Special to 1812Blockhouse

Mansfield’s two-time Grammy Award-winning soprano, Indiana University Jacobs School of Music alumna and former faculty member Sylvia McNair, has donated a vast array of items documenting her career to her alma mater.

The Sylvia McNair Digital Collection comprises more than 900 entries and over 4,000 scanned items, including concert programs, newspaper and magazine articles and reviews, awards, photos, publicity materials and correspondence from throughout McNair’s 35-plus-year career as an opera, classical and cabaret singer.

The physical collection, held in the William and Gayle Cook Music Library at the Jacobs School of Music, also includes more than 50 of McNair’s professional recordings and dozens of personal music scores with her performance notes.

“Sylvia is one of the Jacobs School’s most accomplished alumni,” said Philip Ponella, Wennerstrom-Phillips Music Library Director, chief digital officer and director of Music Information Technology Services. “When she asked about assistance with scanning materials, I was extremely impressed to learn of the care and organization she had taken to document her illustrious career.

“This collection documents her performances in nearly every major opera house and performance venue in the world, with just about every major conductor of the period—and the many enthusiastic reviews of those performances. We are thrilled to have this collection and make it available to researchers and enthusiasts both in person and online.”
McNair has several favorites in the collection, including the 1982 Bloomington Herald-Times article “Music School’s Blue-Chip Prospect.”

“Of course, I’m also proud of everything from the Metropolitan Opera,” said McNair. “I didn’t sing that many productions there, but the ones I did I’m very pleased by. And, in this country, at least, the Met seems to be the ‘Good Housekeeping’ Seal of Approval for classical singers.

“Additionally, there are mementos of my work in non-classical repertoire and venues. Maybe that’s a unique quality of this collection: there are posters from operas at the Met but also posters from my performances at the Algonquin’s cabaret series.”

View full resolution Sylvia McNair poses with one of the many gowns and pairs of shoes she donated to the Musical Arts Center Costume Shop. Photo by Hallie Geyh, Jacobs School of Music

McNair has also donated literal suitcases full of formal evening wear to the Musical Arts Center Costume Shop over the past 15 years, including lavish gowns, shoes, opera gloves and jewelry.

“The gowns and accessories were donated in the hope that some young singers will be able to use them when needed for competitions, auditions and performances,” said McNair. “I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I went through in 1980 when I had no money and some really important performances with the San Francisco Symphony to sing.

“I was a broke student and could not afford a decent dress. What I took with me to San Francisco was tragically bad, and I’ve never forgotten that humiliation.”

Some facts about the Sylvia McNair Collection

More than 4,000 scanned items
  • 439 newspaper/magazine articles and reviews from around the world, including over 30 from The New York Times
  • 226 recordings, both professional and personal
  • 131 scores, many with extensive annotations
  • 21 books
  • 236 conductors worked with
  • More than 400 organizations worked with, both professionally and personally
  • Over 3,000 individuals involved in performances globally, from performers to production staff

“I have donated everything to the school that educated me and then gave me an opportunity 25 years later to come back and teach for 10 years,” said McNair. “I am happy that nearly 40 years of professional memorabilia will be available to anyone who wants to see it. And I’m really happy that my alma mater is hosting it!”

Comments and inquiries about additional submissions to the Sylvia McNair Collection may be sent to [email protected].

Source, Photos: Indiana University Bloomington

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