LITTLE DEER ISLAND — A rhythmic mix of stomping, shouting and ropes hurled over Penobscot Bay on an August evening, imbuing an otherwise tranquil summer night with a brief moment of vitality, life.
The wonderful sound came from the Finnish folk group Frigg, one of the best acoustic groups in the world, who were playing the second of three successive shows in the area.
The last time the superstar string septet graced the shores of Maine with their combination of traditional Nordic music and bluegrass, a style the world music media calls “Nordgrass”, was in 2007. At that concert was present Bennett Konesni, founder of the Midcoast Maine-based Worksongs project and member of the Bagaduce Music Board of Directors. Konesni found it incredibly difficult to shake off the group’s contagious sound and has been looking for opportunities to bring Frigg back ever since.
“It was a gig I couldn’t forget,” Konesni said when introducing the band. “We thought it was a perfect opportunity to bring them back because they could perform Bagaduce Music in a special and unique way.”
That’s right, the Finns were here with a mission: to help showcase the vast collection of printed music available at Bagaduce Music as part of the organization’s ‘From Our Collection’ concert series. The band received a list of all the traditional Nordic tunes Bagaduce Music had and asked to play a few of them during their set.
“It was a long list,” violin player Esko Järvelä said of the options the band could choose from. Frigg ended up choosing two songs to perform along with several original hits.
This year’s concert series also featured the organization’s collection of jazz standards and gospel music as well as choral music written by local composers.
“And you will notice when you look [the slate of concerts] that, ‘Oh my God, the gigs are all so diverse.’ And that’s the point: to let people know that yes, we have an incredible collection of classical music, but we also have an extremely varied and diverse collection of music,” said Bagaduce Music’s Managing Director, Teresa Myrwang, who helped oversee this expansion of the organization’s original mission.
Founded in 1983 as the Bagaduce Music Lending Library by a group of friends named Marcia Chapman, Mary Cheney Gould, and eminent conductor and pianist Fritz Jahoda, the organization’s primary goal was to leverage the trio’s vast collection of printed music accumulated over the years. use by mimicking a concept that Jahoda had experimented with in his youth.
“In Vienna, when [Jahoda] was a kid, if you were a musician, you could just walk into a kind of little music library and borrow sheet music. It wasn’t on every corner, but it was easily accessible,” Myrwang explained. “And he noticed there really wasn’t anything like it in the United States. So that was kind of the idea behind starting a library of printed music that almost anyone could borrow for a small fee, almost free.
Since then, the organization has excelled in collecting, preserving and lending printed sheet music, not only locally but around the world. Collections manager Jeremy Gibbons estimates that they hold between 250,000 and 275,000 unique musical works, 95-96% of which have been donated to the library. The organization claims to have loaned this music to borrowers in all 50 states and more than 27 countries.
“We really get the most out of our loans through our multiple choirs, community choirs or professional symphony orchestras,” Gibbons explained. “We recently made a big loan to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, for example. They’ll say, ‘Hey, I need to have, you know, 50 copies of this play and 60 copies of this play and 80 copies of this play, can you help us?’ And usually we can, we have more than 10,000 works preserved in our multiple choir area.
Due to copyright laws, an organization performing any copyrighted work that is not in the public domain is required to provide a copy of that work to each participating artist, even if will not use printed music during the performance. . If your band is 60 and you want to play, say, “Maria” from “West Side Story,” you’ll need 60 physical copies of Leonard Bernstein’s composition. In this scenario, it might make sense to contact Bagaduce and borrow 60 of its 68 copies for a dollar each.
“The reason this is a good business opportunity for both the borrower and the lender is that if an organization, for example, were looking to borrow this volume of music, they face two situations: one is that if she buys new music, they’re looking at $7 to $12 a track, where we lend those tracks for $1 to $3 each, depending on the length of the track,” Gibbons said. “Another problem is spatial concerns. It takes a lot of space to store music when it’s a big volume. And so a lot of organizations just like to rent the music from us, they play, then they give it back to us.
While the organization has amassed an impressive collection and provides a valuable service as part of the music ecosystem, many people inside and outside the building began to realize a few years ago that this is not wasn’t going to be enough.
“Jane Gottlieb, chief music librarian at Juilliard in New York, visited us a few years ago,” recalls Myrwang. “And she said, ‘You know, it’s pretty amazing what you have here. You’re one of the few places in the whole country where people could just drop in to browse the music, hold it in their hands, try it on the piano, spend the day with the music. But she also said that’s probably not enough to move forward because people are accessing so much music online.
Luckily, Gottleib also came up with a solution to this problem on his 2018 trip that Myrwang and the Bagaduce Music team ran with.
“[Gottleib] said, “What I would recommend you do is pull this music off the shelves in performance settings,” Myrwang explained. “To bring it to life and more people know about it, and they know more about what we have, and they learn what a resource this place is.”
The following year, 2019, the band did just that. They held a series of concerts in the performance hall located on their beautiful four-acre campus on South Street in Blue Hill. The COVID-19 pandemic the following year prevented Bagaduce from holding a series of concerts due to restrictions on gatherings. But it also helped inform the future of the show and how the music might be presented.
“We gave it the little tagline: Unexpected music in unexpected places,” Myrwang said of the concert series that was relaunched in 2021. “Because we take our music outside in large part to appease any concerns regarding COVID. And I think we realized in the process, ‘Wow! We live in this amazingly beautiful place. Why do we all have to sit inside to listen to music? We can be outside, right? We can be on Little Deer Isle. We had one of our gigs this year at a quarry in Blue Hill. We’re going to have our show on October 1st, which is the last show of the season, at David’s Folly Farm in Brooksville in this huge barn. And Brooklyn Rider will be our last group of artists for the season.
Although the mission of the organization may have expanded to include promoting the appreciation, knowledge and performance of music, this does not mean that the focus on the original mission has been lost. .
“We’re not a performance organization just to be a performance organization,” Myrwang explained. “My dream has always been that we create reasons for everyone to want to come to our campus. Some will go into the library; some will go to a show or a meeting or a workshop in the performance hall. Some will visit the native gardens… But the heart of it still remains the media collection. It’s the cornerstone. It’s the heart of who we are. And we really appreciate that. But we recognize that might not be enough. in the future to support us.
The end of the 2022 concert series will also represent the end of Myrwang’s tenure as executive director of Bagaduce Music. She recently announced that she will be retiring this fall following the selection of a new director. After overseeing the transition period that contained the expansion of the group’s mission and the move to their new campus on South Street, Myrwang felt it was time for someone else to step in and steer the organization towards the next stage of development. Someone who hopefully understands the challenges that will need to be overcome.
“We’re not just competing with other music organizations. We’re not just competing with other arts organizations. We are competing with the myriad ways a person has when trying to figure out how to spend their free time,” Myrwang said. “Life is complex, so people think carefully about how they want to spend their free time. And we are honored that most of our concerts sold out this year. We want to be seen as a truly excellent arts organization that consistently delivers highly professional, relevant and compelling programming. »
It’s not so easy to consistently present high-level performances like Bagaduce did, and it certainly costs more than lending printed music. The band relies on generous donors for each annual concert series as well as for each of the individual concerts that make up the series. But there’s no denying, as you listen to a Finnish Nordgrass band harmonizing under the stars on a beautiful summer night as the audience applauds and taps their feet to the beat, that these concerts are an exceptional way to help this printed music jump. off the page and come to life in a unique and compelling way.
“Each moment is very special and will never be repeated as all these different dynamics come together,” Myrwang said. “What the arranger really wanted doesn’t really come to life or be obvious until the music is played…And then every performance is unique. I think we discovered that with Frigg in a big way. Three consecutive concerts, same group, same printed music. But the audiences were different and so varied. And so many young people came to Tinder Hearth and Belfast’s waterfront park especially. It was fabulous.