Benefits Research, Culture
By Brenna Greene
Class of 2014
SPOKANE, Wash. – Howard W. Wildin traces his passion for historic sheet music back to the mid-1990s while he was living in Seattle and received a small stack of sheet music as a gift he grew to treasure.
“It was much loved, and I carried it around with me for years,” said Wildin, whose fascination for this medium of yesteryear began in earnest in 1998 when he moved to Newport, Wash.
Since then, Wildin’s passion for the commercially printed form of music has flourished and his collection has burgeoned to more than 20,000 pieces. While appraisers have placed a significant value on the collection, Wildin believes the anthology is invaluable since it shows the progression of music and culture throughout American history.
Each piece in the collection was published in the United States, and each tells a different story – documenting the unique attitudes, tastes and even biases of bygone eras dating to the Civil War. Most pieces feature an artful image depicting the music and the cultural milieu from which it emerged. View a video of the Wildins discussing the collection, along with more samples of sheet music, below:
The collection had grown so large that Wildin and wife Nancy decided this past year to find a permanent home for the rare pieces, a place where the collection could be professionally maintained, curated, archived and shared with Inland Northwest residents and visitors forever.
Wildin recalls phoning people at several institutions, including Gonzaga, to gauge possible interest in the collection. He discovered Gonzaga’s Foley Center Library and its Special Collections had rich experience and skill maintaining many historically significant collections, including the world’s largest collection of memorabilia from the late, great entertainer Harry L. “Bing” Crosby, a Gonzaga alumnus.
“I called and talked to the then Dean of Arts and Sciences Marc Manganaro, and he got enthused, which is the reaction that I wanted to see,” said Howard Wildin. He and wife Nancy A. Wildin were invited to meet with Manganaro and Gonzaga faculty to present the music and see if Gonzaga would accept their donation. The discussion focused on the ways in which the collection could help graduate-level research and become a treasure for the local community, Howard said.
It didn’t take much convincing for the Gonzaga faculty to realize the significance of the collection. Moments after the Wildins passed out pieces from the collection, the Gonzaga faculty and staff became excited and made all of the Wildins’ points for them. Soon after the showing, the donation was formally accepted.
“Gonzaga said it would be helpful for the history, drama and music departments and beneficial for fashion and dance, and how all of these disciplines are historically portrayed through sheet music,” Howard said.
With pieces dating from 1835 to 1980, Gonzaga archivists said the collection encompasses one of the most sociologically and culturally important time periods in American history. Many of the pieces are written about major U.S. historical events and chronicle America’s changing attitudes – particularly toward topics such as war, race and ethnicity.
Both Gonzaga and the Wildins aim to make the Howard W. and Nancy A. Wildin Collection of American Popular Sheet Music at Gonzaga University one of the premier archival sources for sheet music in the Western United States. Gonzaga has taken possession of the collection and is digitally scanning and carefully archiving each piece. Once that work is completed, the collection will be available for researchers, history buffs and the public in person at the Foley Center or worldwide through the Foley Center’s Special Collections online.
Gonzaga Assistant Library Dean Kathleen O’Connor expects the online database will be available for public access by April 2013. When the Wildin Sheet Music Collection is archived and opens to the public, a reception will be held in the Foley Center Library’s Rare Books Room to honor the Wildins and their generous donation to create the collection.
Meantime, the Wildins plan to continue collecting sheet music and donating it to the Gonzaga collection for years to come. The couple plans to encourage other sheet music collectors to do the same.
“My vision for the collection is that it grow,” said Howard Wildin. “There are too many uses for this venue. There are songs about almost every salient occurrence” in U.S. history.
For more information, please contact Kathleen O’Connor at (509) 313- 6545 or via email.