On Monday in Butler, archivist aardvark Alexandra Svokos listened to Barbara Haws, actual NYPhil archivist, Jane Ginsburg, Columbia Law prof, and Shamus Khan talk about the New York Philharmonic’s Digital Archives.
As it turns out, the New York Philharmonic has a hugely extensive collection of old things. Barbara Haws explained that they have over 7,000 hours of audio and 1,000 cubic feet of tangible materials. Over the last few years, they’ve begun putting that all online, so you can have free access to it.
These documents allow you to look at a specific event from all angles. The digital archives include conductor scores, musicians’ parts, playbills, printed programs, musician rosters, letters, finances, newspaper clippings, lists of subscribers, and seat locations and names of attendees. Haws demonstrated this by showing us the night of Leonard Bernstein’s conducting premiere on November 14, 1943, when he stepped in after the initial conductor fell ill. We know he was paid $125 a week when he was first put on the payroll and we can hear the radio broadcast of the program, which included Schumann, Strauss, and Wagner. On Bernstein’s copy of the score, he had scribbled “who’s read Byron lately?”
On the legal side of things, Professor Ginsburg talked copyright and intellectual property. Because the music pieces–the musician parts and scores–are supposed to be used to contextualize events and learn from rather than used as actual sheet music, the Phil has the legal right to reprint them. There was some squabbling from publishing companies, but the Philharmonic was in the right: these scribbled on pieces are theirs.
Professor Shamus Khan then showed what these archives can really do. He, along with a team of dedicated undergraduate research assistants, have been going through the archives to develop a musical, social history of the city of New York. They have been taking the seating charts from the older performances to see what kinds of people sat in what areas, as if the auditorium itself was composed of different neighborhoods. The seating charts include street addresses of attendees, so Khan and co. have been mapping out where attendees live. Unsurprisingly, a majority of Philharmonic-goers lived on 5th Avenue, but surprisingly, not all within the same neighborhood–they all just had to have that 5th Ave address in a straight line cutting through hoods.
His project is still well in development, but fascinating ideas are emerging. Will they be able to find trends in what kinds of music people from different neighborhoods went to see? Was the UES totally Mozart while the UWS was all about Wagner? They’re also comparing the attendee lists to the New York Social Register, to see how many super snooty people were there and to learn even more about them. Additionally, they’ve been combing through letters from concert-goers for various things, mostly finding that, no matter what, people will always complain that there wasn’t enough Beethoven.
There is a lot that can be done with all of this information, and the people in the Butler room on Monday were adorably overexcited to offer suggestions for Khan’s project as well as ideas for other projects that can be done with the documents. As for me, I’m still wondering who’s read Byron lately.
Archiving your soul via ShutterStock