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Music Division

Robin Rausch*

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Yankiana. E.E. Loftis. 1905.
Music Division.

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Whether a mother crooning lullabies or an opera diva, a neighborhood piano teacher or a rock star—women have always made music. They compose it, perform it, inspire it, commission it, collect it, and otherwise fill their leisure time in its pursuit. The collections of the Music Division demonstrate women's music making in all its many guises.

In the Music Division you can find the volume of piano music collected and bound for the private use of Eleanor P. Custis, better known as Nellie Custis, granddaughter of George and Martha Washington (M1.A11 Case vol. 26) [catalog record]. One of hundreds of similar volumes compiled by women during the nineteenth century, it contains predominantly pieces by European male composers yet nonetheless reflects the role of music in women's lives. Musical accomplishment was a mark of the well-bred woman, and the piano in particular was most often her instrument of choice. Arthur Loesser provides an entertaining history of women's relationship with the piano in his Men, Women, and Pianos: A Social History (1954; reprint, New York: Dover Publications, 1990; ML650.L64 1990) [catalog record], another example of what may be found on the Music Division's shelves.

You can examine women's work as composers through the vast holdings of music scores that contain classically conceived compositions such as Rebecca Clarke's Sonata for Viola and Piano (M226.C) [catalog record], as well as popular songs such as those of singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell. Countless other songs depict women in lyrics, titles, and cover art. You can locate a copy of the sheet music to Helen Reddy's hit “I Am Woman” (M1630.2.B), find out when it was number one on the Billboard charts (the week of December 9, 1972), and look up her famous acceptance speech at the Grammy Awards when she thanked God “because She makes everything possible.” 1

Books about women and their relationship to music include biographies of women musicians, ethnomusicological investigations, and histories. The Music Division is the place to read Marian Anderson's autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning (1956; reprint, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992; ML420.A6A3 1992) [catalog record], research women's role in American Indian music (Women in North American Indian Music [Bloomington, Ind.: Society for Ethnomusicology, 1989; ML3550.W65 1989], edited by Richard Keeling) [catalog record], or find out about women and rock and roll (Lucy O'Brien's She Bop: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop, and Soul [New York: Penguin Books, 1996; ML82.O27 1996]) [catalog record].

The special collections of the Music Division include the performing arts of dance and theater as well as music, and they contain the personal papers of many creative women. Researchers can study the compositional process of Ruth Crawford Seeger through her original musical sketches (Charles and Ruth Crawford Seeger Collection), look through the scrapbooks of opera star Beverly Sills (Beverly Sills Collection), and read the correspondence between Elizabeth Coolidge and Martha Graham discussing the creation of a new American work—a ballet ultimately set to music by Aaron Copland that became the much-loved Appalachian Spring (Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Collection).

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Girl of My Dreams. Charles and Henry Tobias. 1920. Edison Sheet Music Collection. Music Division.

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The music holdings of the Library of Congress are regarded as one of the best music research collections in the world. Estimated at more than twelve million items, they are unmatched in their coverage of both classical and popular music of the United States. They are also strong in European classical music, opera scores and libretti, early imprints of works dealing with music literature and theory, and music periodical literature from the eighteenth century to the present. These collections consist of information sources on paper: the musical notation of scores and books and periodicals about music. Music that is transmitted orally—as is that of many ethnic traditions—is rarely written down. These traditions are best represented in recordings found in either the Recorded Sound Section or the American Folklife Center.

The Performing Arts Reading Room is administered by the Music Division and is the access point for all print and manuscript sources whose subject is music, comprising everything in class M and more than five hundred special collections of primary source material in music.2 The Music Division actively began to collect primary source material in theater and dance in the 1990s. Although presently small in number, these collections are significant—and include the papers of Martha Graham as well as the archives of the Federal Theatre Project. Aside from these special collections, however, the performing arts of theater and dance are represented only in the small reference collection in the reading room. Most published monographs in dance are found in class GV. Theater monographs are more widely distributed: the majority are in class P and others are found in class N and class T. Material classed in other than class M is in the General Collections and should be requested through the Main Reading Room in the Jefferson Building or the Book Service Desk in the Adams Building.

Researchers interested in women and the performing arts should also be aware that there may be material relevant to their study in other divisions. Sound recordings, as noted above, are in the custody of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, which maintains a Recorded Sound Reference Center adjacent to the Performing Arts Reading Room. The Manuscript Division, Prints and Photographs Division, and American Folklife Center also contain collections related to women in the performing arts.

*Authored the original chapter in American Women: A Library of Congress Guide for the Study of Women's History and Culture in the United States (Library of Congress, 2001), from which this online version is derived. Others who contributed to this effort are identified in the Acknowledgments.

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