Friday, August 17, 2012

Of All the Charlie Browns in the World, Mine is the Charlie Browniest

The United States Library of Congress voted to designate the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas a national audio treasure, including it among the twenty-five 2011 inductees to the National Recording Registry — America's sound heritage.

Trouble is, the Library did not have a copy of Charlie Brown among its holdings. So I gave them mine. Here's the story.

Since 2001, the Library of Congress has annually selected 25 sound recordings to be preserved in the Registry of "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" recodings. To give you an idea of the diversity among inductees, this year's group also included Prince's Purple Rain and a wax cylinder from an Edison Talking Doll. The press release made me curious: what exactly does the Library archive for any of the recordings and artifacts in the Registry?

In response to email, Library spokesman Cary O'Dell gave this explanation. "For each item selected for the Registry, we attempt to locate and acquire both the earliest and the best format. For example, if a work was originally issued on 78rpm, that is what we will attempt to acquire. Often as well we try to obtain a copy on CD (if one is available) for the ease of researchers." (Apparently we can count the US Government among those who believe the audio CD is a format of convenience, not significance.)

He continued. "Keep in mind that the Library of Congress already holds thousands of records and discs so many of the items named to the Registry we already have a copy of. When Purple Rain started to be discussed, I explored our holdings and found we did already have a vinyl LP. Though we have a digital copy of the Edison cylinder, the original remains in the historic archives of the Edison Labs in Menlo Park [NJ]."

Which brought us to the topic of Charlie Brown. "Another new title this year was A Charlie Brown Christmas. The [National Recording Preservation] Board has discussed it for several years with some members truly singing its praises and importance. This was the year it got enough votes. Surprisingly, we didn't have any holdings of that!" Mr O'Dell concluded, "The Concord Group has since been kind enough to donate a CD of the work to the Library and I am working to obtain an original vinyl."

This was an opportunity too good to pass up. My own vinyl copy of A Charlie Brown Christmas is in storage, having long ago been ephemeralized to 24-bit/96KHz weightless digital format for playback. So I offered to donate it to the Library for induction into the Registry. Mr. O'Dell immediately accepted; the government even paid shipping costs and sent a gracious acknowledgement letter (at right).

The work is currently undergoing a lengthy process of cataloging, curating and digital preservation before it can be counted among the Library's holdings. I'll let you know when the catalog number has been assigned so you can search for it. [Update 14-December: here's the link.]

I am proud that my humble LP is now the definitive audio copy of a beloved classic in the Library of Congress, preserved for posterity. Or, to paraphrase Linus: of all the Charlie Browns in the world, mine is the Charlie Browniest.

                Vinyl-to-Digital Restoration #2 (originally described 1-January-2012)              

Title: A Charlie Brown Christmas
Artist: Vince Guaraldi Trio
Genre: Jazz/Christmas
Year: 1965

There are two CD copies of A Charlie Brown Christmas somewhere in my house. But when it came time to install this title in my weightless digital Library, I decided to dub the old LP copy rather than ripping a CD. Like the homely Christmas tree selected by Charlie Brown, all the LP needed was a little love (and a few mastering steps in software) to make it shine. For more on Vince Guaraldi's music, please visit the Impressions of Vince website.

© 2012 Thomas G. Dennehy. All rights reserved.


  1. I found your post from the link over at Derrick Bang's Vince Guaraldi blog and must say that your tale is mighty, mighty cool. I have accessed the Library of Congress archives many times, but never had thought of *contributing* to them.

    Someday decades hence, some breathless young researcher will likely fill out a LOC call slip and wait with anticipation for several days, as your vinyl disc is located and pulled from their Landover, MD warehouse, and shipped to the Recorded Sound department, where some research specialist will have to dust off an unbelievably archaic turntable and explain how to use it to listen to the LP contents. ("Have you used one of these before? Don't move the arm without picking it up off the disc surface first...")

    I'd also be interested in hearing your subjective impressions of how the CD sound compares with your LP transfer/restoration.

  2. thanks for sharing..