I always thought of myself as a steadfast Baltimorean, but my faith in the city has been tested for those years when the Central Enoch Pratt Free Library has been closed on Fridays because of budget issues. Is there no shame? Close one of the glories of Baltimore on a Friday?
Yesterday, for the first time in years, the doors at 400 Cathedral St. opened for regular service on Fridays. The place that held the answers to all the questions was back in business; the library with all those obscure novels; the place that looks just as it did in 1961 and 1940. What a comfort to have this magnificent library, this people's university, the storehouse of answers, open again on Fridays.
Only this week did I tear off to the Pratt to answer a question about an obscure operetta that played Howard Street's old Academy of Music in 1912. The name of the show was "Robin Hood." It was written in 1890 by a fellow named Reginald De Koven.
As a child I was not allowed to use the better record players in the house. Instead, I was relegated to a wind-up, spring-mechanical Victrola. Among the records was a thick piece of shellac, a 12-inch-wide Victor recording of the gems from "Robin Hood" - the musical equivalent of "Rent" or "Les Miserables" in my grandparents' era of theater-going.
I loved to play the record of this show, but could never understand the words the choristers were singing. (This show, by the way, produced one big hit - "O Promise Me," used for so many years at weddings. I don't like the song but can try to sing everything else in the show.)
If I liked the music from "Robin Hood," so did my father. He, too, confesses that as a child in his home on Poultney Street in South Baltimore, he listened to the music from this wonderful operetta and, by the way, spent his evenings at the Pratt library on Gittings Street.
When Gerry Bordman, the renowned theater scholar and friend from Philadelphia, asked for some help about "Robin Hood," I said I would help. Of course, the Pratt came through, the way it always does. On the shelves, free to be taken home, was a neatly bound volume of the complete show, all the words, all the music. And, because Gerry is writing the liner notes for a new compact disc about operettas and musicals of that period, the music will be available to other generations.
The librarian was apologetic. She was ready to produce all the individual pieces of sheet music. I declined. The fully bound score was complete enough.
I dug out my old 78 rpm, hunted through the score and at long last deciphered what the chorus was singing in "Come Away to the Woods" and "Brown October Ale." I had the text before me. The Pratt, in all its deep riches, had delivered the goods.
I hope the library never has the need to shut its doors on a busy weekday again.
Cultural repositories should keep their doors open. Maybe I'm not the best library user, but it is such a comfort to know that should you need a copy of the most obscure piece of literature, it's there, waiting and ready.