They don't look compulsive, these two soft-spoken, middle-aged musicologists, sitting relaxed in a posh West Hollywood hotel room and discussing their book.
Book? A bit more than that: The four-volume, 2,635-page New Grove Dictionary of American Music, being published this month, weighs more than several pulp novels and probably contains even more sex, adventure, intrigue and politics--if one knows where to look.
With more than 5,000 articles written by some 900 contributors, covering American musical subjects from Arapaho chants to Cyndi Lauper--and not ignoring the mainstream of Gershwin, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, Charles Ives, Leon Kirchner and Stravinsky--it is an exhaustive survey, in frightening detail, of the full range of musical expressions on these continents.
(Nitpickers, of course, have already begun to find gaps in its knowledge; that was inevitable. A cursory personal sampling of the dictionary's contents revealed a few missing names: Jester Hairston, Conrad Susa, William Hall, Laurindo Almeida, among others.)
The history of native, art and pop music is covered; subjects from hymnody to electronic music, performers from Jenny Lind to Count Basie, Artur Rubinstein, Buddy Holly, Grace Bumbry, Diamanda Galas and Irene Gubrud, and composers from William Billings to Lou Harrison to the Grateful Dead are biographed. Reading it could take years; even to browse through it might occupy weeks.
But it could not have been assembled by people as apparently laid-back as Stanley Sadie and H. Wiley Hitchcock, the two editors of the dictionary, look this morning.
"Well, of course we're relaxed," Sadie, the 56-year old British lexicographer and former critic, says airily. "Our work is done, and we can now look forward to getting back to other projects."
The two editors, assisted by Susan Feder, who coordinated the editing and is credited on the title page, spent all of five years putting together this dictionary, which Hitchcock says is "the first of its kind. No one has ever assembled such a collection of data on American music before."
Both editors are quick to point out, should any observer misunderstand, that this new dictionary is no mere reprint of materials from the 1980 New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, though articles from that landmark publication have been included in the new work.
"No more than one-quarter of the material in the American Dictionary comes out of the New Grove, and all of that has been revised, re-edited or rewritten. The other 75%, or roughly the equivalent of the contents of three of these four volumes, is brand-new," Sadie explains. No article, the editors specify, has been simply reprinted; at the least, it has been updated.
"Take Leonard Bernstein, for instance. The New Grove entry on Bernstein is complete, but the article in the new volume is considerably longer and written from an American perspective. Also, we changed authors. In fact, the writer of the newer article got so wrapped up in the subject, she is now writing a book on it."
Hitchcock, 63, a longtime member of the music faculty at City University of New York, says that, as a rule of thumb, "we asked the original writer (of the New Grove entry) to revise his article.
"But, in many cases, the writer chose not to do so, for whatever reasons, and another writer was assigned."
Between Sadie in London and Hitchcock in New York--"We did confer by telephone a lot during those five years," Hitchcock acknowledges, "but not every day"--Feder became the liaison, and, in Sadie's words, "kept the copy flowing. That in itself was a large accomplishment."
The $2.25 million project--the four-volume dictionary is being marketed at $495 a set--is now complete, and the editors say they have not, as one might suspect, begun to revise it.
"Eventually, of course," Sadie predicts, "it will need revision. But not before the next century. At this moment, we are not thinking, personally, that far ahead."