Make music with Natasha from the Music Library

With Make Music Day fast approaching, Natasha from the Music Library reflects on how the department is still very much available to music lovers whilst the building remains closed.

I’ve worked in the Music Library for nearly two and a half years now and ever since my first day I’ve continued to discover a whole new world. When you step into the department, you’re greeted by a huge selection of CDs, DVDs, sheet music, and books – not to mention the vast amount of stock in the annexes! I’ve found it’s so very easy to get lost amongst such spoils, so easy to find the piece of music I need to practise for my choir rehearsals, so easy to browse the CDs for something new, so easy to chat to customers and my colleagues and hear what they recommend. Whilst we’re all unable to visit the building, you could be forgiven for thinking that all of those lovely things about the library stop too. That’s certainly not the case: much can be found, enjoyed and shared through the online resources Edinburgh Libraries offer. I already knew of the wonder of using these platforms and now, through lockdown, I’ve come to appreciate them even more.

Listen – Naxos Classical and Jazz catalogues
The Naxos streaming service gives users access to over 150,000 recordings through the Naxos Classical Music Library and almost 20,000 recordings in the Naxos Jazz Library. This means there is easily something for everyone, with new recordings being added constantly to each. The Naxos catalogues are completely free to use, no adverts interrupt playback and tracks can be downloaded to be listened to offline for 30 days.

At work, the Music Library often has music streaming from Naxos, in particular the classical catalogue. Staff either scour the new releases tab and have a listen to something unfamiliar and intriguing, or perhaps a new recording of a famous work. Often, if we’ve been discussing a particular composer or performer, we’ll find examples of their work to play. It’s a real treasure trove. If classical and jazz music are things you struggle to find a way into, there’s plenty that could appeal. For example, I recently found myself down a rabbit hole of Led Zeppelin covers and arrangements, varying from contemporary jazz to chamber music interpretations. There’s also a huge range of film music and a growing section of a genre I am very taken by, video game music. One album I find I come back to time and time again is Symphonic Fantasies, a live album of orchestral arrangements of music from a selection of Square Enix games – some of which are my absolute favourite games to play, with their music often being a huge factor in my enjoyment.

There’s something so pleasing about being able to switch so easily between Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an ExhibitionThe Lego Movie Soundtrack, classical guitar arrangements of The Beatles’ hits, traditional music from across the globe, and back again. In the absence of communal listenings in the Music Library, this variety is most welcome.

Watch – Medici.tv
A newly acquired service currently being piloted is Medici.tv which has a vast collection of concert and performance videos, documentaries and master classes to be enjoyed. As with Naxos, this service costs nothing to use and is free from adverts during playback.

If you’re like me and are unable to partake in the normal music-making you do, watching some of the masterclasses is a really informative way to learn more about your musical practice and it has certainly helped me feel less ‘out of the loop’; even though I’m nowhere near the mantle of opera singer, I’ve found Joyce DiDonato’s master classes illuminating when it comes to technique and performance.

Master Class with Joyce DiDonato at Carnegie Hall, available to watch on Medici.tv

The range of performances available to view is rather impressive and I am hoping will serve as a gateway for me to understand a little more about opera, a genre that I must admit I am less familiar with. Armed with some recommendations from my uncle – whose car is constantly filled with arias, overtures and symphonies – I also turn my focus to the selections from my colleague Douglas, with whom I naturally talk about music most of the time when in the library:

“There is such a lot to recommend from Medici.tv that it is difficult to know where to stop. I have, so far, had time to watch a few operas and dip into the concerts, recitals and documentaries.

The opera productions seem to fall into two categories: as the composer intended them and the just plain weird. There is nothing wrong with either of these categories, though there is at least one production from the first category that should come with a warning about prevailing attitudes to race, gender and ethnicity which makes it uncomfortable to watch.

One production which would fall into my second category is Puccini’s Turandot, performed by Teatro Regio’s: a stunning, stylised, watchable production with sublime singing, notably from In-Sung Sim as Timor, the deposed King. Puccini died leaving this opera unfinished so it was completed by Franco Alfano. This production stops the action approximately where Puccini laid down his pen and, although he had sketched out an ending which Alfano more or less worked to, the Teatro Regio’s ending seems to make more sense of the work.

Puccini’s Turandot, a production by Teatro Regio Torino, available to view on Medici.tv

On my ‘list to watch’ is Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain and Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer. The list grows by the week as I discover more I would like to sample.”

Read – RBdigital and PressReader
In a time where information is instantly available at our fingertips thanks to the internet, it’s easy to forget the simple pleasures that come from reading publications. Our digital publications platforms, RBdigital and PressReader, have access to hundreds of specialist magazines, including the music-specific BBC MusicMojoQRolling Stone, and Billboard amongst many others. An advantage these apps give over print magazines is that you’re able to change font size, background colour and can enable text to speech, making them much more accessible to some readers.

One thing I have enjoyed about lockdown is the ability to revisit things I had overlooked before or felt I hadn’t the time to do before. This has taken the form of finishing knitting projects I’ve left abandoned, drawings I’ve not had the energy to do. The same can be said for music magazines.

I’ve looked back at my RB Digital profile; January 2019’s copy of Mojo has been downloaded, waiting to be read, the front cover emblazoned with a striking image of one of my favourite artists, Kate Bush. Other names that caught my interest are on the cover: Peter Gabriel; Jimi Hendrix; Christine and the Queens; Kamasi Washington. I’d downloaded the issue so I could read through it at my own leisure but, until recently, it had remained untouched. With slightly more time on my hands than usual, I’ve been able to come back and see what I’d missed. Looking through the Best Albums of 2018 List, seeing which of them I’d already borrowed from the Music Library, including the wonderful second albums Fenfo by Fatoumata Diawara and Chris by the aforementioned Christine and the Queens, the latter of which often finds itself played in the Music Library when Rehana and I are on duty together. Finding more albums that I’ve overlooked and making notes that I should definitely borrow them when I can be in the department once again, filling the void of feedback we get from borrowers; libraries are brilliantly communal places that allow a wealth of shared knowledge and experiences. I also finally read the piece on Kate Bush, dotted with images of her in bold costumes and bright knitted jumpers. I found a BBC Music issue I had downloaded that I have no recollection as to why I chose to keep it. It’ll be quite exciting to remember what made it catch my eye, alongside trying to find recommended recordings on Naxos.

There are aspects to music and library life that cannot fully be replaced during this very odd time of lockdown. It has, however, opened my eyes to parts that I perhaps overlooked a little before. Make Music Day takes place on Sunday 21 June and, in honour of that, I shall spend this week in particular celebrating all of the Music Library’s facets.

If you have queries or need help with any of the online services Natasha recommends, please contact informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk.

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