St. Olaf College | News

Upcoming recital celebrates music library collection diversification

Last year the St. Olaf College Libraries dedicated $20,000 to diversify the collections of Halvorson Music Library. The library purchased more than 600 books, scores, and recordings from composers, scholars, and performers who identify as women, LGBTQ+, or BIPOC.

To promote these new materials and encourage students to use them, St. Olaf Libraries and the Music Department are staging a recital, Music from Diverse Voices, on October 7 at 7 p.m. in Boe Memorial Chapel. After the recital, a reception will be held in the Black Ballroom.

Research and Instruction Librarian for Music and Fine Arts Karen Olson rehearses for the upcoming "Music from Diverse Voices" recital.
Research and Instruction Librarian for Music and Fine Arts Karen Olson rehearses for the upcoming “Music from Diverse Voices” recital.

Karen Olson, research and instruction librarian for music and fine arts, spearheaded the expansion project. The new materials, some of which were shipped from as far as Argentina, were selected through a process that involved both library staff and faculty. After compiling a list of potential pieces to acquire, Olson asked professors to identify which materials would be most useful in their classrooms. 

That’s a huge theme of this expansion — it’s not about just putting more scores on shelves in the library. The goal is to infuse the entire Music Department with fresh voices and sounds.

The work in the Music Library is part of a broader effort to diversify the college’s creative collections. Last year, student work in an art class on campus led the Flaten Art Museum to acquire four new art pieces that highlighted Black artists. In the summer of 2021, Raina Swanson Edson ’23 developed the Database for Historically Underrepresented Composers, which allows users to search the library collections for works created by gender-marginalized and BIPOC composers. While projects differ by department, they share a common goal: getting students and faculty to learn and teach more about historically underrepresented artists..

Recitals like Diverse Voices are an inherent part of this work. Professor of Music and Department Chair Kathryn Ananda-Owens highlights how music builds community on the Hill. “So much music at St. Olaf is performative,” she says. “So it’s fitting to celebrate this expansion with a performance.”

So much music at St. Olaf is performative. So it’s fitting to celebrate this expansion with a performance.Professor of Music and Department Chair Kathryn Ananda-Owens

Professor of Music and Department Vice Chair David Carter hopes to make recitals like Diverse Voices more of a “regular showcase” rather than a one-off event. Both chairs of the Music Department will be playing in Diverse Voices, with Ananda-Owens spotlighting Connor Chee, an Indigenous composer, and Carter performing Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson, a Black composer.

The best part? This recital is just the beginning. Diverse Voices is meant to be a springboard that helps members of the St. Olaf community build a more just music program. Naturally, at the heart of this project are students. Both the Music Department and Music Library underscore how students contribute to making music at St. Olaf more equitable.

Olson noted the power students have as the library expands its collections. “Student requests for scores carry a lot of weight,” she says, “especially when for a specific course.” Students can fill out the “Suggestion Bachs” in Halvorson or online. Further, music students have the freedom to choose who and what they perform for their own recitals, and programs like Diverse Voices expose students to new composers and sounds to experiment with. 

“As you walk through the hallways in Tweet Hall of Music, you’re going to hear students practicing these pieces,” says Ananda-Owens. “And that’s really exciting.”