I first came to the Center for Popular Music at MTSU in the summer of 2010. Funded by a summer research grant from Roosevelt University (my institutional home at the time), I was in the midst of a two-week research trip studying old-time guitar styles at archives in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Kansas. My immediate goals at the CPM were to examine its substantial collection of 19th and early 20th century guitar sheet music and instructional materials, and to peruse its back catalog of rare serials such as Old-Time Music.
That summer was a time of major transition at the Center. Founding Director Paul Wells had just stepped down after twenty-five years at the helm. Dr. Dale Cockrell, having just retired from Vanderbilt University’s musicology faculty, was taking over as Interim Director with the intent to stay on for one year; he later became Director (no longer “Interim”) and stayed for four. Just a year earlier in 2009, the Center had become a unit of MTSU’s College of Mass Communication, evidently to align its mission and activities more closely with the college’s Recording Industry department, one of MTSU’s best-known programs nationally. During the summer of 2010 new compact shelving was also being installed in the CPM archive to ensure that space would be used more efficiently. That archivist Lucinda Cockrell was even able to retrieve the items I requested in the midst of this physical reconfiguration was in itself an astonishing feat.
I left Murfreesboro with valuable information for my research, and a burgeoning appreciation for the remarkable collection that had been amassed in this rather quiet college town thirty miles southeast of Nashville. Of course, I hadn’t actually seen the enormity of the collection with my own eyes, especially with the stacks in such upheaval at that moment, but the depth and quality of what the Center had to offer me and my research agenda rivaled what I had found the previous year working in the Library of Congress. I was impressed, to say the least, and vowed to return.
Little did I suspect at the time that I would find myself, four years later, taking over as Director of this extraordinary facility. When the job posting appeared last Fall, and when friends and colleagues at MTSU encouraged me to apply, I quickly began to realize what a wonderful opportunity this would be for me professionally, and what a good fit it would be both for me and for MTSU. Now that I am here (on the job since July 1), I have developed a deeper sense of what a golden opportunity, and what a great responsibility, I have been given. My career as a musicologist and teacher, my work and aspirations as a performing musician, and my lifelong love for and curiosity about the expressive art of music have all led me here. In my next blog post I will lay out some of the major elements of my vision for the Center for Popular Music over the coming years.