At the top of Ellis Library, sounds of recorded music serve as reminders of the past

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 | 2:59 p.m. CST; updated 5:26 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 28, 2011
David Truesdell reshelves items that people returned to the recording center in Ellis Library. About visitors to the center, Truesdell said: "Students who are serious about how the music sounds still come here and students who are specifically told to listen to specific things and/or recordings that we have that are either not available on the Internet or too hard to find" also come to the center.

 COLUMBIA — Thirty years ago,  scores of students visited the Recorded Sound Studio on the fourth floor of Ellis Library where David Truesdell works.

Students would wait in line to use one of the three listening rooms. Some came to listen for a class assignment; some came just to listen to music. They would choose a record from the studio’s collection of 20,000 LPs, close the door on a tiny room – with just a desk and record player – and slip on a pair of headphones.

In this era of iTunes and instant, online listening, Truesdell now sees maybe a couple of professors or students a day.

“Many people of this generation don’t really need to go to the library to find music because they can get it off, what I like to call, the inter-tube,” Truesdell said. “Before, unless you were a person who owned a huge library of music on your own, you would have to go somewhere.”

Students and professors still stop by for class material or to buy a CD or LP from the studio’s ongoing music sale. When the studio is empty, Truesdell cleans or organizes records. He researches reviews of recordings that the studio might purchase. But he is always listening to music, especially 20th century classical.

As they walk though the stacks of books that line the outside of the studio, library-goers might hear the faint sounds of Truesdell’s music. The job is a good fit for him because music has always had a place in his life. 

“I remember when my dad got a stereo,” he said. “The store included a handful of LPs with the stereo, and there was one recording by a pianist Earl Wild with the Boston Pops Orchestra playing Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' and 'An American in Paris.' I played it to death.”

Then there was Jenny.

“I was in the seventh grade, and she was my music teacher, just out of college,” Truesdell recalled. “She lived a block and a half away, and I had a crush on her. I would go over to her place all the time and listen to music and dream of her seducing me.”

Truesdell played the clarinet in grade school but said he was too lazy to learn to read music and was kicked out of band.

“Jenny actually had the nerve to tell me, you really don’t have any talent,” he said. “I think my parents blamed her for discouraging me and telling me the truth.”

Jenny did not fall in love with Truesdell, but she helped him fall in love with classical music. He still remembers when they listened to Leonard Bernstein conducting Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5.

That piece is now part of Truesdell’s personal collection of thousands of CDs and LPs.

“I listen to things I just feel like listening to – I’m not trying to teach myself,” he said. “Sometimes you feel that you are hearing or seeing something that makes you feel like you are in the presence of something that is better than any person could be. It’s almost religious.”

Many records remain mostly untouched in the library studio, Truesdell said. In a back room, there's a recording of the last performance in 1966 in New York's old Metropolitan Opera. The record includes a piece of the golden curtain from the opera house.

Even if the way people listen to music is changing, Truesdell said he does not believe the studio will become obsolete. 

“I think the need for a place like this has diminished,” he said. “But there are still going to be people who want to hear things sounding more lifelike than they will be able to get by plugging ear buds into a computer.”

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Wayne Coomers December 29, 2011 | 9:05 a.m.

Benjamin Britten, ManBearPig, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, Gilbert Gottfried, gummy worms, OccupyWallStreet--you name it, this man can discuss anything with wit and understanding. He is TRULY the most interesting man alive. And he has the warmest heart of any curmudgeon I know.

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Jimmy Bearfield December 29, 2011 | 1:58 p.m.

Great story. I remember checking out CDs when I was a student. They were still a bit of a novelty back then, but already there was a good selection of classical and jazz.

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