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Visiting the Archive Bookstore

I can't remember who first told me about the Archive Bookstore in London or when I first visited this two storey shop situated between Marylebone and Edgware tube stations. It is a browser's paradise for value-for-money second-hand sheet music. In fact, it's one of musicians' best kept secrets.

I, for one, have resisted telling other people about it because of the fear that it might spoil my chances of finding the music that I want and possibly causing price inflation of the entire collection.

Every time I come here, I end up spending several hours rummaging through stacks of old sheet music, often out of print but still in good condition. Yesterday I had only one hour to spare, and that alone made me hesitant about visiting this beloved bookshop.

After scurrying in the rain, I opened the glass front door, and the bell rang. The owner and his assistant were both present, hidden by the bookcases in front of me. They knew that I would soon disappear into the musical dungeon.

I suggested to the owner to get the upright piano downstairs tuned. He said that he was going to do just that, to encourage more people to come and try out the sheet music.

I came here to get Beethoven's late sonatas, but the different editions confused me. Should I get the cheapest (£8) or the most expensive (£15)? While I was contemplating over this, an oriental man in a ponytail walked down.

"Hi!" he greeted me in the cramped space.

"How did you hear about this place?" I asked out of curiosity.

He introduced himself, a violinist trained at the Manhattan School of Music after he quit majoring in chemistry in college. Currently in Lisbon with a chamber group, he heard about this place --- through word of mouth.

"It's dangerous here," he said.

I thought he was referring to the stacks of boxes of recent arrivals and the danger that they might topple over.

"You can spend a lot of money here," he clarified.

Indeed, it's a money pit if you add up the sheet music that go for 20p and the most expensive collections for £20. I've never seen anything priced higher than £20, though most are less than £4.

The owner is adept at pricing second-hand sheet music, just enough to tempt me to buy as much as I can , though I try to stick to my rule of thumb, that is, never buy more than I can carry. And if that doesn't work, never carry more cash than I can afford! Three hours of scavenger hunt in the basement usually leads to two knapsacks full, about £50 total.

We made polite banter while I frantically tried to manage the little time that I had left. Exasperated by time pressure, I decided to buy the Beethoven sonatas in Amsterdam instead.

As I walked upstairs empty-handed, determined to return again when I had more than two hours to spare, a book came flying out at me.

"Oops!" cried the violinist from the other side of the shelves. "Did I do that? Sorry!"

"That's okay," I said, picking up the book.

It was William Lovelock's "Elementary Accompaniment Writing" --- exactly what I needed.

With that, I paid £3 and left happily ever after.

25 February 2004 Wednesday

The Archive Bookstore site
Second hand sheet music - a previous visit
Search for sheet music - a list of sites and stores
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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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