In our latest Q & A session we talk to Douglas Wright, library adviser in the Music and Art and Design team at Central Library.
What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a music lover, musician and reader?
It is a bit of a cliche to say that a library gives you a world of choice or enables you to chose from the world, but it does. You can choose to be with old friends or make new ones. The old friends are the novels and classics that we all return to, to read or listen to, time and again or the new friends like the Sean O’Boyle’s Concerto for Digeridoo found on Naxos.
We use Naxos streaming service at work and I also use it at home. What I have noticed that I have in common with my colleagues in the Music Department is, when we switch on Naxos I the morning we go to the ‘Recently Added’ page and just choose anything from there. Often they are great treats like the Digeradoo Concerto but sometimes we are forced to think again. Like a Beatles /Bach Mash up which didn’t make it to my playlist.
As a music lover I have been part of a team who have been able to promote live music making in the library. We have also had many author talks by musicians or on musical topics, all of which have been a thrill to be part of. The team’s involvement in Make Music Day 2019 was a highlight, I think, for us all. Make Music Day 2019 was also the first time I had played my Ukulele in public and the first time in a long time I had done anything as a musician.
It was nice to dip my toe.
The biggest thing the library has done for me is introduce me to ebooks and I am a huge convert. For the past five years my wife and I have kept a list of our reading for the year. I have always tried to source all my books from my library but I look first to see if we have a copy of the book I wish to read on Overdrive, our ebook service, so I can have it on my phone and effectively have it with me all the time. I have just made myself aware that I have my music, my ebooks and my audiobooks on my phone so I carry the library or a library with me all the time, I think I need to question my own reliance on my phone, but that’s for another day.
What is your earliest library memory?
I was born and lived in Park Road, Kelvinbridge in Glasgow till I was eighteen. Kelvinbridge which is in between St. George’s Cross, Hillhead and Maryhill. On Saturday mornings, we, my Mum, Dad and brother would walk the short distance to St. George’s Cross in Glasgow where we would shop, pay bills, pay some money to my dad’s tailor account and then go to Woodside Library which was beside Jimmy Logan’s Metropole Theatre. My Mum and Dad would leave us in the children’s section and go and choose their selection for the week. I seem to remember that we had three tickets so we would make our small selection which at that time, for me, were books like Paddington, The Wombles and The Famous Five. From then on, I have a sketchy relationship with libraries.
Drifting in and out of love with them, spending years never going near one and then at other times never being out of them.
My relationship with Central Library really started when I had children and started using the Children’s Library. My children are now 26 and 22 so that was a little while ago. Often, if we were all at the library I would sneak downstairs to the Music Library and then as the children got older, we would all sneak downstairs, to chose our music.
Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
There are many things I am struggling with and without at the moment. I have to say until asked that question, the Library or a library was not one of them. Now thinking about it, I think it is the thing I have been trying not to think about, I have been for the past few weeks distracting myself with things, tasks and ‘shiny objects’. Trying not to think about that bit of my day that’s missing, my ‘normal’. I have gone down a bit of a road there and to try now and get back to the things, tasks and shiny objects.
I have not been reading as much as I did but I have discovered the joy of audiobooks. I installed the BorrowBox and uLIBRARY apps and have listened to a number of books, which allows me to potter about our flat, as Bing Crosby says, “busy doing nothing working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do”. So the advice would be, always listen to Bing, he will know what to do. I try not to throw advice about, there are people worth listening to, and that’s not me. Seriously, Bing, listen to him.
I am not a great fan of the 21st century, despite my increasing reliance on my phone, and it is not great for me – as a Library adviser who is there to look after and ready our physical collection for our membership to borrow – it is not great for me to say that we have a wonderful set of services online with a lot of those services able to answer to your needs 24 hours a day. We do, and for a lot of people, they have never been more important.
Having said all that, one thing that is said to us, the Music and Art and Design team, most often, is how much people, our membership, enjoy dealing with a person, in the library. That is of no solace at this time and if we are struggling without our library, the only real consolation we can have is that this will end, and hopefully for most of us it will end peacefully and will return to something nearer to a kind of normal.
A lot of people are struggling just now – music has the capacity to soothe by reflecting our emotions but also to challenge – what do you recommend as a music lover to those that are struggling?
One person’s soothing balm is another’s annoyance, So recommending something comes with dangers. My go-to favourites might not be to other people’s liking. I might pick Shostakovich who offers beautiful tunes within edgy, prickly, early 20th century Russian angst, but that is not everybody’s taste. I am also quite stuck with classical music, well, classical music from the romantic era. I once heard John Amis, music critic and broadcaster, talking about music and putting forward the thought that, as one ages music lovers gravitate more to Mozart and leave the youthful romantics in their past. I am about to enter my 59th year and I am still waiting to appreciate Mozart.
The great classical/Romantic composer of my choice would be that lovable cranky, cantankerous, angry, curmudgeon Beethoven. All things I aspire to be – cranky, cantankerous, curmudgeonly and angry – I look forward to all of those traits in my unapologetic dotage.
I have also been pushing myself to other genres, I have tried and enjoyed some of the works of Miles Davis, jazz trumpet legend and I have, strangely, for the past few months, been listening to country music. Recently, I watched a major BBC 4 documentary series on country music and I listened to some of the artists featured in that. That could, of course, be a throwback to my father’s record collection, which included country and western, folk and some dodgy sectarian accordion bands.
On Radio 4, there is a segment of a show called ‘Inheritance Tracks’ in which people describe a piece of music which has been handed down to them and which they hand on to someone they love. I am pleased to say that I have already achieved that with a song by Johnny Cash, the great country and western singer/songwriter, called “A Boy Named SUE” which I got from my father. I played this to my son years ago and he loved it and thought it funny, and it is still on one of his play lists.
Whichever way you inherit your music there are pieces of music which are given to you, which you connect with, somebody or something or an event or a time, place when you were happy, sad, anxious. A song which evokes a memory of a loved one or a beloved thing or in my case I song I sang whilst nappy changing.
Music tinged with emotions which perhaps might be too strong to be dealt with at this time. Can I say the best piece of advice I was ever given was, never listen to advice. Although, that was said about child rearing, but apply it to your music choices. Go to our Naxos website and chose the first CD cover that jumps out at you not because you have heard of the composer or artist but because the CD cover is yellow like the sun or it has your favourite word in the title.
I am reluctant to suggest anything except, try anything, and if you don’t like it, try something else and keep trying till you find the things, book, songs, symphonies, opera which will be your new or old friends.
Are you listening to music just now? What are you listening to? What would you recommend as a way through?
This is now going to be a large cop out, I am listening to music at the moment but I realised I haven’t actually chosen anything. I have been listening to BBC Radio 3 or to Classic FM, so, letting others choose for me and it has been wonderful. I have listened to a programme about building your CD library, one which was focused on the wonderful Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky, a work I had forgotten I had studied years ago for my Higher Music and I was amazed how much I remembered. I listened to a strange production of an Opera by Cherubini. Lunchtime concerts of string music and operas in the afternoon. At this very moment the Bavarian Radio Chorus are singing Alfred Schnittke’s Three Sacred Hymns, which I would never have chosen but are sublime. Morning request programmes with music from classics to Romantics to American Minimalists.
How can we connect as librarians, borrowers, readers and musicians just now when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement or do we need more? How can music help to overcome this?
There are parts of this question to which I really don’t know the answer, if there is an answer.
I think, we continue to be a part of the things that are already happening, online groups, concerts, being part of doing things collectively but separately.
Music always unifies in some way and will find a way to be part of the healing we will all go through.
It seems, everything which is happening at the moment requires some kind of social media, it concerns me there are people without access to all that is going on, for whatever reason and their isolation may be even greater. For me, social media is only ever a tool, a little bit of all the things we do. I have been trying and failing, to write something about all the things that social media is and isn’t, all the things it does and the things it doesn’t do. I have ranted and railed, agreed and disagreed. Scrubbed out and started again. All I have come up with is, what it doesn’t do, is let me pick up my granddaughter when she falls over in her back yard, me, like millions of other grandparents in the world, but it does allow us to see her and hear her and sing with her. Until we are all together again, it will have to do.
With many thanks to Douglas for sharing his thoughts on what libraries and music mean to him.