Music in harmony with technology

The trove is vast:

Fifty years of audio recordings. A dozen cabinets stuffed floor to ceiling with musical scores and other material. More than 1,300 cardboard boxes filled with photographs, scrapbooks and business records.

And that's not all.

So what do you do with 107 years of Seattle Symphony history, particularly when it needs to be professionally organized and preserved?

You round up archivists and library science experts from the UW. You also round up money to get the organizing done.

The project began in May 2009, when Lorraine Bruce, a senior lecturer at the UW Information School, and three iSchool students created a blueprint which led to a $97,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation.

Nicolette Bromberg, visual materials curator in UW Special Collections, then organized a team for an inventory, a first sorting. Once that's done, probably in the next several months, a second round of sorting will determine what's permanently kept, what's kept for a period of years and what gets tossed out.

The symphony project isn't UW sponsored or directed, but along with Bromberg, the team includes Cydne Zabel, a graduate of the Information School; Hannah Palin, a film archives specialist at the UW Libraries Special Collections; and Gage Doehlert, a 2009 graduate who worked for Bromberg in Special Collections.

The team has found news clips about George Gershwin and the music from his 1936 Symphony performance of Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in F Major. They've found symphony parts hand copied by Works Project Administration people and other parts used in concerts during the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition.

"The symphony history is not only that of the symphony itself but of our region," said Music Director Gerard Schwarz. "The arts reflect and complement important moments, and our archive has become a great repository for more than 100 years of historic cultural occurrences. The library project is an extraordinary opportunity for us to look at our history."

Organizing the material will cost about $500,000, which remains to be secured, said Robert Olivia, associate principal librarian at the Symphony.

At least part of the work will include acid-free storage of works on paper. For example, the musical parts for Petrouchka, composed by Igor Stravinsky who later performed it with the symphony, are deteriorating because they're stored in plain cardboard cases.

When completed, hopefully in the next several years, the archive will include both physical and an online access such that all items will be available to both scholars and the general public.