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New "Music at Rutgers and New Brunswick" exhibit at Alexander Library

September 25, 2013
Photo of the Rutgers College Band of 1923; image from Special Collections and University Archives.

Photo of the Rutgers College Band of 1923; image from Special Collections and University Archives.

The fall 2013 exhibition, On the Banks of the Raritan: Music at Rutgers and New Brunswick, on view in the galleries on the ground floor and lower level of Alexander Library, will examine over a century of New Brunswick's musical landscape. The exhibition will feature documents, photographs, and artifacts from Special Collections and University Archives and the Performing Arts Library, including the papers of pioneering composer and Rutgers Professor of Music Robert Moevs.

Like many American cities on the main lines of a railroad, New Brunswick's early musical years were marked by a revolving door of traveling performers, community brass bands, notorious buskers like fiddler Jakey Wearts, a handful of musical-appreciation societies and amateur orchestras, church choirs and organists, and a few sheet music and instrument stores. But unlike the average small railroad town in the area, by the late nineteenth century, the city would boast its own Conservatory of Music as well as a beloved state-of-the-art Opera House. By the early twentieth century, New Brunswick would lay claim not only to the largest number of theaters in the state, but the city would be the largest manufacturer of musical strings in the world.

In the early twentieth century, the baton passed from Town to Gown when the locus of the music scene changed from active city residents and local venues, to Rutgers student and faculty musicians, university spaces, and sponsored events. Simultaneously, new technology like movies and the radio downplayed the importance that live music had compared to the 1870s when the Opera House was first built.

The Music at Rutgers portion of the exhibit will focus on students and professors who participated in the musical clubs and programs at Rutgers College, New Jersey College for Women (Douglass College), Livingston College, and Mason Gross School of the Arts from 1880 to the mid to late 1980s.Clubs that will be highlighted include the Rutgers College Chapel Choir, Glee Club, and band; New Jersey College for Women's Weeping Willows, Drum Corps, and Voorhees Chapel Choir; Livingston College's Liberated Gospel Choir and jazz clubs; the various ensembles of Mason Gross School of the Arts, cross-college groups and events including the University Choir, WRSU radio, and the University Concert Series; and music played at dances, athletic events, and other college traditions.

Although the schools of Rutgers University functioned fairly independently for much of this period, this shared interest and passion for music as an activity, entertainment, and tradition united the student body. At Rutgers, music is as rooted in history and tradition as going to a football game, reading the Targum, participating in Yule Log or Sacred Path, or singing your Alma Mater at graduation.

On the Banks of the Raritan will be on display in Gallery '50 and the Special Collections and University Archives Gallery in the Archibald S. Alexander Library from October 9, 2013 until January 31, 2014. The exhibition was curated by Flora Boros, Kathy Fleming DC '08, Thomas Izbicki, and Fernanda Perrone. For more information on this exhibition, please contact Fernanda Perrone at or 848-932-6154.