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Category: Recordings Collection (Page 2 of 10)

Last Chance To See (But You Can Listen Anytime): Indigenous Siberian Fieldwork at the Loeb Music Library

The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library’s Fall 2019 exhibition, Tree of Life: Cosmology and Environment in Yakutian Epic, features highlights from the Eduard Alekseyev Fieldwork Collection of the Musical Culture of Yakutia, 1957-1990. On display until Friday, January 24th are photographs and personal effects that document fieldwork in Yakutia (also known as the Sakha Republic) in the second half of the twentieth century by the ethnomusicologist Eduard Alekseyev, who was born there in 1937.

Dressed in a grey suit and holding a microphone on an extension stick, Eduard Alekseyev sits in a crowded auditorium. The date and location of this photograph are unknown.

Undated photograph of Eduard Alekseyev performing fieldwork. Image courtesy National Library of Sakha

Yakutia is located in the circumpolar region of Russia, straddling the Arctic Circle. Its capital of Yakutsk has the reputation for being the coldest city on earth. Dr. Alekseyev’s recordings of musical life in the region capture religious and cultural expressions of Sakha identity/nationhood that have survived Soviet repression, urbanization, and climate change. Also on display are musical instruments crafted in Yakutia and other locally made birchbark and metal handcrafts.

The Eduard Alekseyev Fieldwork Collection has been fully digitized and is available to stream. Among the different musical genres represented in the collection is olonkho, sacred epics sung by a narrator who differentiates between characters by alternating song and recitative. The texts traditionally describe a cosmography of lower, middle, and upper worlds, with the sacred tree, or tree of life, characteristically a larch, bridging across the layers. In the recordings, you will hear the khomus (also known as a mouth harp, jawharp, or Jew’s harp), the diungiur (shaman’s drum), and the bayan (button accordion). The collection also features musical traditions of Crimean Tatars recorded in Kiev, Ukraine. Listen here to Yegor Trofimovich Leveriev sing Siine tuhunan Toiuk (Song about the Siine River) in 1979, one of 689 freely available audio tracks in the collection.

Co-curated by Harvard graduate student Diane Oliva and Music Library staff member Christina Linklater, this exhibition marks the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, bringing special attention to indigenous language collections housed at Harvard Library.

The exhibition also details the process of preserving and digitizing sound recordings. Nineteen-sixties recording technologies relied on acetate and polyester audio tape reels and VHS PAL videocassettes: highly vulnerable for decay and breakage, these magnetic media are typically prioritized for preservation and reformatting. The original cases have been retained, which contain Alekseyev’s own annotations.

This reel case features handwritten notes by Eduard Alekseyev.

Loeb Music Library, AWM RL 16254


The Music Library holds several other audio and audiovisual fieldwork collections that capture musical expression around the world:

Lowell H. Lybarger Collection of Pakistani Music Materials

Stephen Blum Collection of Music from Iranian Khorāsān

Lara Boulton Collection of Byzantine and Orthodox Musics

James A. Rubin Collection of South Indian Classical Music

Marie-Thérèse, Baroness Ullens de Schooten Collection (Iran)

Kay Shelemay, Collection of Ethiopian Music

Richard Kent Wolf Collection of Fieldwork (India)

Virginia Danielson Collection of Field Recordings of Muslim Calls to Prayer

This post was contributed by Diane Oliva, a candidate for the PhD in historical musicology at Harvard University. Diane Oliva is the May-Crane Fellow of the Loeb Music Library for 2019-2020. 

In Celebration of Apollo 11, Ellington Style

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, we are highlighting a fascinating record in our collection. Although the record itself is not particularly rare, the combination of a prominent composer and the anniversary of the premiere performance, in our opinion, makes it worthy of a few paragraphs and further exploration. It is one example among many written in 1969 containing “moon” in the title. “Moon Maiden” is one piece in Ellington’s “Music to Land on the Moon By,” commissioned by the American Broadcasting Company to be broadcast as part of a their 30-hour moon mission coverage. In the setting, Ellington is poised in front of  exact replicas of the spacecraft’s components, including a model lunar module. 

Intimate Ellington Cover

Intimate Ellington Cover

Moon Maiden is released on the album “The Intimate Ellington.” The liner notes from the original album were written by Stanley Dance, a jazz writer and close friend of Ellington, who was present during the rehearsals. There are conflicting citations of this track being recorded on either July 14th or July 15th, 1969, days before the Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Ken Vail’s publication, Duke’s Diary, mentions it was recorded again on September 4, 1969, with a more robust instrumentation. This recording was released in 2002 on Duke Ellington Live and Rare, by Bluebird Records.

Instrumentation of September 4th recording.

Instrumentation of September 4th recording.

For comparison, I recommend first listening to the broadcast version followed by the track released on The Intimate Ellington album. The broadcast version was performed with piano and vocals by Ellington himself, along with Rufus Jones on drums, Paul Kondziela on bass, and Al Chernet on guitar. Mr. Dance writes that he anticipated the celeste might give a “moony” effect and thus during a rehearsal Ellington experimented with a celeste and vocal performance which was recorded and is heard on the album. 

For additional listening enjoyment, check out the 1978 Luv You Madly Orchestra disco arrangement. For more Ellington early recordings, the Loeb Music Library has the Duke Ellington Recordings Collection, available upon request.  The manuscript for Moon Maiden is held at the Smithsonian National Music of American History, Archives Center.


Ellington, Duke. Duke Ellington Live and Rare. New York: Bluebird, 2002, compact disc. Disc 3: The Reader’s Digest Sessions. Recorded September 1969. 

Ellington, Duke. The Intimate Duke Ellington. Pablo 2310-787, 1977, LP.

Stratemann, Klaus. Duke Ellington Day by Day and Film by Film. Copenhagen NV, Denmark: JazzMedia ApS, 1992, p. 592.

Vail, Ken. Duke’s Diary: Part Two: The Life of Duke Ellington 1950-1974. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2002, p. 360.

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