Citation: Maria Calderisi, 2022, Prague

Image of Maria CalderisiStatement by Roger Flury.

Sometimes, the most satisfying rewards in life are those which are not sought after; they come with no prizes or financial gain; and they offer no fast-track career opportunities. The best rewards are those that come with the acclamation and goodwill of one’s colleagues for a job well done, consistently and superbly, over a long period. 

The awarding of Honorary Membership of a professional association, must surely rank as a crowning point in a long career. It rarely comes from setting out to climb a mountain and quickly reaching the summit. That brings its own immediate rewards. Honorary Membership is more like a long, enjoyable but exhausting ramble over hills and valleys during which – suddenly and surprisingly – one finds oneself at a high point, with a spectacular view across the well-trodden terrain that made up the journey. 

The Board of IAML is today asking the approval of the General Assembly to award Honorary Membership of IAML to a member who meets the constitutional criteria of ‘rendering notable service to the association’.  Her middle name, Vincenza, derives from the Latin vincere (to conquer), and suggests determination to succeed through good work. I don’t think that a name should influence anyone’s decision making; but it is a nice coincidence. 

Twenty-one years ago, I arrived in Paris exactly one day late for the pre-conference tours of Parisian music instructions. I had not eaten or slept for two days; my plane had attempted a hair-raising take off during a tropical storm in Hong Kong – the scariest moment of my life – and we were diverted to Singapore, where I spent many hours in the terminal building. Bleary-eyed and disorientated, I somehow got through that day in Paris, and finally settled into my seat on the train to Périgueux. I suspected that I was surrounded by music librarians, but I didn’t know anyone, and I was terrified in case I might have to speak my schoolboy French. Across the aisle of the train was a woman, fully at ease, happily chatting with friends in French and English. Suddenly, she looked across at me, introduced herself and smiled. Not just any smile, but the smile of IAML friendship and welcome. 

Preparing this citation, I note that when we first met, she had been retired for six years, but the woman on the train showed no symptoms of retirement. Indeed, I was reminded of a phrase from my French literature course – was it from Jean-Paul Sartre? – Il faut être engagé. I’m sure Sartre was referring to something other than music librarianship, but this woman was most definitely engagé! I did not know at that time, that she had guest edited the special edition of Fontes, celebrating 50 years of IAML, or that she was one of those IAML statespeople that bind the whole organisation together across generations.

In case you haven’t guessed, I am speaking of Maria (Vincenza) Calderisi. She was born in Montreal – if you really need to know the year, try Google – and she graced her chosen profession with a B MUS from McGill University; a Master of Arts in Library Science from Michigan; and an MMA in musicology, again from McGill. As you can see, she was quite well qualified! But qualifications aren’t everything. I have been privileged to know many highly qualified music librarians, and what separates the best from the rest is, quite simply, passion! A passion for their subject, a passion for their collections, a passion for sharing their knowledge, and a passion for linking collections to clients.

Sitting on that train, I was completely unaware that Maria had joined the Music Division of the National Library of Canada in 1973, and within three years became the head of the Printed Collection, with responsibilities not only for the collection, but also the information files and general music reference services. I was also heading down a similar path in New Zealand, and I could have asked her so many questions, but I was too shy! I have always felt it was a missed opportunity.

Like so many of our members, Maria has made a contribution to the literature of music in general, and of her own country in particular. Her McGill thesis, on the beginnings of music printing and publishing in Ontario and Quebec, was revised and published in 1981 as Music Publishing in the Canadas 1800-1867 (L'Édition musicale au Canada 1800-1867). In 1977 she was responsible for the National Library of Canada exhibition 'Percy A. Scholes 1877-1958’, showcasing the collection of this remarkable writer whose library and papers had been acquired by the National Library of Canada and formed the nucleus of their music collection.

But this is a IAML award, so let me focus for a moment on Maria’s IAML career. She has been president of the Canadian Branch (CAML) from 1976-1978, and joined the Board of IAML for two terms from 1980 to 1986.  She was elected President of IAML, serving from 1986-1989.

In her final ‘From the President’ message in 1989, Maria described her term in office as ‘often very satisfying, and sometimes even enjoyable.’ A very truthful and perceptive comment on the gap between endeavour and achievement that anyone in office feels keenly. She went on to say, ‘Our Association could be all the more effective and vibrant if communications were spontaneous and frequent.’

Well Maria, I hope that you feel your comments are at last bearing fruit.

She has been a delegate to, or committee member of, organizations such as IMC, MLA, IFLA and the Canadian Music Center. More acronyms abound when one acknowledges Maria’s involvement with the ‘R’ projects: RidIM, RILM, and RIPM.

She has contributed articles, reviews and the occasional obituary to musical and bibliographical journals, in addition to the already mentioned 50th anniversary issue of Fontes in 2001.

Maria’s work has, of course been recognised elsewhere, notably in 2002, when she was awarded the Helmut Kallmann Award. The award aims to recognize distinguished service pertaining to library or archival science in the area of music, with a focus on music in Canada. Dr Kallmann was her mentor and inspiration, and his death in 2012 brough forth an eloquent tribute in which she describes him as:

 …a man who lived his life quietly, without recrimination or regret; who carried on with what he could do best, without visions of glory, but satisfied with what he was able to accomplish; a man I was happy to call my friend.

In addition to her fine writing skills, I must – as a former Secretary General who struggled with Minutes  – also mention Maria’s beautifully focussed and succinct reporting of meetings and conferences that she contributed to Fontes over the years. They are a model of how these things should be done.

In recent years, too many of us had the need to write letters of protest over library closures. Maria’s letter to the Swedish Minister of Culture is polite, but withering:

We have always looked to Sweden as one of the more progressive countries in the world, with a wonderful reputation for its attention to arts and culture and learning. How can it be true that the services of the National Music and Theatre Library will be so drastically limited? Can it be that Sweden will follow the example of some of the less-enlightened countries in this regard. Please reconsider this decision; find your shortfall elsewhere; and allow the library to function fully professionally, at a national and international level.

When I made a few, and hopefully, discreet enquiries about our nominee, I found certain recurring words such as ‘dedicated’, ‘enthusiastic’, ‘energetic’ and ‘caring’. I was also reliably informed that she is ‘a wonderful hostess’. Something else that was mentioned frequently was her ability to reach out and encourage those just embarking on their library career, and that is important, because it not only contributes to the calibre of staff in our institutions, but it also benefits our organisation, at a national and international level.

When Maria retired from her position at the National Library of Canada in 1995 after 32 years of service, she was interviewed for National Library News. Much of what she said resonates with anyone who has remained in a post for such a sustained period and been witness to significant internal and external forces for change. She said:

There is more and more dependence on databases, instant information and technology, and there is much less concern for accumulated knowledge. In my experience, music librarianship is moving away from the scholarly towards the technical, and the scholar/librarian is becoming a thing of the past. When information is more valued than knowledge (and information is not the same thing as knowledge) music librarianship is not as personal or as inspiring. Part of the fun of the job was sharing a love of music and hands-on knowledge of the collection. But I suppose I'm a bit of a dinosaur.

No, Maria, you are not, and never will be. And if proof were needed, just read her 2018 IAML Congress Diary from Leipzig, in which she wrote:

There is a treasure that is never in short supply in IAML—the people. It was such a pleasure to renew old acquaintances however briefly with a hug and a few words. But it is the new generations who continue to inspire me with their enthusiasm, dedication and vision and who fill me with confidence in the future of our profession in a swiftly-changing world.

After more than 30 years of IAML conference and congress attendance, this is indeed a vote of confidence in the future of IAML and its membership. I hope we can respond in kind by awarding this remarkable champion of music librarianship, Maria Calderisi, with Honorary Membership of our association. 

Photo courtesy of Maria Calderisi.


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