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In the News: Faculty and Student Summer Research Project Helping to Save Musical History of College

News & Advance coverage of project by Randall Speer and students

6/28/2010 11:54:10 AM

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Without question, this has been a real chore. Or maybe a reel chore.

For most of June, Randolph College music teacher Randall Speer and two students, Karl Speer and Christine Gnieski, have been laboriously transcribing a collection of reel-to-reel tapes found in the school’s Lipscomb Library onto CDs.

“Seven and eight hours a day, six days a week,” Speer said. “We didn’t realize what we were getting ourselves into.”

The tapes, more than 250 of them, are recordings of musical performances of various kinds performed at what was then Randolph-Macon Woman’s College from 1963 until the early 80s. Some are senior student recitals, others feature the music faculty, still others are echoes of guest artists.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Speer said, “in that most of these tapes have the programs included with them, so we don’t have to play ‘Name That Tune’ too much.”

Their location, on back shelves of the library, also helped to keep most of the tapes well-preserved.

“Still, there was a fear that they were getting so old that the data on them would be lost,” said Speer, who started the project last summer. “And at first, we ran into tapes that bogged down because they had oxidized.”

Enter Karl Speer, whose presence on the reel-to-reel team is no mystery: he’s Randall’s son.

“I give him credit for solving a big problem with the tapes,” Speer said. “Just cleaning them didn’t seem to work, but he discovered that if you cleaned them, then played them, then cleaned them again, then played them, they tended to come back.”

Among the quirkier finds among the reel-to-reels was a recorder ensemble concert organized by the late Jack Moellenkamp, another member of the music faculty.

“Some of it was surprisingly good,” Speer said, “but then again, two recorders can’t tune with each other, and its hard for them to hold a note very long.”

They also unearthed the ethereal sounds of Irish musician Geriane Yeats and her Celtic harp.

No Pavarottis in the mix, perhaps, but the reel-to-reel crew did find a recital from Therese Renick of St. Louis, a R-MWC singer who went on to become quite well-known on the European opera circuit. A quick Google search turned up this: “Therese Renick draws upon a long and successful career as an opera and concert singer, as a voice teacher and a management consultant. Her singing career spanned a period of over 25 years as a dramatic mezzo soprano in numerous European opera houses, including Munich, Vienna, Cologne, Mannheim and Essen.” Now, she runs her own opera school.

And if she is so inclined, Renick — like all the other voices from the past whom the Speers and Christine Gnieski have coaxed into the present — can order a copy of her CD when it’s done. The Randolph campus radio station, WWRM (“The Worm”) plans to play some of the music, and the project has been duly advertised in the Randolph alumni magazine.

As for the reel-to-reel team, they are reel tired.

“Next week, we’re knocking off for the rest of the summer,” Speer said last Thursday.

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations


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