Column: Dartmouth puts its music library on the chopping block

For the Valley News
Published: 2/23/2021 10:20:13 PM
Modified: 2/23/2021 10:20:12 PM

A few days after it announced a $75 million renovation for the Hopkins Center for the Arts, to be carried out by the Norwegian design firm Snøhetta, Dartmouth College announced it would be permanently closing the Paddock Music Library and the Kresge Physical Sciences Library. The decision renders Dartmouth the only Ivy League school without a music library.

The college’s clinical, corporate news release included the following line: “High-use material from the Kresge and Paddock collections will be relocated to Baker-Berry over the coming months with the remainder of the collections to be housed in the library’s offsite shelving facility and available by request.”

I, for one, do not believe musical scores belong in an “offsite shelving facility,” and find it frankly pathetic that the college thinks this is an appropriate fate for works of art. And what is high-use, anyway? Is there a quota that must be met or else Dartmouth will take Mozart’s Don Giovanni and bring it to the offsite trash bin it proposes?

I am a concert cellist and host of the podcast Talking Beats with Daniel Lelchuk. I grew up in the Upper Valley and became acquainted with Paddock Music Library when I was a child. Sometimes my mother would leave me there while she went down the hallway to the woodworking shop and would pick me up an hour or two later. As a young musician in rural New Hampshire, Paddock Music Library was the only serious resource for recordings and records, not to mention musical scores. Later on, while attending Hanover High School, I had a Dartmouth ID of my own (I was taking upper-level Italian courses), and my use of Paddock was one of the most wonderful things about being a part of the Dartmouth community. Oftentimes I would brag about the riches of Paddock to my youth orchestra colleagues in Boston, comparing it favorably to the music library of the New England Conservatory.

Stepping away from the library issue itself, and the great world of discovery afforded one by the art of browsing, what does this decision say about Dartmouth’s views on music, on the humanities?

Classical music is not basketball, nor is it business, nor engineering. It will never have “mass appeal” in the way the NBA does, and neither will Dante. The humanities are routinely treated as second- and third-class citizens by American society at large, and I believe our great institutions like Dartmouth must be the places that set an example. They must be the places to rise up, often in the face of mass American culture, to preserve and extol the beauties and endless riches of the arts. Our great institutions must be leaders, not followers. In the decision to close Paddock, I am saddened to say Dartmouth appears a follower.

Drew Faust, the first female president of Harvard, recently made an extended appearance on my podcast. Part of the reason I had her on is because of her advocacy for the humanities throughout her tenure leading Harvard. She spoke of the importance of making music, art and the humanities available for as many people as possible. She, of course, is correct in her thinking, and has received international acclaim for her brave, visionary defense of the humanities.

Dartmouth is wrong. Paddock is not just where materials live. It is a space. If a single student has ever discovered a piece of music in Paddock that brought that student joy, the decision to close is nothing short of tragic.

What cultural message does it send to close a music library? What harm is being done by maintaining this very modest space? What message does it send when the Hop’s $75 million renovation is announced in the same week as the closing of the music library?

Music nourishes the soul. That is not a cliché. It challenges us to think more broadly and more deeply. That is not an overstatement.

Millions of Americans every day crave music and crave company. Among many other things, this pandemic has shown us how vital, and sometimes fragile, the arts are. It is indeed a sad, embarrassing day when an institution like Dartmouth puts art under the guillotine.

Daniel Lelchuk, who grew up in Canaan and Hanover, is associate principal cellist of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. His podcast is heard in more than 70 countries.

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