• Geoffrey Dean

The UNC Greensboro Cello Collections, in Four Haikus

Updated: May 28

Before the winter break I spent a few days among the Cello Collections at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Although I have visited the collections a number of times over the years, this last visit was especially memorable because I was helping oversee the cataloging of my own collection there.


When I donated the bulk of the sheet music, books, and recordings that make up the collection, I had thought of it as a Bulgarian cello music collection and proposed naming it along those lines. But Stacey Krim, UNCG professor and curator of manuscripts, insisted that the collection should be under my name. I remember feeling very sheepish about the idea of my name appearing alongside such cello greats as Janos Starker, whom I could scarcely muster the courage to look in the eye as an IU graduate student thirty years ago. After my initial conversations with Prof. Krim, I poured my conflicting emotions into a poem:


Bulgarian bits

Near the Hungarian’s hits—

What Starker contrast?


And this one, a memory of Paul Tortelier’s fall 1989 visit to Bloomington, when I, to my own astonishment, was among the students “in the room where it happened” when he and Starker sightread a two-cello piece Tortelier had composed on the plane from his previous stopover, in Korea:


We listened, eying

Paul’s new duet as they read—

Smiling, Janos led


Prof. Krim soon convinced me of her naming rationale by shifting the focus away from the professional and historical status of the cellists represented with named collections at UNCG, and onto the intrinsic value and uniqueness of the items in each collection. I can say with a certain amount of confidence that the Geoffrey Dean Cello Collection contains materials that could not otherwise be seen in the US. Most of the published sheet music comes from the former state music publishing house in Sofia, representing Bulgarian composers largely unknown outside of Europe, and the situation is similar with the manuscript material. I will highlight some of the materials in future blog posts.


During last month’s cataloging visit, I had the privilege of being the first cellist to peruse the first installment of another new UNGC cello collection, this one donated by Lynn Harrell before his passing. My modest interactions with this wonderful cellist date back even further, to my teenage years as a student at the North Carolina School of the Arts, when I had the honor of playing for him in a masterclass – in Greensboro, as it happened.


Hark the Harrell’d notes

Arriv’d, waiting to be seen—

Winter solstice song


As I looked over some of his carefully-annotated solo parts, Prof. Krim told me about another aspect of the Lynn Harrel Cello Collection—Lynn’s fossils. These had not yet arrived, and the exact nature of the artifacts he had collected was not yet known. Would they fit in a small display case, or was something more sizable in question?


Fossilized feathers,

Toughened tusks and T-rex tails—

Lynn’s rare finds, unearthed


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