- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

CARMEL, Ind. (AP) - Carmel’s Center for the Performing Arts has become known as a destination for live performances of some of the world’s most renowned orchestras, quartets and singers.

But researchers affiliated with the arts center have even bolder ambitions. The nonprofit Great American Songbook Foundation is slowly but surely seeking to preserve, archive and showcase the history of music over the past century or so.

For five years researcher Lisa Lobdell has been painstakingly archiving more than 100,000 pieces of memorabilia and music lore collected by the foundation. The majority of the items were donated by artists, music critics and collectors.

The foundation is based at the Palladium. Lobdell - the sole paid researcher, but she works with about 10 volunteers - has come across more unique pieces of history than she can believe. The original lyrics of “Unchained Melody” typewritten by Hy Zaret. The original lyrics of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” handwritten on a cocktail napkin by Gus Kahn. Early versions of the script of “The Music Man” by Meredith Willson.

Lobdell showcases some of her most interesting finds in a rotating display at the foundation’s office on the top floor of the Palladium. It’s open 1 to 5 p.m. daily by appointment. Take the elevator in the west entrance of the Palladium to the gallery floor. The display now features the life and works of Kahn, a well-known American lyricist in the 1920s and 1930s.

Next year, she will feature Indiana artists, including John Mellencamp and The Jackson 5.

Foundation officials hope to build a museum where all of the materials can be properly displayed for more people to see. Items also are being uploaded to the foundation’s website.

But for now and perhaps the foreseeable future, the foundation’s treasures largely are stored in backrooms high above the concert hall of the Palladium, accessible only to researchers by request.

Thousands of books, DVDs, LPs and CDs. More than 40,000 pieces of sheet music. Endless boxes of research compiled by artists and collectors.

A book of Irving Berlin’s complete works he gave to composer Jimmy Van Heusen. Temporary records on aluminum or glass that radio stations recorded during guest performances.

She is perhaps most proud of the Willson collection, which includes letters he wrote and received from Richard Nixon and Mamie Eisenhower, who were fans and friends.

Dominic McHugh, the senior lecturer in musicology and director of performance at the University of Sheffield in England, visited in 2013. He needed to complete research for a book he was writing on the musicals of Willson. The collection included so many early versions of the script, he could easily track the evolution of the play as it was being written.

“The archive is absolutely incredible,” he said in an email. “The Willson papers contain an enviable array of scripts, correspondence, clippings, music manuscripts and other insights into the life and career of one of America’s most important but overlooked musical figures. Although I was only able to spend a week at the archive, it was one of the most productive research experiences I’ve ever had, thanks to Lisa.”

Other rarities include bootleg records used in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. With American music such as jazz and rock ‘n’ roll outlawed in Soviet states, music enthusiasts would ransack the garbage at medical facilities for discarded X-rays. They’d cut the X-rays into circles and press albums onto them.

Lobdell has digitized The Andrews Sisters song called “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye” from an X-ray. She imagines Soviet family and friends once huddled around the record player, listening to the outlawed music.

The Songbook collection came to Carmel through artist Michael Feinstein. He had started the foundation in 2007 and moved it to Carmel after being hired as the artistic director at The Center for the Performing Arts four years later.

As a music enthusiast, he loves leafing through the Willson collection. But he finds the Soviet records touching.

“The fact that people would go to those lengths to listen to something that at that time we would have taken for granted is very touching,” he said. “It’s also very courageous.”

Feinstein says preserving the Great American Songbook is his passion and an important endeavor for society.

“The music that we are now calling the Great American Songbook is certainly an important part of our American history and our culture in how it brought us together,” he said.

When he travels to Carmel, either for foundation board meetings or performances, he loves to drop into the archive to browse through the memorabilia, including a large collection of his own arrangements and finds.

He believes American songwriters of the 1920s and beyond should be recognized for their work in the same breath as artists such as Beethoven, Picasso and Shakespeare. And he thinks the path forward is through Carmel’s musical archive.

“This classic music must be kept alive for succeeding generations, like the Italian Renaissance,” he said. “What American songwriters achieved in the ‘20s and ‘30s and beyond, what they created, it’s the greatest expression of popular song in 32 bars.”

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Source: The Indianapolis Star, http://indy.st/1jxigyf

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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