Searching for a Song

One day last week, I was trying to think of a place to meet a friend on our way out for the evening. “Let’s meet on West 56th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues— you know, where Patelson’s Music House used to be,” the friend said via cell phone. As I turned north on Seventh Avenue, happy memories flooded back of visits to this historic music store. Long gone are the days when you could actually go into a music store in New York and rifle through shelves, binders and bins, browsing and looking for classical and choral scores. My score browsing afternoons are now limited to occasional trips to The Schott Music Shop, Great Marlborough Street, London, a haven for choral treasures and information.

When I look at the scores we’ve accumulated at Melodia Women’s Choir, I marvel at the different ways we’ve come across them. When we started, all we had was a crumpled box of treble scores that had been left for our artistic director in the basement of the church where she was music director at the time. The box proved to be a valuable source of material, with some real treasures among the pieces inside.

Now, almost ten years later, what we still lovingly refer to as “the box” is a library that overflows from several large filing cabinets. Scores have found their way to us through recommendations from the online choral forum choralnet.org; and they’ve arrived in the mail and by e-mail from conductors, composers, and singers. We’ve also sought them out by browsing the repertoire lists of peer choirs online, digging into dictionaries and catalogs, and scouring programs and websites.

In addition to the Melodia library of scores, our audio collection has become a valuable resource for finding material. The CD browsing situation in New York is not as dire as the sheet music store scene since a handful of specialty music stores carry an eclectic mix of recordings and J&R on Park Row has a wide selection of choral recordings. In addition to choral CDs mixed in under composers’ names, a specialty choral section carries compilation choral CDs and some collections by individual choirs. While waiting on the long check-out line at J&R last Saturday, my fellow shoppers were voicing how vital it is to be able to really look at an actual CD before buying it—the internet just didn’t work for them.

Although shuffling through CDs is definitely productive and exciting, many of the CDs in our choir’s audio collection have come from other places. Conferences and concerts have yielded up some good material, and Primarily A Cappella’s Singers.com has become a great resource for rarely-heard material performed by choirs from all over the world. Some gems in the Melodia collection have also come from direct orders to choirs throughout the US, in Canada, and the UK, and from rummaging in used CD stores and market stalls during travels around the US and England.

Some music publishers are also adding audio to their choral catalogs. Hal Leonard’s Voices of Distinction 2011 catalog is a good example. Titles with the “Closer Look” icon frequently include an audio sample in addition to a score excerpt—a great way to discover composers whose work we’re not familiar with.

Once repertoire has been selected for a concert using all these resources, the next project is to find out where to acquire multiple scores and find any instrumental parts that are needed. Read more about that in my next post.

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