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Published: Sunday, 1/4/2009

Toledo business is the last word choral sheet music

BY SALLY VALLONGO
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Dennis Blubaugh, second from right, with his staff, Michael Becker, left, Rick Jarvis, Jane Hamilton, and Jeanna Shade, in the choral music shop Musical Resources Ltd. Dennis Blubaugh, second from right, with his staff, Michael Becker, left, Rick Jarvis, Jane Hamilton, and Jeanna Shade, in the choral music shop Musical Resources Ltd.
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West Toledo is a long way from Wall Street, yet when Dennis Blubaugh turns on the lights in his office each morning, he s ready for another day of buying, selling, and analyzing in his specialized corner of the commercial market.

Blubaugh trades in music futures.

His business, Musical Resources Ltd., is the go-to outlet for fine choral music, not just in Toledo, not just in the Midwest, but nationally and even internationally.

I don t think there s anybody else who specializes in choral music. That s our niche, Blubaugh said. Choral music for the choral professional is the market.

Other music stores here and elsewhere sell sheet music, but not in the volume and at the level of expertise offered by his 18-year-old company.

We sell about half a million copies a year, he said.

While keeping little stock on hand in the repurposed brick ranch house on Holland Sylvania Road Blubaugh and his staff Jane Hamilton and Michael Becker, sales; Jeanna Shade, support; Rick Jarvis, shipping, and Mary Kathryn Currier, accounts process orders from church choir directors, university music professors, and independent choral conductors.

They are a pivot point for performing seasons for groups from the San Francisco-based vocal group Chanticleer and chorales at the University of Michigan to churches and amateur and professional choirs around the country.

Importing sounds

Behind every beautiful sound produced by choirs and soloists lies sheet music the product of a composer s fertile imagination published, then selected by a choral leader, rehearsed, and brought to life in real time.

Offering works by composers from John Adams to Zoltan Kodaly and beyond, the Musical Resources data base comprises nearly 60,000 titles by 300-plus publishing houses.

The world s largest publisher of choral music is Hal Leonard, based in Milwaukee, Blubaugh said. The U.S. has literally hundreds of choral sheet music publishers.

And we import music directly from choral music publishers in England, Scotland, France, The Netherlands, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia, Canada, New Zealand, Spain, and Japan.

Musical Resources also sells to other music stores, and is exclusive U.S. distributor for Marilou Music Press, Abraham Rose Publications, John Sheppard Press, Cypress Press, and Morton Music.

Hal Leonard called to see if we had a Boosey and Hawkes piece, said Blubaugh with a smile. They needed a copy of this music and they thought we were the only store that would have one. It was gratifying that we were the first place they tried.

We ve got things you wouldn t find anyplace else, seconded Hamilton.

Plus, she noted, there are support texts, translations, and annotated scores for further research. There s a complete set of Bach cantatas (226 known to be by Johann Sebastian); a complete set of Mozart masses, and ranks of Messiah on bookshelves lining the walls above flat display stands which hold popular sheet music and cases of hard-to-find choral CDs and DVDs.

Knowing the material

Sheet music prices range from a slim double sheet of music and text priced under $2 to the Baerenreiter hardbound full score of the Mozart orchestration of Handel s Messiah, which currently costs $248.

It has turned out to be a really good thing for us, said Blubaugh, 55, an organist, conductor, and businessman with master s degrees in music performance and in arts management from Notre Dame University.

We know this material. We understand editions. Lots of people call us for advice on editions, he said.

Since the most popular choral music may be published by many different presses over a long period of time, one work can come to market with substantial variations in font, text interpretation, musical embellishments like turns and trills, and even harmonics.

If you re going to perform a Mozart or Haydn mass, you want a copy that s free from errors, that has readable type, that is the Urtext (original) edition, explains Blubaugh.

Founded in 1986 by musicians and conductors Stace and Sandra Frey Stegman in their Wauseon home, the mom-and-pop venture soon gained a reputation for excellent service and grew beyond its domestic roots. When Blubaugh joined the sales staff in 1995, Musical Resources had moved to its current west Toledo location.

By then, Blubaugh, a Pennsylvania native, had worked his way through a variety of area arts jobs: executive director of the Findlay Area Arts Council, organist and choirmaster at St. Paul s Episcopal Church in Maumee, then the same position at Collingwood Presbyterian Church.

He had to leave the last church in 2002 when Stace Stegman died of cancer and daily operation and then ownership passed to the former employee. In 2008 Blubaugh won the Stace Stegman award from the central division of the American Choral Director s Assoc.

Humming allowed

Although he continues to perform locally when invited he played with the Toledo Symphony last year in a Classics Series concert Blubaugh doubts he will ever return full-time to church music. Business keeps him too busy.

Our business has increased every year since I took over, noted Blubaugh, citing an 8-10 per cent growth.

We ve been able to do raises and bonuses and health insurance.

The recession has affected business, Hamilton noted, but early winter is a slow time for the company anyway. Business booms in late summer as teachers and choir directors order packets.

Like with anything else, prices for choral music have gone up and up, says Blubaugh. A single piece of choral music has doubled in price. But the real increase we see is in foreign publications, because the dollar is doing so poorly. Imports are at least twice as expensive.

Still, the owner notes, they resist stockpiling because of space. And Musical Resources is gearing up to utilize the Internet. Lots of people order from the Internet because they can do it at 2 a.m., said Blubaugh, adding, it s difficult to figure out how to do that in a reasonable way.

Musical Resources is open to the public. Entering, one notes the chummy atmosphere, almost like an old general store with its well-known clientele.

We re part psychologist, part bartender, and part salesperson, Hamilton said. She and Becket and Shade all have extensive training and experience in classical music.

Ironically, for a business that s all about music, there is no ambient sound other than business deals and office chatter and, as Blubaugh said, The hummers, shoppers who unconsciously intone the music they re reading on the page.

Music is too distracting for customers who are reading music in their head. An electronic keyboard with headset awaits those who want to explore a piece more thoroughly.

The only sound is an electronic chime which sounds whenever the front door opens. At Musical Resources, chime is money and an indication that, says Hamilton, Choral music is alive and well.

Musical Resources, 2020 North Holland-Sylvania Rd., is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. To contact during business hours call 419-539-9100 or check www.musical-resources.com.



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