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Indiana University Bloomington

The Collections: Sheet music: Starr Sheet Music Collection

Starr collection call number: M1 .S8 + section number + category name

The Starr Sheet Music Collection contains more than 100,000 pieces of sheet music arranged in three categories:

  1. composers, lyricists, performers, and literary figures
  2. subjects and types of music
  3. chronological miscellany

There is no database listing items in this collection. There is no written record of all titles in any given category. Click on one of the sections above to see the list of associated categories. A detailed explanation of the arrangement follows, in "A Guide to the Starr Sheet Music Collection".

More than 500 titles in the Starr collection are cataloged and available in IUCAT. Search by the call number: M1 .S8

A Guide to the Starr Sheet Music Collection

The Starr Sheet Music Collection, containing over 100,000 separate items, is a rich resource for musicians, historians and students of American culture. It is primarily a collection of American popular music, which extends from the late eighteenth century through the 1950's. However, there are pieces printed in other countries, especially Great Britain, and there are pieces of a classical or semi-classical nature. The many interests, attitudes, and musical tastes of the common man and woman in America are well-documented in the medium of the song sheet. For example, the campaign for temperance stimulated the composition of many songs about drinking fathers. The importance of the sea to British and American cultures is evidence in the hundreds of songs on a maritime and mermaid theme. The great number of polkas, schottisches, mazurkas, two-steps, and quadrilles shows these pieces to have been stock elements of almost everyone's music collection. Classical and sacred music shared this characteristic as well. And songs made popular in the theater were sure to find themselves in due time on piano ledges all over the country.

Sheet music always caught the spirit of the American populace, from unbounding patriotism to saccharine melodrama. The triumphs of aviation, the invention of the telephone, the cult of the "working-girl," the evils of money, and the woes of wooing all found expression in sheet music. And naturally, in mirroring the personality of America, sheet music could not help but reflect its complexion as well. The evolution of racial stereotypes can be traced through the lore of "coon songs" and the repertoires of minstrel groups. The image of the immigrant is caught in songs in English tending toward caricature of the ethnic group. In addition, there are songs about and songs attributed to Indians of North America. Though only a few examples have been suggested here, they are perhaps indicative of the wide variety of music within the collection and the usefulness of the collection as a portrait of the tastes, concerns, and the values of everyday Americans. The collection was originally assembled by Dr. Saul Starr and presented to the Lilly Library by Mr. Bernardo Mendel in the 1960's.

The collection is organized into three major divisions:

  1. composers, lyricists, performers, and literary figures
  2. subjects and types of music
  3. chronological miscellany

For example, a piece by Stephen Foster will be found under "Foster" in Section I rather than under a subject or type heading in Section II or in a chronological category in Section III. This three-part division was originally made by Dr. Starr and has continued to prove useful to patrons. The people singled out for representation in Section I have been included on the basis of Dr. Starr's original list, standard reference sources, and, in some cases, the volume of material. This section should be consulted by all researchers since it contains many of the most significant pieces in the collection.

The second section contains types of music such as waltzes, marches, rondos, etc., and music organized by its subject such as music about flowers, about mothers, about disasters, etc. Most of the categories are self-explanatory. Many have subdivisions if the music within the category lends itself to them. For example, the music relating to Italy has been divided into the following sub-categories: Pre-1900, 1900- , Italian American, Italian Imprints, and Patriotic Music. However, since the collection contains very little music relating to the Netherlands, that category has no further subdivision. National categories in general contain only music specifically relating to the country in question. For instance, French piano music is to be found under it composer in Section I or under "Piano" in Section II rather than under "France" in Section II.

The chronological miscellany is primarily a catch-all category for music which cannot be conveniently placed in either Section I or Section II. It contains many love songs and popular ballads and provides as index to the taste of the period covered. However, it should be emphasized that the more important pieces from each chronological period may have been placed in Section I or II, so it is not a complete reflection of the era. The chronology section is broken into three parts. The first includes undated music, anthologies, and music before 1825. The second is music from 1825 through 1879 further divided into illustrated sheets and non-illustrated sheets. Finally, the music dated after 1879 is divided into decades.

Within each category and sub-category in every section the music is arranged alphabetically by title. If, for any reason an exception had been made to this rule, that fact will be noted.

When there are multiple copies and if it is appropriate, pieces are placed in more than one section. For example, George F. Root's "Just Before the Battle, Mother" (1863) can be found in several places: under the composer in Section I as well as under "Mother" and U.S. History-Civil War" in Section II. However, even when there are multiple copies, items have not always been filed in any appropriate categories. Therefore, it is suggested that users consult the lists for possible variant locations. There is no written record of all titles in any given category.

To request a category of sheet music

The complete call number for a category in the Starr collection consists of the classification number for the Starr Sheet Music Collection, followed by the section number and the category name. To call for a category, please fill out a charge card using the following examples.

M1                      M1
.S8                     .S8
I. Stephen Foster       II. Dance Music--Waltzes

Photocopies of sheet music

Requests for photocopies may be made in person, through our comment form, or directed to All photocopying is done by Lilly Library staff. Photocopying of sheet music not covered by copyright is permitted if it will not damage the item. Photocopying of sheet music covered by copyright is permitted only if it will not damage the item and is for personal research only. Copying of sheet music covered by copyright for any other purpose, including performance, will be done only after permission is granted by the copyright holder.

For further information about the Lilly Library's Starr Sheet Music Collection and any related materials contact The Lilly Library, Indiana University, 1200 E. Seventh Street, Bloomington, Indiana 47405. Telephone: (812) 855-2452. Fax: (812) 855-3143. E-mail:

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Last updated: 21 November 2015

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