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Exploring The Musical Roots Of New Haven

The musical roots of New Haven, Connecticut, run deeper than you might think. And a new exhibit at the Gilmore Music Library at Yale University aims to showcase some of those musicians who grew up in New Haven.

Richard Boursy, an archivist at the Gilmore Music Library, says he got the idea for the exhibition after he saw that their archives held a lot of material on musicians from New Haven who had little to no association with Yale.

“And we decided that that would be a very interesting area to focus on for this exhibit because it’s material that doesn’t often come to light.”

There are two cases located right outside the music library, with 12 items on display. These items include piano instruction booklets, letters between church musicians, and a cover from a musical, Masonic, and ladies’ fashion journal. There are also four audio excerpts that you can listen to through headphones.

“The first one is Rosa Ponselle, who was one of the greatest opera singers of the 1920s and 30s. And she wasn’t actually from New Haven, she was from Meriden. But when she was a young musician, she frequently performed as the entertainment in silent movie theaters including in New Haven.”

The exhibition focuses on more than just classical music. Boursy also has a notebook from the bandleader Artie Shaw, who grew up in New Haven.

“He was composing and arranging, and this notebook is filled with a number of pieces that he composed or drafted for his use. And by coincidence, although this is pretty much the only thing that we have from Artie Shaw’s hand, we do have the papers of his archrival, Bennie Goodman.”

Boursy says that he tried to choose things for the exhibit that will catch the eye.

“We know that most people don’t come to an exhibit with an intention of studying it and reading every caption from beginning to end, so we want things that will be interesting as soon as you see them. And we also try to have some variety in terms of the types of materials and the periods that they cover.”

That variety includes military music, jazz music, and 1970s pop. Fun fact: the Carpenters were from New Haven.

The exhibit is up until January 10. Learn more about the Musical Roots of the Elm City.

Anthony Moaton is a former fellow at WSHU.