Towards an Open Access Archive of Music by Julia Perry

I gave a talk on creating the Julia Perry Working Group, called “Towards an Open Access Archive of Music by Julia Perry,” at the Texas Music Library Association meeting today. You can watch it here. The captions take a few seconds to start. Here is the transcript, with my slide cues:

“Towards an Open Access Archive of Music by Julia Perry”

(presented at the Texas Music Library Association Fall 2022 meeting)

SLIDE title Even now, 25 years after her death in 1979 at the age of 59 SLIDE Perry photo, composer Julia Perry’s life and career remain enigmatic. Helen Walker-Hill’s chapter on Perry in her book From Spirituals to Symphonies (2002) is still the most complete study of Perry’s life we have to date. Briefly, SLIDE BIO Perry was born in 1924 and grew up in Akron, Ohio. She studied voice, piano, and violin throughout high school, adding composition and conducting in college. She received her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Westminster Choir College in 1947 and 1948. Talented, hard-working, and ambitious, Perry sought out opportunities to make herself known as a composer, conductor, and vocalist. During the 1950s Perry was in high demand in the US and in Europe, performing and conducting her own pieces. She received prestigious commissions and fellowships and had her work recorded.

But, as Walker-Hill has written, Perry’s outlook, interests, and even personality changed dramatically during the 1950s. In 1953 she declared that she was no longer a singer, and in 1956 a friend reported that she had become “religious in a rather obsessive way.” In 1959, her friend Patricia Sides described the once-extroverted Perry as having become “peculiar, difficult, and quick to take offence.” (Walker-Hill 2007, 102) Perry made demands of Composers Recordings that alienated the company, cut off many of her friends, and stopped performing altogether. Walker-Hill suggests that these changes may have stemmed from the onset and development of acromegaly, a condition that causes enlarged hands, feet, and face; fatigue and joint weakness; limited mobility; a deepened voice; and other physical changes. (Walker-Hill 2007) We’ve all witnessed the cruelty of the classical music world when it comes to appearance, and so I sympathize with Perry in her apparent desire to control who had access to her.

SLIDE BIO 2 Perry struggled to find long-term work but continued to compose prolifically, but found few performers to program her works. The last piece published conventionally during her lifetime was Homunculus C. F. (Peer Classical, 1960) In 1970, she suffered the first of three debilitating strokes. Although she taught herself to write with her left hand, she spoke with difficulty and, frequently seemed to be confused, submitting the same scores to the same publishers repeatedly, losing scores and documents, and slowly becoming unable to care for herself. Her scores SLIDE SOUL SYM IV—never the most legible—became even more difficult to parse, and even the publishers with whom she had worked before rejected her submissions. Colleagues urged her to donate her papers to Fisk University or other places capable of preserving them, but she did not, and after her death in 1979, nearly half of her pieces were lost, SLIDES LOST WORKS; and her papers and scores now reside in several places. SLIDE where are they? The identities and existence of other works are in doubt. In one case, Walker-Hill documented Perry’s Symphony No. 3 as being published by Carl Fischer. The Fischer site indicated that it had Perry’s Symphonic Band Symphony, which is generally considered the same as her Symphony No. 6. But a Fischer representative told me that the only “large ensemble work” they had in their catalog was her Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, about which more in a moment. (Tamara Win, email, 2021)

Perry’s extant papers and scores are poorly collected and lack cataloguing. SLIDE: cataloguing There are issues of version control, because Perry heavily revised some works, or made them into new works. There are the issues of titles, because sometimes she gave works different titles for different occasions. Walker-Hill cites Perry’s sister, Lucie (or Lucy) Perry Bigbie (Bigby) as her sole heir, but researchers (including me) have been unable to locate her. The Westminster Choir College Collection notes that their materials were donated by Alycia Berry, Perry’s younger sister, and while I have found that she is 95 and was registered to vote in Ohio as of 2020, I have not been able to contact her.

This lack of contact is important because without it, many of Perry’s pieces become orphan works. An orphan work, as many of you know, is SLIDE OW 1 “a copyright-protected work for which rightsholders are positively indeterminate or uncontactable.” (Borgman, Christine L., 2007). Scholarship in the digital age: information, infrastructure, and the internet. MIT Press. p. 108) The US Copyright Office has written of orphan works “that the uncertainty surrounding the ownership status of orphan works does not serve the objectives of the copyright system. For good faith users, orphan works are a frustration, a liability risk, and a major cause of gridlock in the digital marketplace.” (

In 2015, writing about the digitization of and providing access to orphan works, the Association of Research Libraries held that SLIDE OW 2 “a library is on firmer ground when the item is an orphan work.” (US Copyright Office, Orphan Works and Mass Digitization, 2015) The inability to positively identify, locate, and contact a living heir for Perry also falls under the fourth fair use factor, that of the impact of the market for the work. This holds that if heirs are not benefitting from a work, it is likely that there is no market for the work. But in the case of Perry, there is considerable interest on the part of researchers and performers, as well as some publishers, for whom the scores could be of monetary value. The issues of who owns the rights to what in Perry’s catalogue is also further complicated by conflicting statements and stamps on some of her works regarding copyright and licensing rights. How, then, do we proceed with the sharing of Perry’s works?

I decided to use Humanities Commons SLIDE: HCOMMONS home to create a repository for Perry’s works and related materials. I’ve used Humanities Commons for a long time to host SLIDE my site my own website, SLIDE SPIRIT one of my books, and other endeavors. HC has the best support staff I’ve ever encountered and a host of digital tools for librarians, instructors, and others working in the humanities. H Commons, as it describes itself, is a place to

Discover the latest open-access scholarship and teaching materials, make interdisciplinary connections, build a WordPress Web site, and increase the impact of your work by sharing it in the repository.

SLIDE: Perry site I called the group the Julia Perry Working Group, modeling it on scholarly working groups I’m involved with elsewhere. Humanities Commons’ group pages offer a discussion forum; an easy way of uploading documents to a repository associated with the group; and a way to communicate with people who sign up as members as the group.

I had a number of things to take into consideration in creating the group site and uploading scores and other documents to it. Access—in its many meanings—played a large role in my decision. Although there are multiple copies of the same scores in several places, not everyone can travel to the archives and libraries that have them. It seemed illogical that the AMRC at Boulder could have a special collection that was all just photocopies, but that researchers could or should not share their own scans of those copies with one another or with performers. It only made sense to have a repository for Perry’s materials. Making the scores and other documents completely open access was central for me. Funding and/or institutional status has no place in dictating what materials scholars and performers can access and use. Information wants to be free, and I don’t want to be a cop.

With a few exceptions, I firmly believe that the materials fall under fair use. The exceptions would be the handful of pieces Perry published with publishers, some of which have gone out of business and others where the copyright is nebulous. I decided that if rights-holders wanted any scores or other documents removed, I would do so at their request, but that I would share everything I had. This is the “better to ask forgiveness than permission” tactic. In 2021, Fischer manager Jay Berger emailed me, asking me why I had not asked for permission to share the manuscript of the violin concerto, which does indeed bear, in Perry’s handwriting, the text “[Rental] Carl Fischer Music Pub.” SLIDES VIOLIN CTO x3 I told him where I’d gotten the scores, what the purpose of sharing them was, how the manuscript appeared currently unusable for performance, and asked how to get this permission. He responded that I’d missed his point, that lots of people were renting Fischer’s score and parts for the piece, and that I should have asked him for permission. I alerted members of the Working Group that we might lose access to this score, and that they should download it ASAP if they thought they were ever going to want it. I replied to Berger, asking what I needed to do to get that permission—fill out a form, whatever—and also asked whether Fischer had had the piece engraved and if so, who did the work, because I wanted to ask them questions about how they made editorial decisions. He never responded. The concerto was performed by the U of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in February 2022, and the score remains on the Working Group site.

Perry’s music, once headed towards 20th-century canon, is now rarely performed, and people want to make usable editions of this music in order to fix this. SLIDE: edition I tell prospective editors and arrangers that I think Perry’s work can be categorized as “fair use” when it is used for teaching, research, and nonprofit enterprises, as well as in “transformative” ways. Editors and arrangers can make new editions or arrangements of Perry’s work, but cannot sell them (as sheet music or recordings) or perform them for profit. I counsel prospective editors include a Creative Commons license for their editions, marking them as NonCommercial. And I make it very clear that neither the Working Group as an entity nor I bear any responsibility for their work or use of their work. I’m aware of several organizations that have made new editions over the last year, including the Lexington Philharmonic.

The interface for finding scores in the group documents is not the best, and at some point, I—or someone else—will need to make the group website look a little better. But for now, Perry’s extant scores are available, for free, and scholars and performers have a place to go for them and share information about Perry and her work.

SLIDE resources SLIDE contact

Works Cited

Berger, Jay. Emails to author. 2022.
Borgman, Christine L. Scholarship in the digital age: information, infrastructure, and the internet. MIT Press, 2007.
Perry, Julia. Soul Symphony. 1972.
Perry, Julia. “Spreading Peanut Butter.” After 1970.
Perry, Julia. Violin Concerto. 1963-68.
United States Copyright Office. “Orphan Works.” 2015.
United States Copyright Office. Orphan Works and Mass Digitization. 2015
Walker-Hill, Helen. From Spirituals to Symphonies: African-American Women Composers and Their Music. Urbana [Ill.]: University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Win, Tamara. Email to author. 2021.





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