When it came time for his final project in the Doctor of Musical Arts program, Dr. Bram Wayman decided to tackle a “whale” of a performance.
“I selected an oratorio, which is essentially an unstaged opera, on ‘Jonah and the Whale’ by an Italian composer named Giacomo Carissimi,” explained Wayman. “He’s an interesting character because he used to be a big shot in music history, then was sort of forgotten. He was a household name in classical music for 300 years, then seemingly vanished overnight. I decided to do a project on him that involved creating new sheet music for this piece that he wrote 375 years ago, then making it come alive by doing it in concert and documenting my research about it.”
The final project, which encompassed a live performance, approximately 100 pages of sheet music and 30 pages of documentation, was a massive undertaking that began with a trip to the Music & Dance Library and a conversation with Sean Ferguson, the library’s supervisor.
“The very first step was to find out what existed on this oratorio, so I went over to the library, and I asked Sean, ‘what do we have?’,” recounts Wayman. “He said ‘well, let me look it up for you.’ Right away, he knew exactly what source books to go to, he knew which thematic catalogs to go to. He found information in WorldCat, he found articles, he found editions—with Carissimi being such an old composer, there are already 11 or 12 edited editions of this oratorio. He helped me find those so I could put together an annotated bibliography. I walked home with a giant pile of resources that sustained me through the entire project.”
Wayman also notes that Ferguson's expertise was essential when it came to navigating resources in archaic formats.
“We happen to have some microfilm materials at Ohio State that are really valuable,” he explained. “Having librarians like Sean teach me how to use them was helpful when it came time for my project. One of my sources was from Syracuse and is the only microfilm copy of something in existence; microfilm now is just as rare as that 18th century manuscript that it copied. There’s a lot of complexity to using microfilm, and building up that knowledge through Sean and others who have helped me over the years was critical. He helped me learn the things that I didn’t know I’d need to know.”
Throughout the project, Ferguson became a regular contact for Wayman, and the two developed both an efficient working relationship and a friendship based on mutual respect and love of performance.
“I came into the library between once a month and once a week to get materials and talk to Sean,” said Wayman. “He isn’t just a librarian, he’s an interesting person. He and I started talking about performing, and I found out pretty quickly that he’s the big lute player in Central Ohio.”
After much rehearsal and planning, Ferguson performed as a lutist in Wayman’s staging of the Carissimi oratorio. The two even performed a shortened and scaled-down reprisal for an undergraduate class in the School of Music, after which Ferguson was able to make valuable connections with the students and explain how the Music & Dance Library could help them in their studies.
Overall, Wayman notes that meeting and working with Ferguson at the Music & Dance Library was a highlight of his time at Ohio State and a partnership that saved him an immense amount of time and energy.
“Every minute that Sean saved me searching for materials was a minute I could spend actually working on my project, or, you know, sleeping,” explained Wayman with a grin. “I could always drop in and ask him anything and he would have a ready answer—an interesting answer—and he would come up with things I didn’t expect.”
“It was just an immense amount of fun,” he continued. “I’ve made a lifelong colleague and friend, and my music-making and this project specifically are the better for it. I could have done this the way our culture has told me is ‘easy’ by going on Google and looking for stuff, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as deep a personal reward. This wasn’t a ‘harder but worth it’ way of doing my project, it was a fun way of doing my project, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything else.”