Brandeis Library

Digitization of Victor Young recordings

August 6th, 2013 · 1 Comment

The Archives & Special Collections department has begun a project to digitize a portion of the audio discs in our Victor Young collection. The goal of this project is to make rare and unique recordings accessible to users for the long term, and it is being funded by the library’s Coven fund for music digitization.

An American composer, conductor, and violinist, Young wrote and conducted music for radio, television, and film from the 1920s until his death in 1956. A prolific artist, Young has been credited with composing, conducting, or arranging the music for more than 300 films. As has been noted before, the collection contains a range of material useful to musicologists, conductors, students, and other researchers at Brandeis and beyond. In addition to letters, photographs (many of Young conducting), awards (including an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and an Emmy), and sheet music, the collection includes a large number of conductor’s scores and Young’s personal recordings, making it a rich and varied collection.Victor-young-material

The personal recordings (designated in the finding aid as the “LPs” series) make up a large part of the collection. The series consists of over 350 recordings and includes some vinyl, shellac, and instantaneous lacquer discs, a popular recording format from the mid-1930s until the 1960s that was used to create one-off recordings during studio recording sessions. Each of the instant discs is the only one of its kind, and they are very fragile. Lacquer discs, for example, are notorious for their short life expectancy because the lacquer shrinks and grows brittle over time, and the adhesive, which holds the disc together, starts to break down. In addition to the vulnerability of the discs, the scarcity of playback equipment makes it difficult for researchers to access these recordings. All of these factors make the discs obvious choices for digital preservation.


We’ve started the project by selecting seventy-nine discs to be digitized by Archival Sound Labs in Bethesda, Maryland. Some of the recordings in the Young collection are unidentified, so our first batch consisted of discs that had descriptive information, such as song titles, artist information, and dates. At least one of the discs included in this group is a glass lacquer disc. Glass was a commonly used as a base in lacquer discs instead of aluminum during World War II because of metal shortages, and they are exceedingly fragile. All of the discs will be meticulously cleaned (a process that will involve vacuuming) and then reformatted. In the end, we’ll have preservation quality WAV files and also MP3 playback copies of these recordings.

The discs will not be the first items digitized in the Young collection. A portion of Young’s scores have already been digitized through the library’s partnership with the Open Content Alliance and are available through the Internet Archive. These scores are some of the most frequently requested items in the collection, and, thanks to digitization, they are now freely accessible online to conductors and researchers worldwide. We’re very pleased that another section of this wonderful collection will soon be more easily accessible to anyone interested in Victor Young or popular American music.

Schuller, Dietrich. “Sound Recordings: Problems of Preservation” Managing Preservation for Libraries and Archives: Current Practice and Future Developments, Ed. John Feather. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2004. 113-133.

Tags: Faculty · Graduate Students · Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship · Research · Scholarly Information Resources · Staff · Undergraduate Students

1 response so far ↓

  • Joanna Fuchs // Aug 11th 2013 at 10:23 am

    I think this is a fantastic project. After the digitization is complete, will the digitized files be accessible through the IR or will Special Collections develop a site for digitized sound files? Too, I hope in the future Special Collections will be able to digitize some of their rare manuscripts. If you get the chance, which I am sure you have already done so, check out the British Library’s digitized collection, especially their musical scores.

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