One-hundred fifty years later, the U.S. Civil War endures — across countless interests, hobbies, and fields of study. That fact was not lost on organizers of the 2013 American Sheet Music Conference, held Oct. 18-19, 2013 at the Irish Fest Center in Milwaukee, whose theme was “The Civil War as Understood Through Sheet Music.” “There’s a lot of Civil War collectors and knowledge, and the sheet music of that time is beautiful,” said Barry Stapleton, director of Milwaukee’s Ward Irish Music Archives, which hosted the conference. “And since we’re in the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we wanted to focus on that.”
It was a decision that was both programming and marketing strategy. “People may not be so much interested in sheet music,” Stapleton said, “but people came in because of the history of the Civil War. So it was a little bit easier for us to sell it.”
THE ART OF NOISE
The conference began on Friday night with “Sheet Music Show and Tell,” an open forum where the collectors, musicians, historians, and hobbyists in the audience could share prized pieces, many of them with elaborate cover illustrations. “Just like regular art, sheet music spans all sorts of different types of art,” Stapleton said. “We saw some beautiful pieces during that show-and-tell time.”
NORTH VS. SOUTH
Before and after lunch on Saturday, two speakers offered remarks from their sides of the Mason-Dixon line — New York-based Larry Zimmerman, a collector, dealer, and authority on 19th-century American sheet music; and Robert Curtis, a collector and retired classics professor at the University of Georgia.
There were six dealers at the conference, which also offered attendees a look at Ward Irish Music Archives’ nearly six thousand pieces of sheet music. “We have a lot of framed sheet music here from our collection,” Stapleton said. “Those are around the building, and sometimes we have exhibits right in where the conference was held.”