Thursday, September 15, 2005

The members of the Music Library Association are doing their best to destroy the image of librarians as stodgy. To illustrate this point, I present the following, with contact information removed for the sake of privacy, especially since only MLA members can enter. I'm already composing my entry, which I may post here after the deadline.


The Ad hoc Committee on MLA's 75th Anniversary is pleased to announce the MLA 75th ANNIVERSARY BLUES LYRIC COMPETITION. The competition, which feeds off of--and, we hope, honors--anniversary host city Memphis's valid claim as the "Birthplace of the Blues," is open to all individual members-in-good-standing of MLA with the exception of a) the panel of judges; b) the Ad hoc Committee on MLA's 75th Anniversary; and c) MLA's Board of Directors.

The contest begins as soon as you see either this notice on MLA-L or its counterpart, soon to appear in the Sept./Oct. MLA Newsletter--in other words, now!

Winners will have their blues performed by members of the MLA Big Band during the pre-banquet cocktail hour in Memphis. Our first-prize winner will take home a 4-CD set from JSP Records entitled Masters of Memphis Blues, which has generously been donated by ...


1. Lyrics must somehow reflect or involve music librarians and/or music librarianship.

2. Lyrics must be humorous.

3. Lyrics must fit a standard, 12-bar blues of one type or another.

4. A submission may contain lyrics for one, two, or three 12-bar blues chorus stanzas. (Contestants need not submit three stanzas; three is just the maximum.)

5. Contestants should be prepared to offer an example of an existing, recorded blues to which their lyrics could be performed, to assist the Big Band in preparation. "To be sung to the tune of 'Move It On Over' as recorded by George Thorogood" is an acceptable direction. Contestants should also be prepared to clarify by phone any rhythmic ambiguities or "text underlay issues."

6. Only one entry per person.

7. Entries may be sent either via postal mail, postmarked 13 January 2006 at the latest, to . . .

8. The decisions of the judges (subject to approval by the MLA Board) are final.

9. A maximum of three entries will be selected for performance during the pre-MLA-banquet cocktail hour, with the 1st-prize winner to be featured last.


To get contestants in the spirit, the following points are suggested, though none should be considered a hard-and-fast rule:

1. A standard blues chorus usually consists of two lines (the first lne, the first line repeated once, and the second line).

a. A lyric in active first-person tense is a good way to begin. "Woke up this morning" is a standard first phrase. "Took the bus downtown" is unusual, but much bluesier than "Drove my car uptown."

b. To complete your first blues line, allow a rest of two beats, then add a second clause: "Took the bus downtown (rest, rest), to get my fortune read."

c. Usually the first line is repeated to serve as the second line of a blues, so make it good, and leave your listeners hanging for the next new line.

d. The third line of a blues is the punch line--you are telling jokes, in a way. And make it rhyme with your first line. "I got off at the Peabody, to find the gypsy Fred." (On seeing this lowbrow example from the judges, contestants should feel encouraged to submit better lyrics.)

e. Contestants are welcome to take an existing blues and base their lyrics on the tune. After all, that is what many blues musicians do. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" is a good example of a blues. "Rock Around the Clock" and "Move It On Over" are in a different, but very acceptable verse-and-refrain blues form. "Blue Hawaii" is not a blues, even if it was sung by Elvis Presley.

2. The blues is a feeling. The following are some cultural bases for libraries:

a. You don't find the blues, the blues find you. Anyone looking for trouble usually deserves it. That is especially true for patrons with overdue books.

b. To have the blues, it helps more to be too hot than to be too cold. No one ever heard of a bluesman named Blind Joe Eskimo.

c. Dark, shaded areas like jails and juke joints are good places for the blues. In libraries, good dark places for the blues would be the stacks, or the storage room for book sale donations. So would the staff lounge, if at least one bulb is burned out. Technical services areas are generally too bright for the blues.

d. It helps to have a sense of ironic humor to sing the blues. That's why library administrators are not known to have the blues.

e. Blues is about doing with what you have. A library booktruck with over 15 years of use is as blues as a dented Chevy station wagon. A brand-new Pentium with a DVD burner and surround-sound speakers is not blues at all.

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