Cambridge, oh musical city

This is not the title of a song or a line of lyrics I have found. No, this is a very personal response of mine to my new home town. I have been living and working here for over two months now, and I’m continuously impressed what a musical city Cambridge is.

Obviously, there are the many libraries catering for many different music and research needs; I won’t go into details about the University Library’s Music Collection or indeed the Pendlebury Library of Music – as my work place, and somewhat at the centre of this blog, they are part of my daily explorations.

Of course, there are the less obvious places – to an outsider – where music is collected, catalogued and performed. Two previous posts have already alerted readers of this blog to the musical treasures which can be found outside my work place: at Peterhouse (see and at the Fitzwilliam Museum (see

West Road Concert Hall, before a piano recital

West Road Concert Hall, before a piano recital ; photographed by David E Nelson. Used with kind permission of West Road Concert Hall.

Of course, even though I’m a librarian and music researcher I do realise that for most people music comes alive in performance spaces, such as the West Road Concert Hall, which calls itself – rightly so – ‘one of Cambridge’s premiere music venues’; some of the colleges provide a smaller, more intimate space for chamber music, such as Pembroke’s Old Library hosting the Sir Arthur Bliss Song Series.

Some of the performing of music is, of course, well-documented in concert programme notes, and a previous post of this blog highlighted some of the Cambridge University Music Society’s past activities; one can of course use their web page to find out about this society’s current musical performances. There are so many more ensembles and places where music can be experienced, that me mentioning here the Cambridge Philharmonic Society is just to mirror a university music-making body with a non-university one.

King's College Choir ; photographed by Debbie Scanlon. By kind permission of the Provost and Scholars of King's College, Cambridge.

King's College Choir ; photographed by Debbie Scanlon. By kind permission of the Provost and Scholars of King's College, Cambridge.

Arguably the most-famous musical ensemble from Cambridge, known throughout the world, is the King’s College Choir: how many choirs have a yearly programme spot which is broadcast to many countries? If you need a sonic refresher, before the choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast on 24th December 2010, 3pm, please go to I especially like their tradition of commissioning a new carol each year. This year the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara has composed a work for this occassion, called Christmas Carol.

But instead of name dropping further places and institutions where music is important, let me hark back to something which might surprise the uninitiated. Three facts about the University Library’s music provisions which you might not have come across yet:

1. The UL’s Manuscript Department houses almost all of the musical manuscripts, and indeed the Sassoon Project blog features at least one post dealing with musical treasures: see

2. The UL’s Music Department does not have a comprehensive collection of recordings. However, the Pendlebury Library of Music (just across West Road) has a substantial collection. Search to find the available recordings there. And what’s more: anyone who is a member of the University Library can register at the Pendlebury Library and borrow CDs and DVDs for 1 day.

3. Does your work place have a choir? If so, is it as tuneful and impressive as the University Library’s Choir? I have joined this choir, and if you want to hear us performing in the entrance hall of our work place your next chances are a Carol Concert on Tuesday 14 December and Friday 17 December both at 12pm.

Cambridge University Library Choir - still taken from video taken by Laurence Boyce; with permission from L. Boyce.

Cambridge University Library Choir : Carol Concert 2007 - still taken from video taken by Laurence Boyce; with permission from L. Boyce.


About cg474

Since August 2010 I have worked as a librarian at the University of Cambridge (Cambridge, UK). Between August 2010 and November 2013 I was the Deputy Head of Music at Cambridge University Library and at the Pendlebury Library of Music. Between December 2013 and September 2015 I was the Librarian at the Marshall Library of Economics. Since October 2015 I have been the Librarian at the Divinity Library.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Cambridge, oh musical city

  1. Niamh says:

    The UL has a choir? Do you have to work at the UL to join or is it open to staff at the other libraries in Cambridge?


  2. musicb3 says:

    The answers in 2/3 words are: yes and no.
    The longer answer is: I don’t know how many members in the choir are non-UL librarians (i.e. what’s the ratio between the UL and non-UL members), but I’m at least 100% certain of two people who are “only” employed at Faculty Libraries. My guess is that it’s too late for the Carol Concert this year to join, but if you email me at cg474, I can tell you who is organising the choir and who the conductor is.


  3. Sarah Stamford says:

    I asked about this 2-3 years ago and was told the UL choir was only open to UL staff (which is fair enough). Maybe it’s time we had a Cambridge librarians choir. Anyone else up for it?


  4. Tom Roper says:

    For historical background, see Frida Knight’s Cambridge music, from the middle ages to modern times, Cambridge: Oleander, 1980.
    For a more personal, insignificant account of a byway of Cambridge musical life, the fabled CYCO, see:


  5. Pingback: Lending Liberamente – the music hire partnership of Christ’s and Homerton | MusiCB3 Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.