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The Sound of Digital Preservation
By Ryan Murfield
Aside from the vast body of treasured instruments belonging to the NMM, there is also an enormous body of musical recordings parallel in diversity and intrigue. Although less visible, and likely unknown to many visitors to the NMM, the recordings, representing nearly every format of audio and video imaginable, remind us of why these instruments have been crafted and cherished throughout human history. They represent the joy that musical instruments bring us, and that, simply stated, is music.
The reason the recordings have been kept in the quiet darkness of the NMM archives, besides not being quite as visually pleasing as many of the other pieces on display, is that until recently, there has not been a reasonable method by which to share them with NMM members, visitors, and researchers. But, as the world moves into the digital age, so does the NMM. During the past couple of years increasing efforts have been made to convert all types of media in the NMM’s collection to a digital format that can be used not only to enhance the multimedia experience at the NMM, but also to preserve and add to the available research resources.
For example, a collection of reel-to-reel sound recordings produced by South Dakota composers and submitted to the South Dakota Federation of Music Clubs for a 1976 Bicentennial competition, along with a recording of the celebratorial concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, has already been digitized in its entirety. Many more projects are underway.
One audio collection nearing completion is that of Cecil B. Leeson, credited with establishing the saxophone as a legitimate classical instrument, and one of the first saxophonists to appear as a soloist in a national symphony orchestra.
Currently, the world’s most complete collection of Stan Fritts and the Korn Kobblers recordings is being added to the NMM’s digital collection. This group, known for their novelty and dance music, was dubbed “America's funniest band” in the 1930s and enjoyed widespread national success. The group’s leader, Stan Fritts, moved to Yankton, South Dakota after retiring from show business and the world’s largest collection of Korn Kobblers items was donated to the NMM. Fritts’s signature washboard, adorned with horns and noise-makers of all varieties, along with instruments played by the band, their music, promotional posters, and even a musical spittoon are all part of a small display devoted to Stan Fritts and the Korn Kobblers at the NMM.
One recently completed digitization project involved a 1950’s radio program titled Country Style U.S.A. Each program features live performances, recorded exclusively for the radio series, by many of the great country music acts of the time such as Flatt and Scruggs, Marty Robbins, George Jones, Hank Snow, and several others.
As mentioned, digitization is not exclusive to audio recordings. The NMM’s video collection, ranging from VHS to the even more obsolete reel-to-reel formats, has also been almost completely copied to a more useable and less vulnerable digital format. This ensures that footage of instrument makers, rare performances, and even personal video from important figures in the music world such as Vito Pascucci, of Leblanc, will be preserved and accessible for many years to come.
The NMM’s collection of multimedia yet to be archived seems endless, and because most formats require digitization in real time, the project will continue for many years to come.
The NMM's sound and video recording archive is available to researchers and scholars by appointment in the NMM's Sally Fantle Archival Research Center.