BLUE HILL, Maine — The piano strains of a lively little march drifted through the Bagaduce Music Lending Library recently.
The relatively obscure “Bangor March,” composed and arranged for pianoforte by Oliver J. Shaw more than a century and a half ago, received some notoriety recently after a Kenduskeag man inadvertently purchased a copy of it at a silent auction in Bangor.
David Slagger thought he was buying an old, framed sketch of Bangor depicting the corner of Main and Union streets with the former Mercantile National Bank building and the old Bangor House hotel in the background. When he removed the artwork from its frame, however, he found that the sketch was the cover art for an 1835 piece of sheet music, the “Bangor March.”
Publicity around the find generated some interest among local historians, and the Bangor Public Library approached Slagger about donating the piece. But Slagger bought the artwork as a gift for his wife, Priscilla Slagger, who is the resident services coordinator at the Bangor House, and they decided to keep it.
That’s where the Bagaduce Music Lending Library comes in. The library, located in Blue Hill, has a collection of more than 215,000 printed music titles, which it lends to members all over the world. While many music libraries have very focused collections, the Bagaduce has amassed a wide variety of printed music, from opera scores and organ toccatas to rock ’n’ roll and Rachmaninoff.
The library also is the repository for the state of Maine collection, which includes about 6,000 pieces with a connection to Maine — they were either written by Maine composers or about Maine — according to executive director Sean Schmeits. The collection includes a number of pieces referring to Bangor, such as “Riding Down from Bangor,” “The Student and the Tunnel,” “The Bangor High School Victory Song” and a more provocative piece titled “Cocaine Bill and Morphine Sue.”
“As soon as we saw the [Bangor Daily News] article, one of our volunteers said, ‘I know we have that piece,’” Schmeits said.
That kind of thing happens all the time.
“Often people will come in searching for a really odd piece,” he said.
And they often find it in the library’s collection.
A quick search of the cataloged collection last week turned up three copies of the short, two-page “Bangor March” composition. The staff at Bagaduce was more than happy to send one of those copies to the Bangor Public Library.
“It arrived this morning,” Barbara McDade, director of the Bangor Public Library, said Wednesday. “It’s in wonderful condition, and we’re happy to make this part of our collection. We’re delighted that Bagaduce had a copy they were willing to give to us.”
The Bangor library has an extensive collection of ephemera from Bangor, McDade said, including photographs, diaries, posters and other pieces of music, such as “Hail to Bangor,” written in 1884 by R.B. Hall, who was the director of the Bangor Band.
The library preserves these materials, copying them for library use but often making the originals available for researchers and even students, McDade said.
“It’s good for them to have access to original documents,” she said.
Most archived materials like the “Bangor March” sheet music see limited exhibition time, according to Bill Cook, special collections librarian at the Bangor library.
“We have two display cases that we change each month,” he said. “This is the type of thing that probably will be exhibited at some point in time. But most materials are exhibited for brief periods of time.”
The cover art on the sheet music for “Bangor March” — the drawing that attracted Slagger’s attention — depicts an actual scene from Bangor’s history, according to Cook. In fact, the library has an old photograph in its collection, taken from about the same angle and showing both the bank building and the Bangor House.
Coincidentally, Marcia Chapman of Brooksville, one of the founding members of the Bagaduce Music Lending Library, once lived at the Bangor House, which was owned by her husband’s family.
“I came there as a Navy bride in 1952,” Chapman said. “I’d married John Chapman, who was the third or fourth generation to run the hotel. He ran the place. I ran the convention business for a while.”
The hotel was quite a hot spot in its earlier days, according to Chapman, and, according to family lore, at one point became the focus of Carrie Nation’s campaign against demon rum.
“She had her ax and was ready to chop the place to pieces,” she said. “Somehow, John’s great-grandfather convinced her — I don’t know how — to let go of the pillars and get out of town.”
The hotel, which Chapman said was once a story and a half taller than it is now, also had its more prestigious side and often hosted the nation’s presidents when they visited Bangor. It was a popular speaking place for politicians, she said.
The Chapmans sold the hotel in 1967.
The focus on historical documents and on Bangor in particular that has come in the wake of the “Bangor March” find could be a good thing for archives such as the two libraries, according to McDade. People don’t often recognize that items they have in their homes could have historic value, she said. She hopes this publicity will encourage people to think about the library when they go through their homes.
“We’re afraid we could lose so much of this type of material,” she said. “Even items from the 1950s have value. People don’t think of it as history, but it will be somebody’s history someday.”