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Music and the British Library

by AIFS Abroad Customized Faculty-Led

Last Updated on March 3, 2020 by AIFS Abroad Customized Faculty-Led

London is renowned for its iconic venues, history and culture. Alexandra Jonassen from AVC is studying this Fall in London, England with Southern Californian Foothills Consortium. Alexandra is both a Student Ambassador and Student Blogger. Currently, she is working on a Music in London project and will be documenting her experiences uncovering musical history, culture, events.

Her first stop was the British Library. Read on to find out what she discovered:

I wanted to study abroad in London because it is the birthplace of many of the greatest classic rock musicians of all time! Legends such as David Bowie, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Freddie Mercury either lived in or near the city and call Britain their home. Many of these musicians are constant sources of inspiration for me. Whilst in London, I shall be visiting their old homes, first venues, significant sites to their musical careers and much more

British Library

As part of our British Life and Culture class, we had a trip to the British Library. We stopped off at The Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library. Inside, lay some of the most historically significant texts that I have ever seen. For example, a copy of the Magna Carta, sketches from Leonardo DaVinci and papers of Oscar Wilde. However, I was most fascinated with the small display case dedicated to The Beatles.


Handwritten lyrics

There were numerous handwritten lyrics, pictures and letters from the band. My personal favorites included the lyrics to ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ by Lennon. The lyrics were scrawled upon the back of his son Julian’s 1st birthday card. Another piece that I enjoyed was a letter Lennon meant to send to the original bassist of the group, Stuart Sutcliffe, just before he died of a brain hemorrage.

The letter was filled with scribblings that sounded like poetry when read aloud and resembled a kind of art piece with random phrases scratched out and doodles of faces swarming the bottom half of the page. The first line of the letter read “I remember a time when everyone I loved hated me”. I’m not entirely sure what John was trying to say to Stuart when he wrote the letter, but it does sound profoundly depressing. The rest of the case included the first lyrics to “Michelle”, “Ticket to ride”, and numerous pictures of the boys that would change the world with their music.

A Candle in the Wind

In addition to the Beatles display, I also loved that the British Library had a case dedicated to Elton John’s song “Candle in the Wind”. Elton originally dedicated the song to Marilyn Monroe. In 1997 Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris. In honor of her passing, he decided to change the lyrics and dedicated it to her. The original copy of the changes and the new lyrics are on display.


The entire trip to the library was very exciting and inspiring for me. Witnessing these seemingly simple scraps of paper was amazing. It was also neat that you can listen to some of their songs from a set of headphones nearby; these legendary songs had come from such humble beginnings. I highly recommend that you make a visit and see for yourself.

Follow along with Alexandra’s time study abroad in London on her Instagram: @alexandra.jonassen

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