Farewell Roger Flury

Earlier this month, Turnbull Music Curator Roger Flury left the library after 26 years of excellent work, to return to the UK. Chief Librarian Chris Szekely took the opportunity to ask Roger a few questions about his time at the National Library.

Roger Flury with a copy of his discography on Puccini, in front of several music publications.Roger Flury with a copy of his discography on Puccini.

Chris Szekely: What brought you to the National Library?

Roger Flury: The National Library advertised for a Music Librarian to manage the establishment of the Sound and Music Centre. I didn't get an interview, but the position became vacant again 12 months later and I successfully re-applied.

The attraction for me was building something new on a national scale. The need for a centralised and highly specialised music service was obvious, and I wanted to help provide it. The foundations of the service and collections were in place by the time I arrived. The biggest challenge was to raise the bar in terms of service levels nationally and to grow the collections to create something we could all be proud of.

What are some of the highlights and achievements of your 26 years with the library?

My 23 years with the National Library, and three years with ATL have been rewarding and I can honestly say that there has never (well hardly ever) been a day that I did not look forward to coming to work.

Highlights include:

  • Building the general music collections into one of the best in Australasia
  • Organising and participating in concerts and presentations in the auditorium
  • Setting up an Australasian listserv for music librarians
  • Representing the library at conferences and seminars
  • Establishing interloan for sound recordings (the new service was originally called "Soundline")
  • Developing the published national finding lists for choral (Sing!) and orchestral hire collections (Orchestral Scores) which, incidentally were a world first in their print form. We prepared a second edition of Sing!, then moved all the choral and orchestral data into a database called “Cadence” – also a world-first
  • Launching and developing the Treasures in Sound compact disc series
  • Digitising WWI songs from the ATL collections
  • Adding Lilburn’s Overture – Aotearoa to the UNESCO New Zealand Memory of the World Register
  • Establishing the Lilburn Trust website, the Lilburn Fellowship and Lilburn Lecture

Hon Chris Tremain (former Minister, Internal Affairs and MP for Napier), Dr Philip Norman, Roger Flury, Gareth Watkins, standing in the Turnbull's Lilburn Room.Left to Right: Hon Chris Tremain (former Minister, Internal Affairs and MP for Napier), Dr Philip Norman, Roger Flury, Gareth Watkins.

You were the president of IAML. What did that involve?

IAML stands for the International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres. It is a global organisation with approximately 1,900 members in 40 countries. IAML’s role is to encourage and promote the activities of music libraries, archives and documentation centres and to support and facilitate the realization of projects in music bibliography, music documentation and music library and information science at national and international levels.

My relationship with IAML began with membership of our National Branch. I became Secretary and later President (twice). On an international level, my first real experience was when we organised an international IAML conference in Wellington in 1999. This was an eye-opener into the whole world of music libraries and archives.

I wanted to get more involved, so when the post of Secretary General was advertised, I applied. This, I reasoned, would be an excellent way to get to know the organisation from the inside. To my surprise I was appointed. I had really believed that the cost to a Euro-U.S. focussed organisation of having a Secretary in New Zealand would have been prohibitive. The National Library supported me with paid leave and, for the first four years, with a contribution towards the cost of travelling to Europe twice yearly to attend Board meetings and the annual conference. Without this initial support, the appointment (which was made at the 2002 Conference in Berkeley, C.A.) would not have been possible.

After eight years as Secretary General I was invited to stand as a candidate for the position of President. I was elected in 2010 (at the conference in Moscow) and presided over the conferences in Dublin, Montreal and Vienna. I’m currently Past-president of IAML – a position I hold for three years, finishing in Rome (2016). The National Library has generously continued to support me with paid leave, and IAML has funded all my travel and accommodation expenses since 2007.

Roger speaking at the naming ceremony for the Lilburn Room.Roger speaking at the naming ceremony for the Lilburn Room. Photo by Stephen Gibbs

You were the secretary to the Music Advisory Committee of the Lilburn Trust. What does the Trust do? Why is it important?

The Lilburn Trust was established by composer Douglas Lilburn in 1984. It is administered as a charitable trust under the Alexander Turnbull Library Endowment Trust and is well-known for funding the Student Composition and Performance Awards at five New Zealand universities. The Trust also makes citation awards to individuals who have given outstanding service to New Zealand music, as well as supporting many other projects in New Zealand music such as live performances, recordings, research and publishing.

Two new ventures have recently been initiated by the Trust. The first is the Lilburn Research Fellowship - a biennial competitive grant to enable significant New Zealand music research leading to publication. The inaugural Fellow was Dr Philip Norman who used the grant to further his research on a historical survey of New Zealand composition. The other new venture is the Lilburn Lecture, held annually on the anniversary of Lilburn’s birth.

So you can see that the Lilburn Trust is vital for the development and encouragement of music in New Zealand and, along with Creative New Zealand, is rapidly becoming the first port of call for anyone seeking financial assistance. The Trust cannot always help, but it is a very nice feeling when we can.

Roger with former Turnbull Music Librarian, Jill PalmerRoger with former Turnbull Music Librarian, Jill Palmer. Photo by Joan McCracken.

For the last three years you have been Music Curator at the Turnbull Libary. What has that involved?

The role of Music Curator is to promote the Archive of New Zealand Music and to grow the collections in a logical and relevant way, following collection policy guidelines. Promotion can take the form of presentations, articles, interviews or pro-active contact with potential donors. In the wider context, the Curator also keeps an eye out for New Zealand-related material published overseas that might otherwise go unnoticed, for example, a New Zealander singing a small role in an opera recording; a jazz drummer in an ensemble; a writer of programme notes; an audio or video producer, etc.

At the heart of the Archive of New Zealand Music are the composer manuscripts and working papers. These can be handwritten scores and sketches, or compositions produced using computer software such as Finale or Sibelius. My aim is to ensure that we hold the manuscripts of all leading New Zealand composers. If we can’t obtain them all, then we should at least have an example of a major work by each composer. We’re not there yet.

In my short time with the Archive, there have been some significant donations relating to Johnny Cooper, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Choral Federation, the Mobil Song Quest, Dennis Huggard, Phil Garland, Jack Body, the Topp Twins, Donald Maurice, Gillian Whitehead and many more. There are also some very exciting ones yet to come.

Roger with the National Library's other music specialists: Natalie Williams, Matt Steindl, Music Research Librarian, Chris Anderson, Music Access Coordinator, Keith McEwing, Assistant Music Curator.Roger with the National Library's other music specialists. From left to right: Natalie Williams, Matt Steindl, Music Research Librarian, Chris Anderson, Music Access Coordinator, Keith McEwing, Assistant Music Curator.

Tell us about your research interests and publications, especially the Puccini discography. It won a prize. What was it?

My research interests have centred on Italians whose names end in “i” – Mascagni, Puccini and Toscanini – so it’s natural that I should be eyeing Verdi for a future project.

I became interested in discography (the art or science of describing audio recordings) through the late Brian Salkeld who donated thousands of “scratchy records” to the National Library. This interest was nurtured further by Peter Downes and resulted in two books, both published in the USA. The one on Pietro Mascagni was broader in scope and covered the composer’s life, compositions, performances and publications. The discographical section was just one component of the book.

For Puccini, I dealt only with recordings which – given that he is probably the most recorded opera composer – was over-ambitious. Pride forced me to see it through to the end, and after many well-meaning threats from the publisher, I drew a line under the last entry and sent the manuscript off. I felt very sorry for the person who had to proofread 900 pages of Italian titles, performers’ names from virtually every country, and complex recording and matrix numbers.

Both books won awards, but the Puccini volume was considered the “Best Research in Recorded Classical Music: Discography” by the Association of Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) in 2013.

An edition of the collected songs of Arturo Toscanini was recently published by Subito Music in New York.

What is next for you?

I now look forward to an exciting series of changes in my life. I have several writing projects to complete, and some new ones to plan and research.

These include completing work on a book about Dunedin-born conductor and composer Warwick Braithwaite – a much-neglected figure who, for over thirty years, played a seminal role in British musical life. We hold his archive here in the Turnbull Library, and there is a lot of other material in libraries and archives throughout the U.K. After that, if I still have the energy, a Verdi discography may emerge, but probably not in print. It’s the perfect subject for a database.

And not to mention settling down again into life in the UK, which I am sure will bring a new set of challenges.

Roger was interviewed by Des Wilson of Radio New Zealand about his New Zealand career. The interview will be broadcast on Radio New Zealand Concert on Thursday 17 July in 'Appointment' at 7pm.

Roger Flury with friends from Radio New Zealand: David McCaw, Senior Music Producer, Roger Smith, Manager RNZ Concert, Adrienne Baron, Senior Music Producer, Des Wilson, Interviewer, Maxine Rose, former Programme Producer.Roger Flury with friends from Radio New Zealand. From left to right standing: David McCaw, Senior Music Producer, Roger Smith, Manager RNZ Concert, Roger Flury, Adrienne Baron, Senior Music Producer. Seated, left to right: Des Wilson, Interviewer, Maxine Rose, former Programme Producer.

By Chris Szekely

Chris Szekely is Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

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Peter Walls May 12th at 1:51PM

Very interesting interview that gives a glimpse of Roger's achievements. Roger has been a wonderful secretary for the Music Advisory Committee of the Lilburn Trust. I'd like to express my appreciation for all that he has done.

Ross Somerville May 14th at 2:13PM

A lovely and well-deserved tribute, and a fascinating portrait; many thanks.
Roger is too modest to talk about how hard he had to fight to maintain the music services at the library. The New Zealand musical community owes him a great deal. He should take full credit too for the acquisition of Brian Salkeld's priceless collection of discs and gramophones, A national and international treasure. All the best to Roger in his new endeavours; and to the library's music staff in maintaining the wonderful legacy that Roger has left us.

Pia Shekhter May 16th at 9:16PM

As President and Secretary General of IAML we would like to acknowledge Roger Flury’s outstanding contributions to music librarianship both nationally and internationally. The International Association of Music Libraries, Archives and Documentation Centres (IAML), founded in 1951, is a respected member of the international library and music communities. Roger Flury was appointed Secretary General in 2003 and was elected President in 2010. He continues to serve on the IAML Board as Past-President. Not surprisingly, he was instrumental in bringing IAML to New Zealand for its annual conference in 1999. The conference that year, held in Wellington from 18-23 July, was very successful and brought many delegates to New Zealand for the first time. Roger Flury’s professional excellence and profound understanding of the IAML membership and the intricacies of its workings, combined with great diplomatic skills which are always enhanced by his two most pronounced personal qualities—kindness and humour made him a very successful and popular leader.

Barbara Dobbs Mackenzie, President

Pia Shekhter, Secretary General

Scilla Askew May 26th at 12:19PM

I am so sorry I missed your leaving. You have done a huge amount for music in New Zealand and New Zealand music. I very much appreciated the support you gave me on a number of occasions when I was at SOUNZ, and our high-level strategy lunches in your capacity as Secretary and President of IAML, and mine as Vice-President of IAMIC. We often joked about how delighted Dorothy Freed would be to see how her work to establish NZ within these international organisations had turned out. I heartily concur with Ross's comments about your role in the preservation of music services at the National Library. That is an achievement that definitely belongs to you. I am sad that we are losing you back to the UK. Go well and enjoy the new adventure.

Michael Henstock November 11th at 12:20AM

Roger Flury's Bio-Bibliography of Mascagni came, alas, too late to help me in my biography of Fernando De Lucia (Duckworth, 1990) but has been of great service to me in my subsequent work.

It is a work of truly astonishing industry as is also, I am sure, his volume on Puccini.

Michael Webb December 29th at 11:51AM

Over the past 20 years of visits from the UK to our daughter in Wellington I have crammed in many hours at your wonderful National Library, most of them in the Music Department, where I first met David Vine in 1995 and, subsequently, Roger, who gave me huge help in researching my various operatic obsessions! I can well understand the warmth of the farewell given to Roger after a lifetime of valuable work in New Zealand, especially the years at the National Library. Now that he has returned to England I can, as a friend, continue to badger him and David from time to time on musical matters - even over coffee in Caerphilly! I look forward to Roger's future project on my own favourite opera composer - Verdi.