Bagaduce Music’s staff includes the executive director Teresa Myrwang, collections manager, Jeremy Gibson and development assistant Katherine Marsh. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY ZACH LANNING

Turning the page: Bagaduce Music brings alive diverse songs and other music in new settings

LITTLE DEER ISLE — A rhythmic mélange of stomps, shouts and strings shot out over Penobscot Bay one evening in August, infusing an otherwise tranquil summer night with a brief moment of vitality, of life.

The wondrous sound emanated from the Finnish folk band Frigg, one of the top acoustic acts in the world, who were in the middle of playing the second of three successive shows in the area.

The last time the superstar string septet graced the shores of Maine with their combination of traditional Nordic music and bluegrass, a style referred to by the world music media as “Nordgrass,” was in 2007. In attendance at that concert was one Bennett Konesni, founder of Midcoast Maine-based Worksongs Project and a member of the Bagaduce Music Board of Directors. Konesni found it incredibly difficult to shake off the band’s infectious sound and had sought out opportunities to bring Frigg back ever since.

“It was a concert I couldn’t forget,” said Konesni as he introduced the band. “We felt this was a perfect opportunity to bring them back over because they could interpret Bagaduce Music in a way that was special and unique.”

That’s right, the Finns were here on a mission: to help highlight the vast collection of printed music available at Bagaduce Music as part of the organization’s “From Our Collection” concert series. The band were given a list of all the traditional Nordic tunes Bagaduce Music possessed and asked to play a few during their set.

“It was a long list,” fiddle player Esko Järvelä said of the options that the band was able to choose from. Frigg ended up choosing two songs to perform along with several original hits.

This year’s concert series also showcased the organization’s collection of jazz standards and gospel music as well as choral music written by local composers.

“And you’ll notice when you look at [the slate of concerts] that, ‘Oh my gosh, the concerts are all so diverse.’ And that’s the point: to let people know that yes, we have an amazing collection of classical music, but we also have a tremendously varied and diverse collection of music,” explained Bagaduce Music’s Executive Director Teresa Myrwang, who has helped oversee this expansion of the organization’s original mission.

Founded in 1983 as the Bagaduce Music Lending Library by a group of friends named Marcia Chapman, Mary Cheney Gould and the eminent conductor and pianist Fritz Jahoda, the organization’s main goal was to put the trio’s vast collection of printed music accumulated over the years to good use by emulating a concept Jahoda had experienced in his younger days.

“In Vienna, when [Jahoda] was a child, if you were a musician, you could just walk into a little kind of music library and borrow sheet music. It wasn’t on every street corner, but it was easily accessible,” Myrwang explained. “And he noticed that there was nothing like that really in the United States. So, that was kind of the thought behind starting a library of printed music that pretty much anybody could borrow for a very nominal fee, almost for free.”

Since that time, the organization has excelled at collecting, preserving and lending printed sheet music, not just locally but around the world. Collections Manager Jeremy Gibbons estimates they hold between 250,000 to 275,000 unique works of music, 95 to 96 percent of which were donated to the library. The organization says it has lent that music to borrowers from all 50 states and from more than 27 countries.

“We really make the most money from our lending through our choral multiples, from community chorales or professional symphony orchestras,” Gibbons explained. “We recently did a big loan to the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, for example. They’ll say, ‘Hey, I need to have, you know, 50 copies of this piece and 60 copies of this piece and 80 copies of this piece, can you help us out?’ And usually we can, we have over 10,000 works held in our choral multiples area.”

Due to copyright laws, an organization performing any piece of copyrighted work that isn’t in the public domain is required to provide a copy of that work for each performer participating, even if they aren’t going to use the printed music during the performance. If your group has 60 people and you want to perform, let’s say, “Maria” from “West Side Story,” you’ll need 60 physical copies of Leonard Bernstein’s composition. In that scenario, it might make sense to reach out to Bagaduce and borrow 60 of its 68 copies for a dollar apiece.

“The reason that is a good business opportunity for both the borrower and the lender, us, is that if an organization, for example, was looking to borrow that volume of music they’re faced with two situations: One is that if they bought the music new, they’re looking at $7 to $12 per piece, where we loan these pieces for $1 to $3 apiece, depending on the length of the piece,” said Gibbons. “The other issue is spatial concerns. It takes a lot of space to store music when you’re talking about a large volume of it. And so, a lot of organizations like to just rent the music from us, they perform, and then they return it to us.”

While the organization has amassed an impressive collection and provides a valuable service as part of the music ecosystem, many inside and outside of the building began to realize a few years ago that it wasn’t going to be enough.

“Jane Gottlieb, who’s the head music librarian at Juilliard in New York, visited us a few years ago,” Myrwang remembered. “And she said, ‘You know, it’s quite amazing what you have here. You’re one of only a couple places in the whole country where people could just come in without an appointment to browse music, hold it in their hands, try it out on the piano, hang out for the day with the music.’ But she also said it’s probably not enough going forward because people are accessing music online so much.”

Fortunately, Gottleib also offered a solution to this problem during her 2018 trip that Myrwang and the team at Bagaduce Music have run with.

“[Gottleib] said, ‘What I would recommend you do is, you get that music off the shelves into performance settings,’” Myrwang explained. “So that it kind of comes alive and more people are familiar with it, and they know more about what we have, and they learn what a resource this place is.”

The very next year, in 2019, the group did just that. They held a series of concerts in the performance hall located on their beautiful four-acre campus on South Street in Blue Hill. The COVID-19 pandemic the following year prevented Bagaduce from holding a concert series due to restrictions on gatherings. But it also helped inform the future of the series and the way in which the music could be presented.

“We gave it the little tagline: Unexpected Music in Unexpected Places,” said Myrwang of the concert series that was relaunched in 2021. “Because we are taking our music outdoors in large part to alleviate any concerns about COVID. And I think we realized in the process, ‘Wow! We live in this amazingly beautiful place. Why do we have to all sit indoors to listen to music?’ We can be outdoors, right? We can be out on Little Deer Isle. We had one of our concerts this year in a quarry in Blue Hill. We’re going to have our Oct. 1st concert, which is the last concert of the season, at David’s Folly Farm in Brooksville in this huge barn. And Brooklyn Rider is going to be our last artist group of the season.”

While the organization’s mission may have expanded to include the promotion of appreciation, knowledge and performance of music, it does not mean that the focus on the original mission has been lost.

Brooksville’s Tinder Hearth Bakery created a pastoral setting for Bagaduce Music’s outdoor concert, featuring the Finnish folk band Frigg in August. BAGDUCE MUSIC PHOTO

“We’re not a performance organization just for the sake of being a performance organization,” Myrwang explained. “My dream has always been that we create reasons for everybody to want to come on to our campus. Some will come into the library; some will go to a performance or a meeting or a workshop in the performance hall. Some will tour the native gardens … But the core of it always remains the collection of media. That’s the cornerstone. That’s the core of who we are. And we really value that. But we recognize that that might not be sufficient going forward to sustain us.”

The end of the 2022 concert series will also represent the end of Myrwang’s tenure as executive director at Bagaduce Music. She recently announced that she would be retiring this fall upon the selection of a new director. After overseeing the transitional period that contained the expansion of the group’s mission, and the move to their new campus on South Street, Myrwang felt that it was time for someone else to come in and lead the organization into the next stage of development. Someone who hopefully understands the challenges that will have to be overcome.

“We are not competing just with other music organizations. We are not competing just with other arts organizations. We are competing with the myriad of ways that a person has when they’re trying to figure out how to spend their free time,” Myrwang said. “Life is complex, so people think carefully about how they want to spend their free time. And we’re honored that most of our concerts have sold out this year. We want to be thought of as a really excellent arts organization that consistently puts on very professional and relevant and compelling programming.”

It is not so easy to consistently present high-level performances as Bagaduce have done, and it certainly costs more than they make lending out printed music. The group relies on generous donors for each annual concert series as well as each of the individual concerts that make up the series. But there is no denying, as one listens to a Nordgrass band from Finland harmonize under the stars on a beautiful summer night while the audience claps along and taps their toes to the beat, that these concerts are an exceptional way to help that printed music leap off the page and come to life in a unique and compelling way.

“Every moment is very special and will never be repeated because all these different dynamics come together,” Myrwang said. “What the arranger intended really doesn’t come to life or really isn’t evident until the music is played … And then every performance is unique. I think we discovered that with Frigg in a big way. Three consecutive concerts, same band, same printed music. But the audiences were different and so varied. And so many young folks came especially to Tinder Hearth and the waterfront park in Belfast. It was fabulous.”

Zachary Lanning

Zachary Lanning

News reporter Zach Lanning covers news and features in the Ellsworth area. He comes to Ellsworth by way of New Jersey, which he hopes you don't hold against him. Email him at [email protected].