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Where Music is Both Food and Labor of Love

Clarinetist Steve Bloom ’62’s music now resides in the Bagaduce Music Lending Library

Last fall, Valeria and Paula Bloom, daughters of the late mathematician and musician Steve Bloom ’62, worked with Steve’s executor, Cynthia Graae ’62, to bequeath his much-loved collection of clarinet music to an unusual institution with Swarthmore ties.

The Bagaduce Music Lending Library, established in 1983, was the dream of concert pianist Fritz Jahoda (father of Ellie Jahoda Horwitz ’62). Jahoda was determined that the cost of buying music should never be an impediment to potential performers. Wishing to make his extensive personal collection of music available to anyone who might want to use it, he enlisted some musical friends, and together they founded a music lending library. 

Thirty years later, the library, located in beautiful Blue Hill, Maine, houses more than one million pieces of music—more than 250,000 titles in a variety of editions and instrumentations. The collection is catalogued, and the catalogues are available online to anyone, anywhere. Many of these pieces are very special and not easily found anywhere else. Want a piece for three bassoons? A work for eight pianos/32 hands? A Mozart piece for one piano, six hands, designed for a gentleman flanked by two (preferably attractive) ladies? How about an air for flute and mandolin? Is there a show tune you heard and loved and would like to play? All of these and more can be found on the library’s website

Music has been sent to borrowers across the United States and in 27 foreign countries. Length of borrowing can be arranged to suit, and the cost to borrow is little more than the cost of postage and handling. (The founders had wanted library services to be free just like public book-lending libraries but “free public libraries” are able to exist only with municipal support).

Music is borrowed in many different forms. Choral groups and community orchestras wishing to perform a piece that they may offer only once can borrow the full set of parts. A pickup group of players may select a variety of works in order to play them through to see if they like them. Perhaps you need an old Irish song to help celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; or your family may want a particular selection for a wedding or a memorial service, leaving the church organist in a quandary. Whatever your need, the library is there to help! In addition to its extensive collection of classical works, the library has what is likely the largest collection of American popular sheet music and show tunes outside of the Smithsonian Institution. In 2013, it acquired 27 file cabinets of a cappella vocal pieces, much in demand now by college singing groups. Cataloguing of this gift alone took more than a year.

Management of the collection is truly a labor of love, conducted by an army of volunteers who work side by side with two paid staffers to organize, sort, and catalogue the music. They clean it, restore torn pages, shelve the music, and prepare it for mailing. Each day brings new donations like those of the Bloom family. As Music Director Mary Gould points out, “The boxes just keep coming, and there are treasures in every box.”

Items not needed for the collection are sold. Visitors and students from local music schools (The Monteux School for conductors, Kneisel Hall for chamber music players, local music camps and local high schools) descend on the sale and collect treasures at bargain prices—$10 a bag. And when special needs arise, the library responds. After Hurricane Katrina, volunteers combed the selections to send special packages to New Orleans churches to replace items that had been destroyed. 

This year, the music library is taking a big leap forward as it makes plans to move to a new facility, a campus with four buildings donated in April 2014 by local philanthropists Jan and Bob Marville.

Here, the library will be able to expand the collection, add a digitizing station, provide a piano for those who want to hear what they see, and even offer a performance center. As the library is intentionally a nonprofit organization, these changes will involve developing a campaign to raise funds to bring the unused structures up to code and add the amenities needed for a truly visitor-friendly library. 

At this point, it is unclear when the move will take place, but things are progressing rapidly. In the meantime, visitors are always welcome, and music users will always be served. Profound thanks to the Bloom family and to many others for their gifts of music and to contemporary composers who provide copies of their work. And the library is always grateful for support in any form as it continues its mission—to provide music for performance and for personal pleasure. Check it out at