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Vol. X, no. 1

TCU Library Newsletter, Web Edition  

November, 1998
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A View Through the Transom
by Hugh Macdonald

     For many librarians collecting is a significant part of their job, but for some it can be an obsessive activity away from work as well. I am a collector of classical music CDs - specializing in 19th and 20th century opera, historic versions of the symphonies of Anton Bruckner and all recordings made by Wilhelm Furtwangler. I am too embarrassed to tell you how many CDs I have amassed but suffice to say that I am having to consider moving to a larger apartment. How did I come to this obsession? Gender is perhaps part of the answer. Several studies have disclosed that 98 per cent of serious collectors of classical music recordings are men. As are reviewers of classical recordings. As are readers of the reviews. Women do buy classical recordings but are unlikely ever to want 17 versions of Bruckner's Ninth Symphony. In recent years classical sales to both genders have accounted for less that 2 per cent of record store sales nationwide and just this summer Boston's record store quietly reduced space, staff and inventory in their classical department. Other retailers are following suit. There are no longer any major American record companies producing classical recordings. Even more distressing is the fact that classical music is generally ignored in the nation's schools where music (other than the marching band) is still taught.

    I was infected when very young. Music was an elective for seventh graders in the rural upstate New York town where I grew up and the class was taught by an extraordinary man. It is Mr. Cook who must be blamed for what I have since become. Big, burly and forceful, he captivated students by treating them as adults capable of meeting his high expectations. In the course of a school year he would have each of us reading and composing music and each of us would score one of our compositions for full orchestra - strings, woodwinds, percussion - the lot.

    But it was the music he played for us which I remember to this day. We heard works in their entirety. As he changed or flipped the 78 rpm platters, he might draw our attention to something which excited him or replay a section, but ultimately we would hear it without interruption. A sampling of what he gave us includes:

Debussy - Daphnis et Chloe
Stravinsky - The Firebird and The Rite of Spring
Chavez - Sinfonia India
Copeland - Appalachia Spring and El Salon Mexico
Grofe - Grand Canyon Suite
Beethoven - Eroica Symphony and The Ninth
Blitzstein - Airborne Symphony
Verdi - Rigoletto Mozart - Symphony No. 40

    I am certain Mr. Cook must have opened the ears and hearts of others besides myself. We all worked so hard for him.

    Mr. Cook was fired by the school board in his third year because during the annual spring concert his wife was spotted at the back of the auditorium nursing their infant son. 

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