The Library of Congress (LOC) is known as the de facto national library of the United States, standing as the oldest federal cultural institution in the country. In addition to being housed in buildings atop Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., it also maintains the Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, Virginia. While it is open to the public, only high-ranking government officials and library employees my check out items from the collection.
Within the library, visitors will take note of the stunning design, in addition to enjoying both temporary and permanent exhibits. The reading room and old card catalog also remain, in addition to a display of Thomas Jefferson’s library.
While the LOC is home to a broad array of items, my visit there was namely to see the Gershwin Room, which opened in 1998. The Gershwin Room functions as a permanent exhibition space for materials from the LOC’s George and Ira Gershwin collection. It is a collection that is continually growing and provides a fine overview of the careers, personalities, and accomplishments of the Gershwins. On my way in, I strolled by other exhibits relating to musicians, including an exhibit of composer Marvin Hamlisch’s awards.
Today, the LOC’s Gerswhin collection contains a large range of artifacts relating to the famous duo, including manuscripts; sheet music; lyric sheets; librettos; personal and business correspondence; photographs; paintings; scrapbooks; contracts; royalty statements; programs; posters; radio broadcast scripts; their Congressional Gold Medals; and more.
Out of all the different items in the collection, my two favorites were George Gershwin’s piano and metronome. The piano is located in the middle of the room with the other items in the exhibition surrounding it. All the while, Gershwin’s music fills the room as visitors enjoy learning about the brothers.
From my perspective, I appreciated seeing the Gershwin metronome since I vividly remember my parents taking me to purchase my metronome when I was very young and starting to take piano lessons. However, seeing George’s piano was all the more moving to me, knowing that this storied musical genius once worked at that very piano. I adore the music of the Great American Songbook, especially when it comes to the Gershwins’ output.
The piano was also a special instrument for me to see because I have heard my friend and pianist Richard Glazier speak fondly of his memories playing that same piano at Ira’s home in Beverly Hills. Recently, Glazier was able to return to the piano and play it once again. Glazier’s interview can be viewed here:
As I progressed through the room and learned about the different artifacts on display, I was happy to see the room receive a steady stream of visitors who appreciated the exhibit. During one of the calmer moments there, I also took a brief video of the room. You can enjoy a “walk” through the Gershwin Room via my video here:
When visiting the LOC, be sure to visit the Gershwin Room on the lower level of the building, in addition to the many other displays the LOC has to offer. Fair warning: Fans of the Great American Songbook and the Golden Age of Hollywood, like myself, will likely want to make a beeline for the Gershwin Room before seeing anything else!