Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ruby-red for Christmas

IN THE FALL OF 1949, the Mount's Music Department produced a Christmas album, Sing We Noel, featuring a 16-voice ensemble and traditional carols in French, English, Polish and Latin. Under the baton of choral director Will Garroway, the album was created as a Christmas gift and fund-raiser, and sold for $5 (just over $45 in today's dollars). It was strictly an in-house affair, with recording and production done by the Music faculty and cover design by the Art Department. Vonna Records on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood pressed the final disks on deep red vinylite.

This unbreakable, transparent material was state-of-the-art for audio recordings of the era. Previous technologies, including wax and shellac, were fragile and finicky. The Mount wanted to be able to put gift copies of Sing We Noel in the mail, so the more expensive vinylite filled the bill. Strangely enough, the addition of red dye to the vinylite served to make it even stronger. Our Archives copy is water-stained but the disks seem to be in pretty good shape.

That means they could be played ... if only we had a way to play old analog records. The Instructional Media Center hasn't had a turntable for years.

This is coming up more and more these days: requests for archival material from obsolete media. It is possible, of course, to get old albums digitized -- and remove the pops and hiss that go with vinyl grooves -- but it's expensive, and then we face the problem of what to do with the digital version.

This album has been on a shelf (give or take a leak or two) for more than six decades. Ironically, we're a long way getting that kind of lifespan out of .mp3's. And besides, CD's aren't nearly as pretty as a jewel-colored vinylite disk.

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