Reflections from an intern at the Grainger Museum

Visiting a museum for the first time is an experience most people never forget. At 5 – as most 5-year olds are – I was enamoured by dinosaurs; seeing pterodactyl bones suspended by wire tens of metres above my head as the dull roar of footsteps, chatter, and tour guide instructions permeated the Melbourne museum is something that I can recall vividly.

Eventually, as most 5-year olds do, I got over my dinosaur obsession and moved onto more diverse interests. For me, that was music.

Being a student of the Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, I have at multiple occasions walked through the Grainger Museum. Personally, I find the museum as a concept far more interesting than the items themselves; I caught myself becoming an armchair psychologist, trying to figure out what type of man would spend a lifetime dedicating a museum to himself! My fascination with Grainger was eventually sated when I was asked to undertake an archival project at the Museum for the Professional Project subject of my musicology honours degree.

I was given access to a recent donation by Schott Music Limited, London of original manuscript material that contained photos, letters, and scores that followed Grainger’s communications with his editors at Schott Publishing. The first thing that struck me was the composer’s eye for detail, not only in his music, but in his editorial choices. Within the material was close to 32 correspondences of editorial comments between Grainger and his editors, asking for minutiae to be changed. The most egregious example of which was Grainger expressing his dissatisfaction and distress towards the kerning and symmetry of the letter ‘G’ in the word ‘Greenwood.’ While the assemblage of historic items I was looking over were fascinating, I admittedly was finding the archival process dry. It was not until I was halfway through the items that I understood the appeal of documenting, labelling, filing, and sorting.

Archival work is an important process for the management of information and the development of scholarship. What initially appeared as a dry, bureaucratic task shifted into the masonry of information. This patience was rewarded; while I did not uncover anything ground-breaking, I was met with other interesting finds.

I said earlier that your first time at a museum is something that you rarely forget. I still hold true in this belief, but I would like to add an addendum. There is a pre-archival perspective and a post-archival perspective. Meandering around a museum pre-archival is a highly enjoyable experience, you look at the displays, read the history. Post-archival allows you to peer past the displays. The museum reveals its true form; the Grainger Museum as I perceive it is an institution of data and preservation and represents the architectural embodiment of historic scholarship.

By Jake Ryan Deans

Percy Grainger, dedicated to Max Steffens

Image: Signed poster of Percy Grainger, dedicated to Max Steffens, 1932. Grainger Museum, University of Melbourne. Gift of Schott Music Limited, London 2020