or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week ¦ 1/5/14

   January 11th, 2014

licoriceOne of my favorite things about working at a Reference Desk is encountering things I probably would never have found in my normal life. This question wasn't at all challenging, but it's something I probably never would have known had this patron not called.

So, a patron calls and asks if we have a encyclopedia of music theory. I said we didn't, which is true, but I told her we have lots of music books, which is also true, and I figured we could find in one of them whatever she was looking for. She seemed skeptical, but was willing to let me try. So then she asks her question:

In regards to music theory, can you tell me what a licorice stick is?

Now, even though I grew up in Ohio and speak like a Midwesterner (which is to say, proper American English), I usually have no trouble deciphering the New England accent here in Massachusetts. However, I had no idea what this woman just said, so I asked her to repeat it. Twice. When I asked her to spell it, she finally she said, "licorice, you know, like the candy."

I could feel her skepticism growing, but now at least I knew the question.

And we're already a minute or two into this call, so in the interest of speed, I do a quick search online for "licorice stick" music theory - and it turns out that was enough. From skimming the first page of results, the consensus was that "licorice stick" is what jazz musicians call a clarinet.

I relayed this the patron, and her response was,

Oh yes, that makes sense, now can you tell me Benny Goodman's first name? Have you heard of him? Was his first name really Benjamin, or something else?

Again, a quick web search and Wikipedia told me his full name is Benjamin David "Benny" Goodman. The patron thanked me and hung up.

I knew jazz people have words and jargon unto themselves, but this was a term I'd never heard - and not being a jazz person myself, may never hear again. But if I do, I'm hep, daddy-o.

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