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Mary Church Terrell Main Library
148 W College St. Oberlin, OH 44074-1545

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The Frederick R. Selch Collection of American Music History

History of the Collection

Frederick

Frederick “Eric” Selch poses with his instruments in his Manhattan home, ca. 1978

Frederick (Eric) R. Selch was a collector, scholar, performer, advertising executive, Broadway musical producer, Ovation magazine publisher, and editor. He enjoyed binding books and arranging music as well as building and repairing musical instruments.

Born in South Royalton, VT in 1930, Selch received a bachelor’s degree from Hamilton College in 1952, and a master's degree in radio and television production from Syracuse University in 1953. Having completed a master’s degree in music history in the 1960s, he later completed the dissertation ''Instrumental Accompaniments for Yankee Hymn Tunes: 1760-1840” (2002) and was posthumously awarded a PhD in American Studies by New York University.

While Selch worked in advertising at the J. Walter Thompson agency in Britain and New York from 1955 to 1974, he also began collecting musical instruments and books. He and his wife, Patricia Bakwin Selch, traveled often and acquired instruments, books, and artwork along the way. At the time of his passing (New York, NY 2002), Selch had amassed a remarkable collection of musical instruments, books, manuscripts, and printed music as well as paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs depicting the history, design, and use of instruments. Mrs. Selch gave Oberlin her husband’s collection and created an endowed professorship in musicology at the Conservatory, which in sum becomes the centerpiece of the college’s Frederick R. Selch Center for American Music.

As an outgrowth of his interest in organology and instrument construction and repair, Selch helped found the American Musical Instrument Society in 1971, serving as its second president (1977-1981). In 1976, he instituted and performed in the Federal Music Society, a 26-member ensemble specializing in music of the American Colonial-Federal period (1775–1830) that played over 70 concerts in the decade of its existence. In 1982, he produced a Broadway musical, ''Play Me a Country Song,'' that featured his own original compositions. From 1983 to 1989, he was the owner, editor, and publisher of the monthly music magazine, Ovation: The Magazine for Classical Music Listeners.

He served as chairman of exhibitions at the Grolier Club beginning in the 1980s and was a longtime member of the Visiting Committee to the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For much of the 1990s he was involved in a series of American Music Festivals at Illinois Wesleyan University. In addition to Ovation magazine, his articles may be found in the Journal of the Violin Society of America, the Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, the New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments, and the New Grove Dictionary of American Music.