The John Bapst Music library is a work of organized chaos. Well, mostly organized chaos. Stacks of sheet music cover a large work table as they are prepared for distribution to the band. Other stacks wait their return to the three large filing cabinets or the two-door closet which houses the band music. A half-dozen other similar cabinets line the walls with music for chorus, orchestra, and other ensembles.
Meagan Rowell ’14 has experienced the joy and agony of working with this music both as a musician and as the Band Council Librarian for the past two years.
“This piece of music,” explains Rowell as she shows off a screen, “could be filed under its name, Land of a Thousand Dances, or maybe just as Land of a Thousand, or One Thousand Dances, which is what Mrs. Ewing calls it when we practice.” That particular naming convention is an important nuance when one is searching through a dozen filing cabinets for sheet music. In her role as librarian she had become all too familiar with navigating the complex system to pull music. “Sometimes finding the song is the easy part,” she notes, “but we have four different arrangements of The Star Spangled Banner, so finding the right arrangement of those is important.”
So when it came time for Rowell, a Girl Scout, to choose a project of lasting value for her Gold Award, she immediately had an idea which would have made her life easier – a database that could help find music by composer, title, style, and of course, alternate titles – and lead the seeker right to the proper place in the cabinet.
With the goal of making music filing more manageable, Rowell set upon the task of database design. It was outside her comfort area as a librarian used to working with physical file folders. She wasn’t into computers – she was into flute, which she played in the chamber ensemble, pit band, concert band, and spirit band across her four years at John Bapst. However, she attacked her work on the database with the same passion with which she worked on learning music, from the beginning without skipping steps.
Ewing notes that the value of the John Bapst collection is priceless – there are pieces which were arranged by students who have been gone now for many years and the cost to replace the sheet music would be thousands of dollars.
The Fine Arts program has had a beneficial relationship with scouts for many years. During the late 1990s, Jim Simpson ‘00 of Glenburn built four lockers and cubbies in the theatre department which are still in use today. Ethan Grant ‘12 of Orrington built a set of wooden lockers and five extra-strong piano benches which would accommodate multiple students at once. Nicholas Albert ’16 of Holden built asset of extra-large lockers for storing tubas and baritone saxophones last summer. Rowell is the first Girl Scout to contribute in a similar way.
“I am continually amazed that students are aware enough to know things can be improved,” says an appreciative Ewing, “And that they find this inspiring is thrilling.”
That spirit of volunteerism is important to John Bapst – and inspiring. Mrs. Mona Hillary has been volunteering as music librarian at John Bapst for the last two years, giving one whole day a week to the task, and proved an excellent mentor for Rowell as she worked on her project. Her father, computer programmer Arthur Warren, pointed Rowell in the right direction and helped her learn how to craft the database to meet her vision. As they set it up, Rowell made pages and pages of notes from which she is creating a user manual.
Rowell learned a whole new language – fields, relations, functions, queries, normalizations. She researched ways the database could be set up and programs in which to create it, ultimately choosing Libre Office Base in which to create the database. Director of Technology Michael Murphy set up a dedicated computer upon which the database lives in the music library.
Rowell’s planning has made all the difference. She stands beside Mrs. Ewing and instructs her in how to add a title to the database. Rowell explains the fields as her teacher types information in each white box. Rowell has spent over 80 hours on this work and her attention to detail been appreciated.
Ewing’s praise is enthusiastic, “I type in ‘Christmas’ and it shows all the titles that say ‘Christmas’ and I see all of them. In the notes we will be able to say what pieces feature, such as trumpet solos…” She mentions the work ahead for the many students Rowell has trained and the 20 whom Ewing will train before the year ends. Once the band music has been entered, there’s the collection containing 30 years of jazz, chamber, and vocal music – all of which grow a little every academic year.
Says a delighted Ewing, “It’s just a wonderful gift. It’s just such a very respectful thing. I didn’t think it would be this powerful – the fact that we can look things up – it’s just amazing. It will be ready for the future of John Bapst.”
Meagan is just pleased that it’s all working so well. Justifiably proud of the work she has done she comments, “I am happy that I was able to make a database that is easy to use and understand…” she trails off before breaking into a bright smile – a golden smile one might say.