Though the halfway point of my residency at the Library of Congress fell technically on the First of July, the effects and feelings of a quickly approaching end to my time here did not fully arrive until this week. The notion sprang to mind when I validated my third time card, meaning that six of my ten weeks were officially gone beyond reproach. It has certainly been a memorable experience thus far, and those six weeks have slipped by with the speed that only eager enthusiasm can bring. Now begins the ever faster descent to the culmination of my archival stint and departure from Washington D.C.
But first, a nominal recap of what I have been doing—and will continue to do—here at the Library until I depart for brighter shores in the first week of August.
For the past six weeks I have been pouring over archival content from the incomprehensibly large Leonard Bernstein Collection. Don't let the website fool you; it is big. VERY big. Depending on how you count some of the more peculiar contents, 30,000+ items big. Ironically, the limited representation of its contents on the website is precisely one of the reasons that I have been fortunate enough to find employment in this predicament. Take this excerpt from the mission statement of the Library's fellowship program -
...the Library of Congress furthers its mission to provide access to a universal record of knowledge, culture and creativity as exemplified by its collections...
In 2017 the Library will be launching an entirely new, vastly updated and expanded Bernstein webpage to coincide with the Bernstein Centennial world-wide celebrations. My job, in short, has been to identify and process content that will theoretically be available on the updated website. I have been working with two rather different mediums: printed photographs, and audio recordings --
Within the Bernstein Collection there are roughly 17,000 photographs that span the entirety of his life, both personal and professional. There are large prints, small prints, professional images, polaroid snapshots; a seemingly endless variety of photographic content concerning all things Bernstein. This summer, I have been pouring over the photographs in a chronological manner to select examples for inclusion in the Centennial website updates. To this end, there are a number of criteria that I have to look at to determine whether or not any given photograph is worth including -
Sifting through the photographs of the Bernstein Collection, in the context of this project, is a muddled hunt for buried treasure. A perfect example might turn up only to be sent into the copyright rejection pile. Or worse yet, instead of an original it is simply a photocopy of a photocopy, with no indication of where it came from and quality far too lacking to digitize in any useful way. Up to this point I have located around 300 new images that should find their way onto the site next year. It will more than quadruple the number of images currently available, but is still only a fraction of the thousands in the collection. Hopefully, passing time and the headwork I have done in establishing a workflow will see that number continue to rise in the coming years.
I cannot give you a convenient number to illustrate how many audio recordings there are in the Bernstein Collection, but I can assure you it is a fair number indeed. Initially, I was slated to process 75 recordings that consisted mainly of interviews. Like all plans, that plan quickly shifted course due to the digitization constraints of the recorded sound division and my schedule. To regroup, I worked with my supervisor to draft a new list of prioritized recordings for digitization that encompasses interviews, speeches, lectures, home recordings, rehearsals, and more. After narrowing the focus down to about 50 key recordings, the processing effort was put into motion. Much like the photographs, there are a number of things to consider in choosing recordings, but unlike the photograph processing the audio recordings are not intended to be linked to any particular subject. The focus is merely getting as much audio content onto the website as possible, where there is currently none available. The workflow for the audio recordings goes something like this -
So far I have processed about 35 hours of original recordings from the collection. The only things that will surely make it on the site are the sparse home-recordings. Everything else is subject to the scrutiny of the legal counsel regarding its permissions and access.
As far as the fellowship program goes, the grand finale and ultimate showcase of the efforts of Library fellows come forth in the Display Day program, to be held on July 27th. At this event, I, along with numerous other fellows working throughout the Library's divisions, will be setting up display tables to showcase what we have done during our time at the Library. This event is open to the public but generally draws in congressional staff and other federal folks to see the fruit of our temporary labors in the Library collections. I am not sure quite what to expect, but it should be a fun chance to engage some members of the non-musical world with the fascinating story that is Leonard Bernstein.
I have, of course, not spent every hour of my time in this interesting city sitting in my sterile cubicle. The sheer magnitude of sights and sounds available within a compact radius of my domicile practically necessitates an appreciable level of adventures. I would be lying if I said I have made it to all the best-known spots. There are, after all, dozens of 'best known' spots around the Hill and walking around in the summer swelter is only appealing for so long. I have, however, been to a fair number, and there are still a few more weekends to check a few more marks off the list. The balance between resident and tourist is a delicate one to strike. Some days, it is struck more readily than others.
This past weekend—including that most esteemed American celebration of Independence Day—the tourist strain struck with full force. Through a combination of sheer luck and the marvel of modern avionics, I was able to capture one Shannon on her way home from a five-month stay in China for the holiday weekend. The weather was most agreeable: wet, but cool, and we scuttled all around town. The highlights were of course the public dress rehearsal for the "Capitol Fourth" concert, and the fantastic fireworks launched from the reflecting pool. It rained near constantly for the whole weekends adventures, but the skies cooperated when it mattered most and not a single event was cancelled or delayed. They are entirely unrelated to the general purpose of this blog, but serendipitous inspiration compels me to share a few quick moments: sitting on the Capitol west lawn during the concert, soaking in the rain at the Lincoln Memorial waiting for the sun to creep behind the clouded horizon, and a delightfully poorly composed tidbit of the fireworks show.
Four weeks will surely pass in what seems like the blink of an eye. I doubt any updates will follow until I have planted my feet back firmly on South Dakota soil. You can expect, then, that the organological life will once again be in full swing. The usual array of trombones, keyboards, and other instrumental endeavors will return to the forefront of my daily doings. The summer has been an appreciated departure from my immediate focus, but as always, instruments are calling me back, building the anticipation for my return to the National Music Museum.