“Wave Goodbye” – Conservatoire Library Stories Part 3

The Conservatoire Library is closing its doors for the last time on Friday 9th June 2017.

Early history

The original School of Music was founded as part of the Birmingham and Midland Institute (BMI) in 1859.

BMI (C) commons.wikimedia.org

BMI (C) commons.wikimedia.org

The library was borne out of a growing collection of items that had been offered as donations, beginning with a book gifted by publishers Mahillon & Co entitled Composers’ Vade Mecum in 1886. Along with a collection of donated music, the library was officially formed in 1891 when the School of Music Committee decided to begin the purchase of orchestral works and hire out the parts at 10% cost to Orchestral Class students. Some of the donated works had parts missing, and cost the School a whopping £4 to replace!

Alfred Creswell became the first Honorary Librarian of the Orchestral Class in 1896, a post which granted free admission to the class. A voluntary Sub-Librarian was appointed in 1899 under the same conditions. The Orchestral Class was disbanded and reformed as the Students’ Orchestra in 1900, and it was decided to appoint a “competent librarian” for £1 a week.

A large amount of music continued to be donated to the library over the coming years, including a substantial number of key orchestral works from the Principal of the BMI, Granville Bantock. The library grew sufficiently to be granted a dedicated space, and Room 19 in the School was considered suitable. The fixtures and fittings amounted to £21, a considerable cost in 1905!

At this time, a new Librarian was appointed for 10/- a week, working evenings. In 1908 Bantock decided to appoint a new Librarian, Howard Orsmond Anderton, who would also act as his assistant. It was reported that he had a “high-handed manner and irritability with the students”, and he resigned in 1912. Throughout these years, the Honorary Librarian position remained filled and this person took responsibility for collecting and cataloguing donated and purchased items.

In 1923, the Birmingham Library approached the School of Music as they were hoping to set up their own music collection. Bantock served as the chairman of the committee, and advised that duplicate copies of chamber works could be donated, as well as 25 vocal scores.

In 1947, the following extract was published in the School’s Fanfare magazine:

“The Music Library contains all kinds of music for instruments, voices, chamber groups, string and symphony orchestras. Those who are making a serious study of music can hardly afford to neglect the opportunity of systematically reading through this enormous collection not only to improve their standard of reading but also to build up a thorough knowledge of the repertoire of classical and modern music which for economic reasons is not practicable in any other way.”

We think this message still holds true today!

Our history of the Conservatoire Library continues in two weeks.

Our thanks to John Smith who provided the above information via extracts from the School of Music Committee notes and Fanfare Magazine.

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“Wave Goodbye” – Conservatoire Library Stories Part 2

The Conservatoire Library is closing its doors for the last time on Friday 9th June 2017.

We were sent an extract from a piece written by Dane Preece for Birmingham Conservatoire’s Fanfare magazine in 1984, which describes the transition from working at a university department to Library Assistant at the then-Birmingham School of Music (BSM):

“One day, whilst still a stranger to my new BSM surroundings back in the Autumn Term of 1981, I was joined in the canteen by a sympathetic yet sprightly female student (a singer, as it turned out). Our conversation began in much the same way most conversations do when you meet someone for the first time, during which I happened to mention that I had just finished reading music at university. Inspired by this remark, she told me that she had just come out of a class in which Mr Daw had been discussing the merits (or otherwise) of various editions, and in which he had told them that Schirmer was a ‘good’ one. She then said, “his opinion would soon change of he saw my Schirmer edition of the Brahms songs”. When I asked why, she replied with considerable agitation, “Why? Because all the pages are falling out!”.

I was too stunned to laugh. I remember thinking at the time: I know I was warned before I came that there would be a change of emphasis away from ‘things academic’ at music colleges, but nobody ever warned me that the change would be so painful! I have been able to laugh at the incident many times since after I came to realise that the incident was no true reflection of the academic standards upheld by the BSM staff. But it did demonstrate to me fairly early on that there were indeed going to be changes of emphasis at the School of Music which I was going to have to adjust to.

When I joined the BSM library staff in 1982, after my post-graduate year was up, I expected to have to submit to yet more changes and adjustments; happily, however, these were few, the greatest problem being the invitations I’ve had from a handful of members of staff to address them by their Christian names. Believe me, it is by no means easy to treat one’s former tutors and examiners as, in effect, colleagues – however, if past experience is anything to go by, it may just require the passage of time for me to succeed in making that rather awkward readjustment!”

Conservatoire Library in the 1980s

Conservatoire Library in the 1980s

Our thanks to John Smith for sending us this extract.

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“Wave Goodbye” – Conservatoire Library Stories Part 1

The Birmingham Conservatoire Library closes its doors for the last time on Friday 9th June 2017.

Robert Allan, Music Librarian between 1992 and 2008, remembers the grand opening of the refurbished library in 2006.

“The Conservatoire Library has been in the present location since 1994, but it was only in 2006 that it became possible to transform it by adding an extra floor, giving extra seating, shelving, staff space, and enhanced listening facilities. For this to happen the library had to close completely over that summer vacation, and barely re-opened in time for the autumn term. It was then discovered that quite a number of crates of music books had gone missing, which only turned up some weeks later, to the relief of the library staff! By the following spring it was time to have an official opening of the refurbished library.


Jeffrey Skidmore unveils the new plaque

Jeffrey Skidmore, founder and music director of Ex Cathedra, was invited to unveil a plaque to this effect at lunchtime on the 19th April 2007. (The same shiny plaque still stands adjacent to the library entrance/exit.)  Many notable musicians and staff were invited to attend the opening, with food and drink provided, and there were speeches by the Director of Library Services at the time, Judith Andrews, and by Jeffrey himself (emphasising the importance of music libraries). Funding had been made available to commission an original fanfare for this occasion. I consulted Joe Cutler, Head of Composition, and he suggested BMus student Samuel Bordoli to write it. He agreed to compose the fanfare for three trumpets, and soon let me hear at least an approximation of it via computer.


Music students perform a special fanfare

The performance on the day was, of course, by three Conservatoire students, and I felt that the piece, performed on the new upper level to the guests below, was highly effective. It is gratifying to add that Samuel Bordoli was not only singled out to be introduced to Pierre Boulez on his visit to the Conservatoire, but he has gone on to become one of the most successful composers of his generation, for example with a piece performed at a concert in Windsor Castle celebrating H.M. The Queen’s 90th birthday in 2016.

Who would have thought, though, that the Conservatoire Library would continue as a separate entity for a mere ten years beyond that occasion?  Even so, I myself will continue to make regular use of these extensive music resources in their new location.”


Robert Allan, Music Librarian 1992-2008

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Big changes for Conservatoire Library users

As you might know, the Birmingham Conservatoire is moving to its new building in Summer 2017, and the current Conservatoire Library will be closing its doors and moving into the Curzon Library.

This means a number of changes – we will be remodelling certain areas within Curzon Library over the next few months to create some dedicated music resource rooms, and there will be a certain amount of disruption at both sites as we prepare. There will also be a change to loan counts and loan periods, as music stock will be much easier to self-issue with the Curzon Library system. This is particularly good news for those who borrow large sets of chamber music! Music will no longer be issued for an entire term, as all ‘normal loan’ items will be 4 weeks regardless of item type.

The key information is outlined below.On the move

Conservatoire Changes

If you have any questions, please visit us at the Help Desk, or drop us a line using our Library Help site.


Collection Spotlight: Trial of Digital Concert Hall

A collection spotlight

We’ve currently got trial access to Digital Concert Hallstreaming audio and video from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra.

To access this website, you will need to register on-campus first by clicking the above link, and completing the registration form when prompted. After this initial registration you will be able to stream content from home.