Sarasota Music Archive Poised For The New Year



Tucked away on the second floor of the Selby Public Library and just past the reference desk, the Sarasota Music Archive sits as an unassuming treasure trove of musical artifacts ranging from Edison wax cylinders to opera sheet music to old-timey radio programs. A community of 40 volunteers keeps track of the thousands of recordings and pages of notation and organizes weekly meetings populated by regulars and local musicians, yet the archive remains something of a well-kept secret. However, with a recent facelift, technological upgrade and fresh access to a donated Yamaha piano, 2017 may be the year the curious come calling and see all that the folks at the Sarasota Music Archive have saved for them.

The archive began as a personal opera collection, eventually growing into a nonprofit that would make its home first in a strip mall, followed by a stint in the Sarasota Opera House and then one on Orange Avenue where Center For Architecture Sarasota stands now before settling in the freshly built Selby Public Library. The archive is kept in a separate collection from the rest of the library, but made available all the same through the volunteer staff. But it’s there for more than just casual perusal.

“A lot of people aren’t aware that we actually sell things,” says Brian Rottingen, special collections librarian at Selby Public Library and liaison between the library and the archive. So he and a handful of volunteers got together this year to pretty up the place and make it more present and inviting for library visitors. But while that may get them through the door, the real upgrades await inside, where a new volunteer internal manager, a tech-savvy musician named Dave Berry, has been changing things up for both the volunteers and the visitors. Computers are upgraded and all connected, allowing visitors quicker access and for volunteers to streamline the process of tabulating and assessing donated materials. This also allows them to be more discerning. “We’ve been applying a little more scrutiny to the collection,” says Rottingen, “to see what can be added and highlight the things that are rare.” Also a webmaster, Berry has revamped the archive website to grant easier offsite exploration.

“But we always encourage people to come in,” says Rottingen. If they don’t, they miss the chance to join the weekly Wednesday meet-ups, featuring musical performances and lectures. And with the donation of a Yamaha grand piano from local patrons Phyllis and Saul Lowitt, Rottingen expects this year will be something special. Visitors can also visit the mini-gallery inside the archive featuring illustrations and more from artist Alex Steinweiss, credited as the inventor of album cover art.

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