What Might Happen To Your Music After You Die (and What You Can Do About It)

The New York Public Library For The Performing Arts (NYPL) is quite similar to the Library of Congress (LOC) in its importance for composers wishing to establish their music in an archival repository. Like the LOC, it contains two of the three constituents mentioned above, namely, the general circulating collection of the Branch Libraries which includes scores and CDs, and the non-circulating Research Collections administered by the Music Division, containing historical papers and documents often along with scores and CDs. Also similar to the LOC, the NYPL Music Division Research Collections will reveal, upon browsing its on-line general collections catalog, to have holdings of many composers, most typically catalogued without the special status of being amassed together as a unit with important papers, documents, etc. I was impressed to discover, for example, that virtually all of my published scores were among its holdings, unknown to me.

The Music Division houses a genuine archival repository of composer documents and papers, similar to the LOC in its organization and means of access. Some sample listings include:

[Ed. note: And, most recently, The New York Public Library acquired the American Music Center‘s historic collection of more than 60,000 scores and recordings of works by American composers, which will henceforth be known as the American Music Center Collection at The New York Public Library.)

Unlike the LOC, there seems to be an emphasis at the NYPL Music Division on more contemporary composers and organizations, although the LOC is taking steps to remedy this, as in its recent collaborations with Roger Reynolds. While there are no set criteria for inclusion in the archives, the Music Division decided to start with regional composers and those whose work was in the greatest danger of disappearing. Preference was also given to those composers without an institutional affiliation.

An interesting new development is the Music Division’s inclusion of electro-acoustic music among its archives. The purpose is to create an archive of electro-acoustic music of prominent regional composers. All materials will be collected, including composers’ work notes and work tapes and, of course, the music itself. Whenever possible, the original documents are kept in the form in which they were created (i.e. paper documents–notes, etc.). All music, work tapes, etc., were originally digitized and cataloged on DAT or ADAT, with plans to transfer them to hard disk. As with all research collections, they may be consulted only in the Library’s reading room.

This ambitious project is still in its early stages, having gone through changes in administration, levels of funding, and digital formats. To date, none of the half dozen or so composers’ digital archives originally slated for this project have been completed, due largely to the enormous expense involved, and the program awaits further commitment and funding.

My advice to all composers, similar to that given for the LOC, is to contact your publisher/CD company and urge that the music be deposited in the NYPL. Before offering to donate one’s archival material, however, I would strongly suggest browsing its Web site to determine if one’s output is consonant with NYPL’s institutional mission (always good advice for any archival repository). Additionally I would recommend contacting a curator at the NYPL.

From What Might Happen To Your Music After You Die and What You Can Do About It
by Barton McLean
© 2001 NewMusicBox

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