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World’s greatest treasure in paper and ink

10:03 AM  Dec 30th, 2010
by Cameron Fullam

In the love of a friend, treasure greater than riches and pride appeared to poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.

And so the writer put pen to paper — the flyleaf of an original edition of Oak and Ivy, his first book of poems — and said so.

And now we are richer for it.

In February, Cincinnati resident Patrick Orsary called Dunbar scholar and professor emeritus Herbert Woodward Martin to say he had an 1893 first edition of Oak and Ivy and would sell it for $50.

Martin could hardly believe his good fortune — he’d been searching for an original Oak and Ivy for decades. He also found inscribed on the inside cover of the book a personal Dunbar poem, written and signed by the poet himself. The unpublished poem was addressed “To My Friend, Joseph S. Cotter, December 18th, 1894.”

“To have a poem written by Dunbar, in his own hand, to another African-American poet who was his contemporary is truly exciting,” Martin said. “I’m touching something that Dunbar touched. I’m connecting with that history.”

Martin’s research on Cotter, a poet living in Kentucky, revealed that he was a friend of Dunbar. Cotter founded the Paul Laurence Dunbar School in Louisville, Ky., in 1893 and became the school’s first principal. Dunbar visited Cotter the next year and possibly gave him the book as a gift, Martin said.

How the book came into the possession of Orsary’s family three generations before him is unknown.

“I’m just real excited that it ended up in the right place,” said Orsary, who contacted Martin through the University’s Dunbar website, http://dunbarsite.org. “You never know what you’re going to find hiding on a bookshelf or in a basement.”

The African American Review, the Modern Language Association’s journal of black literature and culture, recently published the Cotter poem. The book and the poem remain with Martin.

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Song for the ages

1:07 PM  Sep 22nd, 2010
by Michelle Tedford

To breathe life into a relic, inhale deeply and sing.

An intricately embellished 16th-century Spanish antiphonary revealed centuries of liturgical tradi­tion and candle wax as 20 students and their professor surrounded the manuscript and chanted, “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.”

“I told them how lucky they are to be at a university that allowed such access to such amazing material that is so large that our students can actually touch and sing from,” said Samuel Dorf, a new lecturer in mu­sic and musicology.

When he arrived on campus this fall, Dorf sought out hidden treasures on campus, such as the Zimmerman Col­lection, which includes instruments from around the world. It was then that Roesch Library special collections curator Nicholetta Hary asked if he would like to see the antiphonary.

His exclamation: “That would be awesome.”

Its 240 thick vellum leaves are stained with the oils of centuries of hands turning pages. Measuring more than 15 inches wide and 21 inches high, each leaf contains five staves of black notes on red lines. The words — from psalms, hymns and other parts of the Divine Office — written in Latin in Gothic hand begin with finely decorated initial caps surrounded by swirls and curls in red and blue ink.

In his Music History and Literature I class, students learn about the books and music first transcribed in Europe in the ninth and 10th cen­turies for distribution to abbeys and congrega­tions. As they paged through the antiphonary, students encountered the unmetered notation for chanting developed in the 11th century, no­tation quite different than that common in to­day’s music.

“It was difficult to do together, as the rhythms were very obscure,” said music major Samuel Day.

Still, the students’ ability to sight read was impressive, Dorf said, illustrating both their training and skill and — along with the an­tiphonary — giving him more reasons to feel lucky to be at UD.

“It was a living, musical tradition, and it still is living because we sang from it last week,” he said.

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