News & Events

Take Note: Music and Performing Arts Library Will Mark Milestone

Peek into the Music and Performing Arts Library, and you’ll encounter an array of wonders—from historic sheet music to vintage LPs to videos of opera to, yes, even a functioning reproducing (player) piano.

Holding one of the more varied collections among library units on the University of Illinois campus, MPAL will celebrate its wealth of performing arts materials at its 75th anniversary this fall. An open house on Friday, September 6 will mark the occasion (see additional details on page 7).

According to its head librarian, Kirstin Johnson, the event will help people realize, “Oh, this library doesn’t have just Beethoven, it’s not just printed music,” but comprises an energetic space whose holdings support the study of music, theatre, and dance. One of the largest such libraries at a public university, the collection offers approximately 500,000 items, including books, scores of all types, journals, microforms, and sound recordings in many formats. In addition, its loanable technology pool offers materials such as iPads, microphones, and cables to bolster creative endeavors.

Particularly strong in music education, Renaissance music, and performance materials, MPAL had its beginnings solely as the Music Library in 1944; in its early years, its holdings were divided between the Main Library and what is now the Memorial Room at Smith Music Hall. In 1969, a burgeoning collection necessitated placing sound recordings in the nearby Undergraduate Library. The current unit opened in 1974 on two floors in the then-new School of Music building on West Nevada Street in Urbana. Later, the library absorbed materials from dance (2004) and theatre (2008) and was renamed the Music and Performing Arts Library.

Visitors may also view the library’s new furniture (procured in part by donor gifts), now safely ensconced beneath the building’s year-old roof. Last September, MPAL also revealed its reproducing piano, which lies in restored grandeur in a newly constructed secure room, thanks to financial assistance from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement and the Dean of Libraries and University Librarian.

A true gem, the 1927 Steinway Model M walnut grand piano is a “reproducing piano,” meaning it imparts musical expression without the manual help required by regular player pianos. Such instruments were all the rage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before radio brought music into homes. “If you yourself could not go to concerts or play the music yourself,” Johnson said, “this was a way for you to hear it. And in some cases, these are examples of the composers [or famous pianists] themselves performing it.

“And,” she continued, “it wasn’t just that you were hearing it on a machine—it was literally happening [on your piano] as if they were sitting there playing.”

Visitors will be able to listen to the piano during the open house, as well as any time during the year upon appointment. Johnson says the library also plans to host monthly lunchtime concerts, beginning this fall.

“We love to share things,” she said, “and we definitely want people to get the benefit out of this lovely addition to our library.”

“We love to share things and we definitely want people to get the benefit out of this lovely addition to our library.”

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