Join us for a special event: “Keep the Music Playing!”

By Amber Lautigar Reichert | April 17, 2023

The UVA Library welcomes members of the Charlottesville community to celebrate eighty years of Music Department history!

Join us at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, April 26, for celebration and performances reflecting on musical recordings dating as far back as the 1940s. The celebration marks completion of a digitization project, making these recordings available for years to come. The event will take place in the auditorium of Harrison/Small; doors open at 1:30.

The event is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served. It is presented by the University of Virginia Library and sponsored by the UVA Arts Council.

Amy Hunsaker, Librarian for Music & the Performing Arts, elaborates on the project:

The UVA Music Department has been recording their performances for the better part of eighty years. UVA librarians have actively collected, cataloged, and preserved Music Department recordings as part of the circulating collection. Many Music Department and Library staff put their hearts into making sure these recordings would remain available to future listeners. However, it was made clear during the pandemic that we needed to create a new process to collect and archive the performances so they would be better protected. With this in mind, I worked with University Archivist Lauren Longwell to seek an Arts Council grant which we called, “Keep the Music Playing.” The funds were in part used to pay a project intern to process the existing collection into the University Archives and create a new workflow to collect existing and future recordings.

We will be celebrating the culmination of this project at the April 26 event, where attendees will be able to interact with the collection. Celebrated composer Judith Shatin will speak and we will be treated to a live performance by the Glee Club. The event is supported by the UVA Arts Council.

We wanted to provide a unique view of the collection, so we asked our project intern, UVA fourth-year student Emma Radcliff, to reflect on her experience as a student interacting with many decades of musical UVA history. Emma writes:

After nine months of work, the “Keep the Music Playing” archival project is finally nearing its completion. In total, we inventoried 3,401 items, and processed 522 more. We sorted 2,430 CDs, 466 DATs, 482 cassettes, and a plethora of digital files, reel-to-reels, and concert programs. This collection deserved every moment we spent on it. 

It is difficult to overstate the importance of this project. With materials hailing from as early as the 1940s, the collection represents a deeply significant slice of the University’s history, and as such serves as a lens through which to view enormous historical landmarks — not only has music itself developed over the past near-century with the adoption of digital creation, advanced recording technologies, and new performance styles, but the diversification of the University has profoundly enriched its musical culture. The sheer breadth of this collection — which features Afropop, pipa recitals, jazz, women’s groups, experimental noise, folk music, opera, and so very much more — is demonstrative of a community which expresses its heterogeneous identities in a way that joins people through artistic experience. It’s a trend that I hope will continue. 

Given its significance, the collection needed to be organized for preservation and public access. Accessibility is, of course, at the root of archival practice, and this one has been inventoried at the item level, which is often not possible for large collections. That means that every item with a record is searchable, and every item that lacked a record is still organized to enable discovery by researchers, curious students, or alumni who want to find their old performances.

Working on this collection has been fulfilling. It’s been a challenge, to be sure — working with eighty years’ worth of material means encountering different cataloging styles, parsing impossible handwriting from the 1970s, and wondering why a series of chronologically-ordered cassette tapes from 1996 were labeled “1,” “2,” and then… “B.” I owe thanks to Winston Barham, who put an incredible amount of personal effort into recording, labeling, and cataloging many of the records between 2004 and 2020 before this project was even a glimmer in an archivist’s eye. His hard work, along with that of student employees, contributed hundreds of performance recordings to the collection and enabled me to identify items quickly, which is why so many records could be inventoried at the item level.

I am grateful too for the support of the UVA Arts Council, who recognized the importance of this collection and offered us the resources to properly process it. Their contribution made this possible.


The “Keep the Music Playing” collection will be shelved at Ivy Stacks, and will be searchable through an ArchiveSpace finding aid later in 2023. We hope that you have the opportunity to explore it; it is a treasure of the University.