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

The Library of Congress (LOC) is by far the largest archival repository and the one with which most composers are involved, whether they realize it or not. In fact there is some confusion about how this congressional research body works. First, many publishing and CD companies send their output to the LOC for placement in its general collection and obtain what is know as a Library of Congress Number. Composers may check to see if any of their output is in the general LOC collection by checking its Web search engine. If your materials are not there, contact your publisher and request that they deposit their collection in the LOC, since this is the single most important and basic archival/reference entity there is, although it is institutional-, not composer-driven. That is, there are no attendant papers, reviews, links of any kind to accompany the music in the general collection.

Second, the LOC has established over 500 special music collections. These comprise historical materials from not only composers, but critics, performers, conductors, and other music personalities, with an emphasis on ‘historical’ items. Most composers in these special collections finished their activity long before most of us were born, and include Stravinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, etc. One of the most current composer relevant to composers living today would be Vladimir Ussachevsky, whose collection comprises personal papers, analog audiotapes, educational materials and music manuscripts. None of these are digitized nor is there any present intention to do so. Regarding the LOC’s policy of accepting materials from composers, Elizabeth Auman, curator at the LOC says in a recent far-ranging note (this refers only to special collections, not the general collection above):

“Almost all of our composers’ archives are presented in the context of special collections. Just about the only cases where this is not true is when the materials sent to us by the composer are only in one format (most frequently only musical scores). We certainly accept these, and happily, but much prefer the composer or the composer’s estate be willing to send us mixed format collections–not only music scores in manuscript, printed or computer formats, but also correspondence, programs, scrapbooks, photographs, legal and financial records, engagement books and diaries, their writings and/or lectures about music, sound and video recordings, and the like–the entire documentation of the composer’s life and works. In these cases, rather than do ‘traditional cataloging,’ which would result in the splitting of the collection by format, we create a special mixed format collection for the composer and the materials remain together. Obviously the ‘neatest’ way to deal with this is with the family or estate after the death of a composer, but we particularly enjoy working with living composers who deposit (a legal term for us, with its own kind of paperwork) their collections with us as they are able. The document involved speaks of a deposit with intent to convert to gift (usually upon the death of the composer). This lets us set up the eventual structure of the special collection, and makes archival material no longer needed in its original format by the composer available to scholars and performers within the restrictions set out by the Instrument of Deposit. It is our practice, unless the composer designates otherwise, that what we come to ‘own’ is only the physical property–the intellectual rights remain with whomever the holder normally would be.”

Regarding present composers wishing to donate materials, she continues, “There is no obligation on the part of an American classical composer (or other type of musician) to donate her archives to the Music Division of the Library, nor is there an obligation on the part of the Library to accept such offers. Typically, we look for archives of musicians (not only composers) of a certain stature. There are no firm guidelines. The hope is that there is a certain significant body of works, that–let’s assume we are talking about composers here–there have been professional performances of a number of these works, that there are sound recordings (commercial and non-commercial), that the composer (or other musician) has attained some amount of attention other than in his or her own immediate community.”

The third way a composer will be affected by the LOC is when she/he submits a work to the United States Copyright Office, which is a separate arm of the LOC. Again I quote Elizabeth Auman (to whom I am most grateful for her extensive advice on many aspects of this article), “The Copyright Office is indeed a separate part of the Library, though it is also the source of the majority (in numbers) of our general collections. Theoretically, every score or sound recording that has been copyrighted has received some form of cataloging. The Copyright Office maintains its own catalogs, however, and they are not those available on-line to users of the ‘regular’ Library of Congress catalog. The copyright catalogs can only be consulted onsite, either by a private researcher who can come to the Library, or by a member of the Copyright Office Information and Reference Division staff. Staff of that division will do searches for the public and issue reports for an hourly fee.”

And so, for all composers wishing to ensure future availability of their music, the LOC is definitely a first step. It should be pointed out that the first and third categories of the LOC above are not strictly composer archival programs, since their primary purposes are different. Neither is a new program being launched by the American Music Center strictly designed for posthumous archival repository. But both the LOC and AMC programs, as well as that of The New York Public Library, serve well as de facto archival repositories.

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