Accessible Arts 3: streaming sounds

Multnomah County Library services provide free access to classical and other music from your computer


I began collecting records in earnest almost as soon as I got my first glimmers of the astonishing range and power of classical music. Some came from a couple of those old “Record Clubs” that sent you recordings in the mail; most were acquired on visits to an array of now-defunct record stores. When I divorced some decades ago the most wrenching episode of the entire process was the split of our records, when I played the part of the mother in that Solomon story about cutting the baby in two and gave up the entire Brahms collection rather than break apart that lovingly-crafted creation.

Last year I revisited one of those recordings whose custody I had so painfully ceded. I did not have to track it down in one of the surviving record stores, or order it online, or indeed pay anything at all. Instead I simply brought up my bookmark for one of Multnomah County Library’s music-streaming services, searched for “Brahms Violin Sonatas” and among the album covers was that lost stepchild: Pinchas Zuckerman and Daniel Barenboim playing the Brahms Sonatas for Violin and Piano plus those for Viola and Piano. I clicked “Borrow,” then “Play,” and was soon immersed in the beauties of performances that had formerly been delivered by a box-set of LPs. For several nights running this was the music playing on my headphones while I wound down my evening on the computer.

Multnomah County Central Library provides access to music from home.

After one of my Facebook friends shared a New Yorker story that focused on three Wayne Shorter albums from 1964, I simply opened my music folder, clicked “Hoopla,” punched in the jazzman’s name, and quickly found all three albums. They became the music I played on headphones from my phone for a couple of my sessions of cardiac rehab exercises, an energetic soundtrack for the spinning of wheels on exercise bikes, and the heave and slide of the rowing machine. And when Willamette Week reviewed a new album by Kamasi Washington I was delighted to discover that the same service allowed me to seek it out to find out what all the fuss was about.

There’s no substitute for the live music experience, and as you might guess from the first two parts of this series, about Arts for All tickets and wheelchair access, I’m dedicated to the proposition that the concert experience belongs to all of us. ArtsWatch’s Gary Ferrington has also described the increasing number of Oregon concerts now being live-streamed: another way to access this experience. But there’s no genre of music I know where the dedicated fan doesn’t want to supplement the live experience with recordings by one’s favorite musicians.

If your tastes run to the past, whether the riches from various decades of the 20th-century or the vast treasures laid by over the centuries before that, you will find it especially important to supplement your live music experience with recordings. But while paid streaming services have found a way to reduce the performers’ payoff to an even smaller pittance than in the old days when producers siphoned off most of the loot, they have not yet reduced the price to consumers sufficiently to make recorded music cheap enough for the large potential audience that cares–or might care, if they got the chance to explore a little–about music such as jazz and classical that lacks a mass-market hype machine. But if you’re a debt-saddled twenty-something, or are just discovering how how “fixed” your Social Security really is, you’ll be happy to know that our splendid local library system has your back, with albums in the tens of thousands you can access anytime your want. Here’s an overview of the free options available to Multnomah County library card holders, and a how-to guide to using them.