phillip Sousa.”  I had to investigate.

In fact, Sousa wrote seven books and quite a lot of articles for magazines and journals. Who knew?

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The particular volume I came across is entitled The Fifth String.  Our copy is of the first 1902 publication by the Bowen-Merrill Company.  It retains its original forest-green binding and excellent, period cover art.  Interestingly, the illustrations are by famed American artist Howard Chandler Christy (apparently, in financial difficulties he found illustrating more profitable than painting). 

His story is enticing –renowned Italian violinist Angelo Diotti finds himself in love with a cold New York society girl who is not impressed with his virtuosity in the least.  Frustrated by his inadequacy, Diotti smashes his Stradavari violin in a rage and immediately is visited by the devil himself, who offers a replacement – a special violin with five strings.  Each string is “tuned” to a specific emotion – love, joy, pity, hope.  The fifth string is the string of death.  According to the Prince of Darkness, “he who plays upon it dies at once.”  Inconveniently, the string of death is situated in the middle of the other four.   

John Phillip Sousa paints a wonderful tale: it really took a masterful musician to write in such detail.  To a musician reader, the specific writing makes for much more realism in the otherwise fable-like plot.   It is also a portal to the music culture of turn-of-the-century America.  We modern music students don’t learn much about that era.  John Phillip Sousa, though, was very much in the midst of it all, and he allows us a short glimpse in with The Fifth String.

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A Brief Introduction

Being a music performance major besides being a bibliophile, I was elated to begin working with the Mahoney Music Collection this semester.  One of the first projects assigned to me was to find books to potentially be digitized in the next project, after treatises and Lyon & Healey catalogues.  They were to be books with detailed illustrations – basically, something more appealing to look at than the violin treatises.  Essentially, for a while I got paid to browse through thousands of books all on my favorite topic.

In the end there were about half a dozen books on the list to be passed on to the higher-ups.  Unfortunately, I had to deny numerous volumes I would have loved to see available to the whole world via the digital library.  Some were historically significant, some were wildly informative, and some were just ridiculously silly. One book stood out particularly – though it did not make the short list for the digitization project – and I felt it had to be featured.

About the Book

Cremona fedelissima citta, et nobilissima colonia de Romani  is the oldest in the Mahoney Music Collection.  Dating from 1645, it was printed when Antonio Stradivarius was a newborn and before J.S. Bach was even alive, when music was still in the infancy of what would be known as the Baroque Era.

Its one-piece cover is the original “limp” vellum binding that now is warped and discolored but still supple, a characteristic of the artistry and techniques of the Italian Renaissance.   The pages are crinkled and slightly yellowed, and among them are several woodcut portraits, fold-out illustrations of architecture, and an oversized map of seventeenth-century Cremona.

It was the map that attracted Dr. Mahoney to buy the book in 1997.  Interestingly enough, when compared to a modern map of Cremona, one sees an abundance of similarities proving that the city has remained largely unchanged over the past 350 years.

The title page itself is a Renaissance work of art.  There are even two Italian sonnets included in the first few pages, of course about Cremona.  If only I knew more Italian – this beautiful tome would be a delight to read thoroughly!

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