For most, the library doesn’t spark ideas of modernity and trendiness. Some would be prompted to think of dusty old books and outdated research methods, while others may think the library just holds a bunch of computers. Stacey Krim, our Special Collections Technician, thrives in the library.
Arguably one of UNCG’s best kept secrets, the UNCG Cello Music Collection features work from a dozen cellists who have become relevant via their compositional or pedagogical work, and have furthered the cello as an instrument. It’s worth noting our collection is the largest in the world, and contains not only annotated music and compositions by famous cellists, but things like personal correspondence, recordings and other intimate artifacts.
“You’re making an impact to the community,” says Krim. “Being able to give people the ability to touch a part of history, and to see their faces, especially within the scope of music, when they can actually touch the manuscript connected with greatness. And you’re the person providing that access, it’s wonderful.”
The collection began with acquisition of Luigi Silva’s personal library of cello materials in 1964. This initiative was led by cello faculty member Elizabeth Cowling. Cowling was fascinated with Silva’s work in the field of musicology, and began working with Silva as far back as 1946, the year she started teaching at UNCG. A music historian in her own right, Cowling is recognized for her book“The Cello”, the what Krim calls “the definitive biography on the instrument,” even after being published over forty years ago.
Krim’s latest project was exhibited earlier this month with the Lev Aronson Collection. Definitely more of a tragic figure in the cello world, much of Aronson’s life was seen suffering from the atrocities in Hitler’s Germany. Born into a Jewish family in Latvia in early February of 1912, at age 13 Aronson began playing cello on the professional level. While enrolled in university he was recommended by a student that he start taking lessons, and soon changed his major from law to cello performance. After graduating from the Berlin Conservatory in 1932, Aronson acted principal cellist for the Liepaja Philharmonic Orchestra until 1941. It was that year when Aronson had his cello confiscated and was sent to Nazi internment camps with his family. His sister and parents were both executed. Even the end of World War II did not grant Aronson his freedom. Being a multi-linguist led the Russian military to believe Aronson was a German spy, and was in captivity until escaping in the summer of 1946.
One issue Krim faced in was working with the limited content available to her. “So we knew from the beginning that we were going to have to tell the story of Lev Aronson through his music,” states Krim. ”We knew it was going to be a very text heavy exhibit because we were going to have a lot of explaining to do to the audience. His collection consists mainly of his annotated manuscript music, very little in the way of personal papers. So the first challenge is if we’re creating an exhibit for a general audience, we have a very alien format of material we have to translate for them.”
She goes onto mention that finding an acceptable way to present the material proved difficult. “You will always have to balance the idea of ‘dumbing down’ the exhibit versus making the information accessible to an interested and intelligent crowd,” she explained. “We didn’t want to insult any musicians coming in, so we wanted to make the exhibit accessible, but not superficial, just to do justice to Lev Aronson and our audience.”
One step Krim is making into modernizing the Cello Music Collection is digitizing portions of it that aren’t subject to copyright. “We are a collection that most other researchers in our collections are actually national or international. So I do have many cello students, and many cellists from North Carolina, who come in and use the collection. But most of our people are honestly from all over the world.” This helps in preserving much of the material as it is physically handled less, but the knowledge is still transferable to researchers.
“One of the features of our collection in our last digital push was comparative annotation,” states Krim. “So unlike anywhere else in the world, you can come into our collection and see potentially 13 different world class cellists annotations for a specific piece of music. Literally you have this banquet of annotations and I’ve had researchers come in from all over the world to looks at this material, to see how the great ones have managed to fit their own interpretation upon a piece.”
The Lev Aronson exhibit can be found in the Hodges Reading Room of the Jackson Library, and will run all through this and the spring semester until March 17. The exhibit is an extension of the War & Peace Imagined theme being conducted by the College of Visual and Performing Arts, and will be paired with a Cello Music Celebration in the first week of December.
Offering yet another valuable example of how UNCG furthers students understanding of the arts, the Lev Aronson exhibit is not to be missed.