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COLLECTION Identifier: AWM Spec Coll 92

Laura Boulton Collection of Byzantine and Orthodox Musics


Recordings collected by ethnomusicologist Laura Boulton between 1951 and 1969 primarily in Greece, Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, and various other countries. It consists primarily of Byzantine and other Orthodox Eastern church music and services from the liturgical cycles; it also contains folk and classical music, some of a religious nature, and miscellaneous commercial recordings and books.


  • Creation: 1951 - 1968

Conditions Governing Access



1 collection (Sound recordings (351 reels, 12 discs) and accompanying materials (4 linear feet, 9 file boxes))

The Collection represents Laura Boulton's field work and research throughout the Eastern Orthodox world between 1953 and 1969. It comprises reel-to-reel tapes and their accompanying logbooks, hand and typewritten notes, commercially issued LP's, published books, and ancillary materials such as essays, journal offprints, pamphlets, correspondence, and miscellaneous written items. The commercially published materials (LP's and books) have been catalogued individually and it is possible for users to access a list of these by performing a call number search in the Harvard On Line Library Information System (HOLLIS) using the author Laura Boulton. Although liturgical music of the Byzantine churches and monasteries of Greece and Greek Macedonia make up the majority of the Collection's holdings, the traditional liturgies of Orthodox Yugoslavia (primarily Serbia and non-Greek Macedonia), Ethiopia, Russia, Turkey, and music recorded in Greek Orthodox churches of New York City are also represented. Some folk music and concert settings of liturgical texts were also collected by LB, and are included as well.

The Collection contains some internal duplication of materials. Certain of the tapes duplicate others partially, fully, or are found to be re-edited or "composite" versions. These duplications have been noted in both the Inventory below and on the HOLLIS catalogue records insofar as could be correctly ascertained, and at times are noted by LB herself on the tape containers.

Documentation does not always accompany every set or example and some reels lack any identifying information. In the case of some duplicate tapes, one existing notebook of documentation may have been found to serve each. In lieu of a logbook, indications on the container or a list of contents may be the only available identification. Finally, the re-editing or re-combining of reels may account for the inconsistencies in LB's assigned numbering or reels. The Archive of World Music (AWM) system uses the numbers present on the reels themselves. Where the logbook diverges from these numbers, or doesn't read consecutively, an annotation to that effect has been made in the inventory entry in order to ease navigation. For example, AWM 15031 reel 6 may equal LB's notebook number 1 XVIA. The inventory listing will then read as follows: Reel 6 (= LB's 1 XVIA).

Biographical and Historical Note

The music collector Laura Boulton, or musical anthropologist, as she was known in the early days of her fieldwork, recorded some 30,000 musical examples in the course of her 81 years. During a career which took her from hidden corners of the globe to urban centers alike, from royal palaces to tribal huts, she embarked on expedition after expedition at a time when such journeys were considered exotic, dangerous, and beyond the reach of the average traveler.

Born in Conneaut, Ohio and educated at Denison University (from whom she also received an honorary doctorate), LB pursued additional studies at the University of Chicago, the Sorbonne, and in London. Trained primarily in vocal performance and music theory, she entered the musical world as a singer although she went on to pursue university graduate work in musicology and anthropology. In 1929 at the invitation of Sarah Straus [previously listed as Mrs. Oscar Straus], she joined the Straus Central African Expedition under the auspices of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Though she accompanied the traveling party as collector of botanical and ornithological specimens, her primary interest was to record whatever music she could on the trip and thereby launched a lifelong career as collector of the world's "unknown and exotic" musics.

What followed were almost yearly expeditions in which she captured the folk and liturgical music of the world's cultures via increasingly modern audio technology. LB lectured and taught both at home and abroad, embarked on trips under the auspices of foreign governments, foundations, and universities, and became a sought-after raconteur and teller of tales from faraway places. At 60 years of age she undertook a near-ten-year research project for Harvard University's Center of Byzantine Studies, at Dumbarton Oaks. The fruits of this project comprise the core of the Laura Boulton Collection of Byzantine and Orthodox Musics at the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library of Harvard University: recordings made in the churches, monasteries, seminaries, and convents of the Greek and Eastern Orthodox world. Return trips throughout the 1960's, and 3 separate excursions to Ethiopia to record folk music and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church liturgy complete the field recordings of the Collection. From the early 1960's LB was affiliated with Columbia University as lecturer. Her collection of recordings and numerous musical instruments was deposited in the Music Department and later, in conjunction with her appointment as director of research programs in world music was housed at the School of International Affairs. Her book, The Music Hunter: An Autobiography of a Career, was published in 1969. From the early 1970's she taught at the University of Arizona at Tempe, where the collection was relocated. Laura Boulton died on October 16, 1980 while in the planning stages of her next expedition, a return to Arctic Canada. Only one year earlier she had returned from what was to be her final expedition, a journey to the South Pacific.

System of Arrangement

  1. Series 1. Recordings
  1. Series 2. Print materials and miscellaneous papers

Physical Location

Archive of World Music

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Laura Boulton Collection of Byzantine and Orthodox Musics was given to the Archive of World Music by the Laura Boulton Foundation in 1994.

Separated Materials

The Collection contains a number of commercial 33 1/3 LP recordings made or collected by Laura Boulton. These represent traditional music from various countries and were issued primarily on the Folkways label. Some published books pertaining to Orthodox and Ethiopian traditions are also part of the Collection. All of these items are catalogued individually and can be accessed via the Harvard Online Library Information System (HOLLIS) using an author search as follows: Boulton, Laura

Processing Information

Processed by the Archive of World Music between January and July of 1998, as part of a project funded by the Boulton Foundation.

Boulton, Laura, 1899-1980. Collection of Byzantine and Orthodox Musics: Guide.
Archive of World Music, Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library Repository

The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library is the primary repository of musical materials at Harvard. The Music Library’s collecting mission is to serve music teaching and research programs in the Music Department and throughout the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In addition, it supports the musical needs of the broader Harvard community as well as an international scholarly constituency. We collect books, musical scores, serial titles, sound recordings and video formats, microforms, and rare and archival materials that support research in a wide variety of musical disciplines including historical musicology, music theory, ethnomusicology, composition, and historically informed performance practice, as well as interdisciplinary areas related to music. The special collections include archival collections from the 19th, 20th and 21st century.

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