October 03, 2013

Project seeks to preserve local music heritage

by Andrea Hahn

Alex KirtCARBONDALE, Ill. -- It’s not just background noise at taverns and wineries on Friday and Saturday nights.  It’s part of our cultural history. 

Local music holds special importance for Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate student Alex Kirt.  As a well-known local solo musician and with the Woodbox Gang, Giant City Slickers and other bands, and as a prolific songwriter and arranger, he’s part of making it.  Now he wants to be part of preserving it.

Kirt, as part of his graduate studies, is creating the Southern Illinois Music Archive.  It’s an ambitious project. He plans to build an online museum for preserving and promoting music written or arranged by Southern Illinois musicians.

Media Advisory

Alex Kirt is available for media interviews about his Southern Illinois Music Archive project, and about the music history of the Southern Illinois region.  Contact him at alexkirt@siu.edu.

“I feel it’s important for us to keep an organized historical record of the cultural expressions of our local inhabitants,” he said.  “That’s what the songs and music are: a documentary of the history of the area… I think if a person just sat down and listened to the music, they’d learn about the history of Southern Illinois.  The Herrin Massacre, Charlie Birger, the floods of 1993 -- it’s all chronicled in the songs.”

This doesn’t mean Kirt’s archive project specifically targets songs about Southern Illinois. He wants representative music from every genre, every time period, every subject matter, just so long as it was created in Southern Illinois.   

John McCall, associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, is one of several SIU experts working with Kirt on the music archive project.  A music ethnologist by training, McCall described his role as field research mentor.

He likened Kirt to Alan Lomax, who made extensive recordings throughout the United States of folk and blues music, some of which reached a broad audience via Folkways Records.

“Alex wants to capture the music of this area -- which will disappear without any intervention,” McCall said.

To that end, Kirt plans to include original recordings of a sampling of Southern Illinois musicians.  That part of his project combines anthropological field research with sound engineering and recording. 

In addition, he is undertaking archival research.  David S. McIntosh, a former SIU Carbondale associate professor of music, recorded examples of Southern Illinois music from the late 1930s through the early 1960s.  The McIntosh Collection of Southern Illinois Folk Music and Folklore is now part of the Archive of Traditional Music, housed at Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind.

Kirt plans to build on McIntosh’s work and to use his archival system as a guide.

 “I want to make sure everyone has access to this,” Kirt said.  He is working with Melissa Hubbard, assistant professor with the Morris Library Special Collections Research Center, to organize the materials.  He hopes to make his collection available long-term with the assistance of SIU Carbondale’s Morris Library.

“This collection could be a wonderful resource for Morris Library to make available for students, community members, and researchers,” Hubbard said.  “The Special Collections Research Center here has a huge collection of material related to Southern Illinois history and culture. Currently, the collection consists mostly of books, manuscripts, serials, and photographs. Music is a major part of any culture, so that's a big gap in our collection… Alex's project is quite serendipitous and I'm very excited about its potential future here.”

Send recordings of local music or request a music submission form from Alex Kirt at P. O. Box 111, Makanda Ill. 62958, or email alexkirt@siu.edu for more information.