Library helps stretch choir budgets

A unique library exists in Hollidaysburg. Its hours are limited, and it houses no books. Yet, when its material is executed, it stirs emotions and influences moods.

It is the Sacred Music Library. Housed inside the First Presbyterian Church of Hollidaysburg, its designated space is filled with filing cabinet after filing cabinet of sheet music.

For choir and music directors, the room is a godsend.

Many of them spend hours perusing the anthems and looking through the catalogs that list the titles or composers in search of pieces for their choirs. Being able to borrow copies of sheet music instead of purchasing them helps to stretch their budgets.

Marlene Aurandt, library president, said sheet music usually costs between $2 and $3 a copy, and the cost can add up when a choir needs numerous copies. She said the cost can even be a little more, depending on the publisher and composer.

Aurandt said the Sacred Music Library at 601 Walnut St. continually updates its selections, often purchasing 40 or more copies of a selection that includes parts for soprano, alto, tenor and bass. The library has about 3,500 anthems with usually 30 to 40 and sometimes 60 copies of sheet music for each one. She said the library always keeps one copy of a title on file and another in a book that borrowers can examine.

Among the borrowers are Amy Perchy, music director at Wehnwood United Methodist Church, and Sally Wenzel, choir director at Wehnwood church, as well as music/choir director at Juniata United Methodist Church.

Perchy said they go to the library together about two or three times a year as they plan the liturgical year. They like the flexibility of not having a hard and fast due date.

“I may borrow a piece and not turn it back in for another three months,” Perchy said.

Wenzel likes the variety of titles available, and the helpfulness of the volunteers.

“We love it,” Wenzel said. “They have a wonderful selection of music. Both contemporary and traditional and it doesn’t cost anything.”

She said if a piece she is interested in borrowing is out, the volunteer will put a hold on it and let her know when it is returned.

The library volunteers are well-versed in what is available and can make recommendations, Wenzel said, explaining that some selections are more suited for choirs that can read music while other pieces work for groups with less formal training.

The fact that an average of 40 copies of each anthem is available is a plus when the two churches and Bethany Lutheran Church form a joint choir each June that performs in each of the three churches on different Sundays. Perchy said the library has enough sheet music available to accommodate everyone.

Church music leaders are not the only ones who seek the library’s material.

The Academy of Sacred Music borrows music for its annual Choral Institute, held each summer at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Altoona, and the Valley Choristers of Penns Valley use holiday selections for its annual Community Christmas Concert.

Peggy Myers, accompanist for the Valley Choristers, and Cindy Stattel, director of the Community Youth Choir in Penns Valley, visit the library each August to prepare for the concert held at St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church, Spring Mills. Proceeds from the concert go to local folks in need, Myers said, adding that not having to buy music enables them to give more to help others.

When making selections, borrowers are encouraged to take as much time as they need, with the library being open from 1 to 4 p.m. Mondays and 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturdays. Other times, it is open by appointment by calling 695-5495.

The library is closed in July and for about six weeks in the winter beginning in the middle of December, January as well as holiday weekends, including Memorial Day.

Perchy attributes Mary Elizabeth “Diddy” Good with having the foresight to plan the library that is still being used by choirs and music directors decades later.

Good was an organist at First Presbyterian Church and a librarian at Penn State Altoona during the 1970s.

She would purchase music and often lend it to choir and music directors at other churches.

Before she died in 1989, Good established a trust fund to continue to provide for the needs of churches and musicians. However, she was not able to catalog the music before her death. The late Catherine Akers, former music director at First Presbyterian Church and the late Jean Liebegott, a choir member, started the job of organizing the music and were joined in their efforts in 1991 by Aurandt. The library was established as a nonprofit organization and is overseen by a board.

Today, the music is cataloged and cross-filed by composer and title. The catalog specifies whether the music is for a certain season, such as Christmas or Easter, or a regular service. A keyboard is available so the borrower can hear how the anthem sounds.

Perchy noted that when Good started obtaining the music, most churches had choirs and organists. They led the music and sang special anthems during Sunday worship services.

Today, churches are making changes. Pianos are replacing organs for accompaniment, and Aurandt said choirs are being replaced by praise bands with contemporary Christian music and Southern Gospel songs filling the sanctuaries.

As a result, the library has made some changes. Its organ music has gone to an interested organist, and its classical music was donated to the Music Department at Juniata College.

Yet, choral and choir music still has its place and is changing with the times, too. Aurandt said when new music is added to the library, it is written by current composers.

“It’s more upbeat and more fun to sing,” Aurandt said. “Yet it has a good spiritual message.”