Thursday, February 23, 2017

Mecca for Musicians - One Hundred Years ago at the Main Library

Upstairs there is a happy hunting-ground for the musicians in the form of a well-stocked music-room. Should any poverty stricken member of the long-haired gentry feel the lure of Beethoven, Brahms, Bach or Bizet, he needs but drift in, select the favored work and give it a tryout in the sound-proof room attached.  Here may the Terpsichorean muse be wooed in every guise but a ragged one. For rag of every sort is taboo, and the vigilant ear of the music librarian is ever cocked for the forbidden strains from the music-room.  In other words, "Nix on the rag in the library."

source: "San Francisco Now Has Library To Be Proud Of," San Francisco Chronicle (February 25, 1917), 34.

San Francisco Public Library Monthly Bulletin vol. 23, no. 1 (January-April 1917), 2

"May this structure throned on imperishable books, be maintained and cherished from generation to generation for the improvement and delight of mankind" source: Public Library Building: Erected Nineteen Hundred and Sixteen; Description of building / George W. Kelham ([San Francisco: s.n., 1917?]).

February 15 was the 100th birthday of the 1917 opening of the San Francisco Public Library Main Library building.

One of the highlights of the newly opened building was a Music Department on the 3rd floor (later the home of the San Francisco History Room). This was one of the only specialized departments in the new building.  The new service was housed in a beautiful room with wood paneling. This new service merited attention in the San Francisco Chronicle article quoted above.

The patron-base of this "mecca for musicians" was thought to be "long-haired gentry."  Starting around the 1910s, classical music began to be semi-pejoratively known in America as "long hair music." In this article, classically trained musicians are further ridiculed as both "poverty-stricken" and "gentry."  The author is also mistaken when invoking Terpsichore, the Greek muse of dance, when discussing music making.

At the building's opening, the department could support the luxury of providing a piano in a sound-proof for musicians wanting to try out a score from the collection.  While this article makes a big deal of the prohibition of ragtime, the music librarians of the San Francisco Public Library have always been very catholic in their selection of musical genres and at no time did they neglect ragtime in their collection building.

The back wall in the photograph below features covered bins for the so-called "x-class sheet music."  In this method of shelving, chamber music was laid flat in bins organized by ensemble type.

The San Francisco Public Library became an innovator when it provided specialized service to the musicians of the community.  Our efforts at collecting music and documenting our City's musical history predate almost all most universities.  The collection was built to a very high level by the first music librarian, the exceptionally capable and energetic Jessica Fredricks, who worked at the library from 1916 to 1951.

A photograph of the Music Department [no date] 

Music Department (source: San Francisco Historical Photograph collection)

Interior of Main Library - music room, looking toward technical room (source: San Francisco Historical Photograph collection)
The x-class sheet music after the collection moved to the 1st floor (source: San Francisco Historical Photograph collection)

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