ASSOCIATES (2006, July, v. 13, no. 1) -

Interview with Caitlin St. John, Library Assistant
University of California, Riverside Music Library

The following is an interview with Library Assistant Caitlin St. John, Head of the Music Library at the University of California, Riverside. The questions were supplied by Heidi Hutchinson, Special Collections Cataloger, University of California, Riverside.

Q: Describe your facility and your job. What does it look like there, how big are the various components of the collection (numbers), who comes in to use the facility, what does your work entail?

A: The UC Riverside Music Library is located in the basement of the new Fine Arts Building. The room is quite large, and the predominating colors of the décor are gray, black and maroon, so it's really quite nice-looking. The collection contains about 4,300 Music CDs, 184 cassettes, 85 videotapes, 79 DVDs, a small but mighty reference section, about 7,500 LPs, and about 35,000 individual music scores. We provide listening equipment in a smaller room off to the side, near the front of the Library. We also have 6 public computers, a networked printer, and a wonderful new Xerox photocopier. Many different people use the Music Library, including UCR undergrads and grads, only some of whom are music majors, UCR staff and faculty from music and other departments, students and faculty from other schools and universities in the area, and a few community members.

My job consists of managing the Music Library, taking care of everything from being sure that the student staff is well-trained and meeting its obligations to being familiar with all circulation and reserves functions, participating in policy-making decisions with Library Administration. I work with the Cataloging Department on, among other things, detailed contents notes to bibliographic records in the Scotty online catalog, and cooperate with the Collection Development department and music faculty in choosing and purchasing appropriate scores, monographs, CDs and videos for the collection. The job is extremely interesting, varied, and challenging, and I feel honored to be doing it for my alma mater.

In addition to such standard scores holdings as various monuments of music, complete works sets of composers, and standard repertoire for most solo instruments and ensembles, this library has some unusual holdings including an entire section devoted to music for the carillon. We have this material because UCR has one of 5 carillons in the state of California, the others being at Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Barbara, and the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove. We also have an impressive collection of opera piano vocal scores, thanks to the generosity of Marcella Craft, an opera singer who lived in Riverside many years ago. The UCR Scottish Highlander theme has led us to collect music for bagpipe, and we have a small but very nice collection of this material, including the standard editions of the classical music of the great highland bagpipe, piobaireachd. These materials are currently used mainly by members of the UCR Pipe Band. Special Collections houses the musical archives of Oswald Jonas and Joaquín Nin-Culmell. Jonas was a theorist and composer associated with Heinrich Schenker, and he taught in the UCR Music Department many years ago. The Nin-Culmell archive is a recent acquisition in whose purchase I participated with Walter Clark, the present chair of the UCR Music Department. In addition to being the brother of novelist and feminist writer Anaïs Nin, Cuban composer and musician Nin-Culmell was the son of singer Rosa Culmell and Joaquín Nin, who rediscovered and published several collections of such little-known early Iberian keyboard composers as Mateo Albeníz and Freixanet. Nin-Culmell taught at UC Berkeley for many years and died recently at the age of 91. His archive is important because of his personal and familial contacts with a great many important early to mid-20th century European and American composers and performers. Apart from the archive, his estate included some wonderful collections of Iberian folk music, most of which I was able to buy for our collection.

Q: How do you choose materials for the collection?

A: Having been associated with UCR since the mid 1980s when I returned to school after a 15-year hiatus, I have come to know the faculty well. We work together on choosing items to be bought for the collection. I receive slips from our vendors, sort out the likely-looking titles and distribute them to the appropriate professors who mark them according to their wishes. In other cases, I know from having studied music and its history for most of my life that a particular title or work is important to the long-term status of the collection. In these cases, I simply decide on my own.

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I started studying the piano in the late summer of 1959, at the age of 8, after spending a few years invading other people's pianos and picking out little tunes by ear. The studies started as late as they did because that was when an elderly relative gave us her A.B. Chase of Norwalk, Ohio parlor grand piano. My mother took me to hear a recital by harpsichordist Fernando Valenti when I was in the fifth grade, and my doom was sealed by this experience. I had never heard anything as wonderful as Scarlatti sonatas played on that big Challis harpsichord, by a musician of such vigor and intelligence. Of course, you can't walk into a music store and just buy a good harpsichord, so I had to wait another six years before getting my hands on one at Northwestern University in the summer of 1968. I plunged into the harpsichord works of J.S. Bach and François Couperin and have never looked back. After two years of majoring in harpsichord at the Cleveland Institute of Music under the supervision of Doris Ornstein, I attended the school of hard knocks for about 15 years before returning to academia to finish the B.A. and earn the M.A. in music at UCR. My harpsichord teacher at UCR was Susanne Shapiro, a fascinating person and wonderful musician, who had studied harpsichord with Anthony Newman. She provided great inspiration and was very supportive of my thesis work on the toccatas of Frescobaldi and Froberger.

During the years that I was out of school, I sang in several major choruses, including the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, The San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Oakland Symphony Chorus and the Louis Magor Singers.

While music is my main interest and greatest passion, I am also intrigued by popular science, cooking, alternative health issues and European languages. Having studied French for six years in junior high and high school and German for two at the university level, I find it possible to work easily in both of them when it comes to identifying foreign publications for purchase and adding detail to existing cataloging. The foundation provided by these two languages also opens the door to being able to decode all other Romance and Germanic languages as needed. When necessary, I can also transliterate Cyrillic titles, and this is great fun. I learned the Cyrillic alphabet while singing in a small Russian Orthodox church choir years ago in San Francisco. Recently, I was preparing some contents notes for what seemed to be a collection of Spanish renaissance music. I noticed that the language seemed very odd, realized that it wasn't modern Spanish and wondered if it were Portuguese. That identification didn't satisfy me either, so further perusal led me to conclude that it was Catalán, which I had never experienced before. It was great fun, unexpectedly meeting and grappling with a new Romance language.

Q: Tell us about the technical improvements you make to the library catalog to help serve your clientele better.

A: As a student here at UCR, I was frequently stymied when it came to finding individual compositions in the monuments or complete works sets. Anna Harriet Heyer's book, Historical Sets, Collected Editions and Monuments of Music provided some significant help in locating individual pieces, but it was last revised in 1980. Consequently, while excellent for its time, it was seriously out-of-date even by the mid-1980s. When I joined the staff here four years ago, I hatched the idea of providing detailed contents fields for these large sets for Scotty, UCR's online catalog. Initially, I worked very closely with music cataloger Diane David, picking her brains almost daily and learning the ins and outs of the formatting conventions. She was incredibly kind, patient and helpful. I would e-mail her enormous Word documents containing the contents fields, and she would cut and paste them into Scotty. After some time, the Cataloging Department kindly decided to allow me to work directly with the catalog, inputting this information myself. For large contents notes, I continue to prepare Word documents and cut and paste them in. This procedure ensures that a given record is never "under construction" for more than a few moments, but is complete if a patron should happen to call it up on either a public terminal or from home. Knowing that this information is now available to researchers worldwide is very satisfying.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: That's a good question! I'd have to say that the collection development and catalog enrichment are the most immediately exciting and satisfying aspects, but I like the whole package very much. I'm really having more fun than I ever expected to in any job.

Q: Tell us a bit about any special projects in the area of Musikwissenschaft you have undertaken lately – or hope to undertake in the future.

A: I am presently preparing notes and contents for a rare mid-19th-century collection of German songs. It's called Concordia, and it consists of 4 smallish octavo volumes bound in red buckram with decorative gold and blind stamping. The songs are arranged for a single voice with piano accompaniment. The piano accompaniments are delightfully characteristic of their time, tending to be somewhat opulent. Although the title pages read Concordia. Anthologie classischer Volkslieder für Pianoforte und Gesang, the scope is somewhat broader than one might expect. In addition to a huge number of true German folk songs, there are several instances of Italian, French, English and even American songs, including “Yankee Doodle” (with German text)! The type is the old-style Fraktur and is quite small in the index of first lines – I’d guess about 8 or 9 points – so it's rather tricky to read. I do the best I can with it, and our wonderful bilingual English and German cataloger Heidi Hutchinson has been working with me to get it proofread. Her input is invaluable, and we're having a lot of fun with the project. I think I'll be sorry when it's all finished.

Q: What sorts of things do you do outside of work – including and especially things that involve music and performance?

A: I am a church organist and play two services most Sundays for a Lutheran church in Riverside. Occasionally I am invited to play and/or sing at other liturgical churches in town, particularly Episcopal and Roman Catholic. I also play in an English Country dance band previously known as Ladyslippers. Due to a recent change in personnel, we just chose another floral name: Fleur-de-Lis. We play a few big full 18th-century costume gigs every year and provide music for the English Country dance teaching sessions at Riverside's All Saints' Episcopal Church parish hall once every month. From time to time, I have played recorder in Taizé services at All Saints' with another group of friends. When I'm not playing dance or church music, I'm likely to be contradancing. The contradance community is quite extensive in Southern California, and it's possible to attend two or three dances some weekends, though I rarely travel beyond South Pasadena. El Segundo is a bit far! English Country is fairly slow and quite elegant, the kind of dancing done at Mt. Vernon in President Washington's day, but Contra is comparatively wild and uninhibited, and a great workout.

H: Thanks, Caitlin! UC Riverside is indeed fortunate to have someone of your caliber and enthusiasm managing our Music Library. In just the few short years you have been in your position, you have already made a lasting impression on the collection, the facility, the faculty and students of UCR, and the music community at large.

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