Special collections librarian and archivist David Peter Coppen has demonstrated virtuosic service for more than two decades.
Author: Matthew Cook
David Peter Coppen with German dignitaries at Sibley Music Library

The word “virtuoso” is often reserved for extraordinarily talented musicians. Still, it’s improbable that University of Rochester students, faculty members, or staff members at the Eastman School of Music would object to it being used to describe David Peter Coppen, special collections librarian and archivist for Sibley Music Library. And it’s only the beginning of a long list of reasons why Coppen was an easy choice for the 2022 Messinger Award.

“My initial reaction was surprise,” says Coppen, “as in—me? The libraries are populated with highly talented, accomplished, and hardworking personnel, so to learn I’d be singled out for recognition was stunning. Receiving the award is at once empowering and challenging. I feel challenged to work harder than I’ve worked previously. It’s a good challenge.”

To receive this award, which takes its name from a longtime friend of the libraries and lifetime University Trustee Martin E. Messinger ʼ49, the recipient must meet one of the following criteria:

  • Cumulative contribution to the educational mission of the library and service to students and faculty in a manner that is above and beyond what is expected of all libraries staff
  • A one-time contribution to the library through innovation, invention, or scholarship that advances the library, library profession, a discipline, and/or the University
  • One-time or cumulative contribution to the library or the learning community that is universally understood by that community as deserving of special attention and celebration

Coppen has achieved each of these with distinction.

Since 1999, Coppen has been a resonant source of support for anyone learning, teaching, or doing research at the Eastman School. He has left so great an impression on the school’s community that it would be difficult to find someone he has helped or collaborated with who wouldn’t offer a superlative-laden characterization of his work and expertise.

For example, Eastman School historian Vincent Lenti, a professor emeritus of piano, says, “[David Peter] was the single most important person in providing assistance and insight into my work as a historian. I have long been impressed with his almost encyclopedic knowledge of the contents of our school archives.”

And colleague Jim Farrington, head of public services at Sibley Library, says, “David is perhaps the most dedicated librarian I’ve ever met.”

People describe Coppen similarly because he makes it difficult not to. He lives and breathes the library’s archives. When he’s not preserving or cataloging the archives’ materials, he’s using them to enrich curriculum experiences, facilitate research, and fan the flames of community interest—and it’s always done happily, if not eagerly.

“We have collaborated many, many times on tours of the library,” Farrington says. “He knows just what treasures will ramp up the wow factor. His willingness to give his time and knowledge to students, faculty, alumni, or visitors is truly humbling.”

Many would agree that Coppen’s magnum opus is the voluminous blog This Week at Eastman, created to help celebrate the Eastman School’s Centennial. Through an impressive collection of thoroughly researched essays—supplemented by digitizations of assorted historical ephemera and detailed footnotes—Coppen provides a masterful commentary that documents the history and identity of not only the Eastman School but also the musical culture of the United States.

“David’s memory for the school’s history and faculty is truly remarkable,” says Gail Lowther, special collection assistant. “In each blog post, David aptly places these stories in historical context and illustrates them with photographs, concert programs, and images of other archival documents and artifacts—often drawing seamlessly from multiple sources in special collections.”

This Week at Eastman is an incredible feat in its own right, but it is only a small portion of Coppen’s contribution to the success of the centennial celebration for which he has served as an essential conduit. These efforts were not lost on Jamal Rossi, the Joan and Martin Messinger Dean of the Eastman School of Music. “David Peter’s work on the centennial has truly been extraordinary,” he says. “Without his assistance, the displays in Lowry Hall, the centennial website, the collection of the many musical commissions, and the archival tours for alumni and guests would have been vastly different, and I dare to say, not nearly as outstanding.”

It would be more than fair to say Rossi’s sentiments would be echoed by many at the Eastman School, including Jonathan Sauceda, the associate dean and head librarian of Sibley Library. As proof, Sauceda adds, “it is difficult, if not impossible, to imagine the success Sibley has achieved over the past two decades, let alone the success of the centennial, without David Peter Coppen.”

Coppen is the 12th recipient of the Messinger Award and the first from the Sibley Music Library. ∎

If you want to learn more about David Peter Coppen’s work, you can contact him at dcoppen@esm.rochester.edu. Contact Matt Cook, senior communications officer for the libraries and collections, for more on the Messinger Award and its honorees. 

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