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Furman Libraries acquires unique music collection

microtonal music
Johnny Reinhard (left) and Zachary Bernstein (right) conduct the AFMM Orchestra. Photo: Chris Lee 1996

Two new collections of microtonal music – music played with tones that exist in the spaces between notes like C and C sharp or E and F – have a new home at Furman University. Composer Johnny Reinhard, founder of the American Festival of Microtonal Music (AFMM), has donated his personal microtonal archive and the archive of the AFMM.

Known for its sometimes unusual sound, microtonal music uses tuning structures different from the 12-note octave most people are familiar with. Furman came to acquire the collection through Michael “aTonal” Vick, an instructional technologist for the fine arts at Furman, who has performed and worked with Reinhard’s AFMM for more than 10 years. Reinhard has also spoken to Vick’s class, “Tuning Systems and the Aural Experience.”

Reinhard approached Furman with the possibility of housing what may be the largest microtonal music collection in the world.

“I immediately saw the potential pedagogical impact of his archive for my microtonal tuning course here at Furman,” Vick said. “I also see the diverse collection as providing a wealth of teaching and learning opportunities through new course development across multiple disciplines like history, mathematics and physics.”

Even more important, Vick said, is the collection’s place on the music landscape.

“The acquisition fills an important gap in music history,” he said. “Microtonal music offers listeners a new way to hear music and sounds. By observing composers’ original tuning systems, we can respect the past, hearing and performing works the way they intended.”

Vick said the archive will “help Furman and others around the world understand the often-overlooked field of alternate tuning systems and theory,” and he’s planning digitalization projects to make the collection available globally.

“I believe all music is microtonal on a cross-cultural level,” Reinhard said in a paper. “Before now, this archive was only available to me and rare guests. The full collection now at Furman will allow students to study it and the international community to revel in its depths.” He said the collection represents “the professional cause of his entire life” and that “it is easily the largest microtonal music archive in the world.”

The archive includes the business records of the New York-based AFMM, a group that organizes an annual series of concerts in New York and around the world of classical and modern music that uses microtonal music tunings. It also includes a sizable collection of live and commercial recordings of microtonal music, a reference library of rare microtonal books and other materials that document the alternative tuning music world, including a run of the rare New York modern/avant-garde music magazine, Ear.

Reinhard’s papers, music manuscripts, correspondence and other materials that are part of the acquisition document the work of composers and musicians who were active in the microtonal sphere, such as Charles Ives, Harry Partch, Mordecai Sandberg, Ivor Darreg and La Monte Young.

Special Collections is also working with Reinhard to prepare the archival score he created in 1996 for Charles Ives’s “Universe Symphony.”

The collections are currently being processed at Furman and will be available for research and consultation later this spring in the Department of Special Collections and Archives, with a major exhibition of the collection slated for 2021. For more information, contact Special Collections Librarian and University Archivist Jeffrey Makala at 864-294-2714 or jeffrey.makala@furman.edu.

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