Sketchbook (1963-1974), The Allan Blank Papers Collection housed at the Diehn Composers Room

Today, I was a stereotype. Often, when people ask about my job, I’m cut off with: “It must be nice to read all day!” Largely this is an untrue statement. Most librarians and archivists will tell you that their jobs are really customer service centered and that they barely get to read for pleasure, or get to read at all. Yet today, I spent my day reading: Sketchbooks.

Under the sweltering Virginia sun, I dodged hoards of new students (it’s the first day of the Fall Semester!) to finally reach the air conditioned solitude of the Diehn Composers Room.

The Diehn Composers Room at Old Dominion University

Here, in this oasis built for music researchers, I found my quarry: the first accession of the Allan Blank Papers, 1958-2009. This collection was the first part of the donation, given by Allan Blank himself. He carefully curated selected works to give to Old Dominion from 2009 to 2011. The collection is currently completely processed and housed in the Diehn Composers Room.

Please don’t be confused dear readers, this is not the collection I’ve been working on. My work centers around the paperwork gifted to University Special Collections upon Mr. Blank’s passing. It encompasses…well everything else. All of the tiny scribbled staffs on post-it notes, boxes of untitled/unfinished scores, sketches that look nothing like the finished product, and so much more that I’m still discovering. While, the first accession was the meticulously chosen sketchbooks and scores by the composer, the second accession is more of an expression of the chaotic creative mind.

A colleague of mine made the wonderful suggestion that I study the sketchbooks in the first accession to become better acquainted with Mr. Blank’s creative process. The sketchbooks act as an outlet for the composer’s music theories, inspiration for original scores, a reference workbook and diary.


Score plan for “Six Significant Landscapes” by Allan Blank. The Allan Blank Papers Collection, 1958-2009..






Over the course of the day, I paged through the first Sketchbook discovering scores in the first stages of development, outlined plans for “Six Significant Landscapes, and gaining a deeper understanding of how protective he was over his works.



Music Score Outline. The Allan Blank Papers Collection, 1958-2009.

The note below from August 11, 1964 reads: “Generally: write more instructions info score and parts. Do not rely on players or conductors taste, imagination or intelligence. I tend to under write instruction, now go the other way.”  Samuel Blank (the composer’s great nephew) told me how watchful Mr. Blank was during performances of his scores.

A note to himself by Allan Blank. From Sketchbook 1963-1974. The Allan Blank Papers Collection, 1958-2009. 

Considering how much passion, hard work and dedication (sometimes Allan Blank would spend years perfecting a composition), it is no wonder that he wanted a faultless performance just as he imagined in his mind. 

Tomorrow, I will go back to processing. However, in the near future I plan to return to the DCR to read more Sketchbooks and learn everything I can about the incredible composer, Mr. Allan Blank.