Some months back, my friend — jazz photographer John Herr — told me about an invaluable resource for people trying to track down sheet music.
You remember sheet music, don’t you?
Sheet music (individual publications for specific songs, often with beautiful Art Deco cover illustrations and portraits of the artists — famous or obscure — who performed the songs) was once a predictable part of any even mildly musical household. Before the iPod, when people relied on records and the radio for the hits of the day, they more than not played those hits on the piano, guitar, ukulele, or sang them together. When the newest Astaire-Rogers film came out, or Bing Crosby sang something pretty on the radio, the sheet music was right there.
Those of us who love jazz and pop music are fascinated by these sheets, and readers have seen a good number of them here: James P. Johnson, Fud Livingston, Ben Pollack, Louis, and many others. But sheet music was inexpensive and printed on fragile paper, so the years have often not treated the pages well.
So if you have a deep need to find the sheet music (words, music for verse and chorus, ukulele chords) for NEVER SWAT A FLY or IT LOOKS LIKE RAIN IN CHERRY BLOSSOM LANE or even I’VE GOT ELGIN MOVEMENTS IN MY HIPS (WITH A TWENTY-YEAR GUARANTEE), you could go on eBay and you might find the sheet music for sale; some is even available at Amazon. But here’s a better way — intelligent, reliable, and inexpensive.
It’s the MOTTO COLLECTION at the FAYETTEVILLE FREE PUBLIC LIBRARY in Fayetteville, New York. But please don’t panic at the unfamiliar name. You don’t have to find Fayetteville on the map to get ready to make an automobile pilgrimage. It’s easier than that.
But first: the collection contains 35,000 sheets of popular American songs from the last 150 years. It also includes 900 music and reference books which circulate. The sheet music presents a chronological picture of American life and popular culture from the Civil War through the 1980s.
The Collection was donated to the library by the late Lucy Motto in memory of her husband, Vincent, who died in 1995. Vincent was an amateur collector who pursued his interest for thirty years (he had sung with bands in Utica and Syracuse). Rod Hampson, a long-time community volunteer, became the collection’s first curator in 1996. It is now taken care of by Roberta Hampson (who won’t mind overmuch if you call her “Bobbi”: she is very friendly) who knows a great deal — she is a wonderful resource in herself.
To reach Mrs. Hampson, you may call the library at 315-637-6374 or leave a message for her at extension 328. Or you may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The collection is meticulously indexed with extensive cross-references; if you are searching for a particular song, for a theme, for personal entertainment or scholarship on a larger scale. It continues to grow through donations and subscriptions. About those donations: if you can’t sleep at night because you need the music for IF YOU’RE A VIPER, check with Bobbi Hampson to see if the collection has it. The library requests a donation of at least $3.00 for a song, plus postage if it’s mailed to you — a pittance compared to eBay.
And soon you can be playing and singing MAKE MY COT WHERE THE COT-COT-COTTON GROWS at home. Amaze your friends and delight your neighbors!