Man amasses amazing music library

Author Photo
By Joe Curreri

Joe Curreri
SOLID GOLD COLLECTION: Maynard Bertolet showed off part of his huge collection of recordings.

Maynard Bertolet is 72 years old, but if he were to listen to every recording in his collection, it would take him another 72 years. He isn’t your run-of-the-mill record collector; his treasure trove is akin to a museum. He has some 250,000 albums, singles, 45s, compact discs and private recordings – a mishmash that’s likely unmatched anywhere.

He has every commercial recording of Mario Lanza, Al Jolson, Judy Garland, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Frank Sinatra, Burl Ives, Maria Callas, Barbra Streisand, Beverly Sills and Enrico Caruso. His collection includes thousands of hours of never-released or unpublished records, radio recordings and soundtracks of great voices, operas, concerts and musicals.

Each album is protected in plastic, and when Bertolet lifts the records out of their protective jackets, he does it as lovingly as a groom lifting his bride’s veil.

‘I started collecting records at 15 in 1947,’ he said. ‘But I was less than a normal collector until a startling event happened in my life. I saw ‘The Jolson Story.’ His voice captivated me. Using my high-school lunch money, I bought all the Jolson 78s that came out.’

In 1949, he saw the movie ‘That Midnight Kiss,’ starring Mario Lanza.

‘His voice completely electrified me,’ Bertolet said. ‘I thought he had the greatest voice of his age, an expression which was unique in the way he was able to bring feeling to his music.’

Jeannine, Bertolet’s girlfriend – and now his wife – bought him his first LP of Lanza. Hearing it so thrilled him that he wanted to find out more about opera.

‘So I bought my very first opera LP,’ he said. ‘And when I heard all the great singers, it became a passion.’

In 58 years of collecting, Bertolet has accumulated 8 tons of music, and the pile grows.

‘When I moved from Harrisburg to Merion Station (Pa.),’ he said, ‘I had to use two of the largest moving vans ever made.’

Wide range of interests

From Jolson and Lanza, Bertolet spread his interests to other fields: Broadway and radio shows, Toscanini, Mozart, Beethoven, Stephen Foster, the Big Bands – the whole works. His recordings run the historical gamut, including, among other items, Thomas Edison’s wax cylinders and 19 hours of speeches given by Winston Churchill.

‘These recordings make it real, as if you were actually a witness to the events,’ he said.

As befits a computer expert (he once headed a computer center, and currently teaches computing classes at the New Horizon Senior Center in Narberth, Pa.) he has a remarkable memory. He can rattle off lyrics, tell where and when a record was made, and who was the performer, conductor and writer. He may even throw in a related anecdote.

About 30 percent of his records are noncommercial. Noting a framed record on the wall, he says that ‘in 1932, RCA recorded Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with Leopold Stokowski directing the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was the very first LP of all time. They pressed only 87 copies. This record is one of them.’

He prizes his private set of the first recorded live Metropolitan Opera performances, from 1899 to 1902. His collection of popular stars and performances also boggles the mind. His Frank Sinatra collection is to die for, and Bertolet can play the first and last recording of Judy Garland.

‘She had a way with a song that presented herself as vulnerable, appealing – singing with an emotion that no other female singer ever captured,’ he said.

Bertolet is extremely generous. He makes compact discs of recordings for friends, refusing compensation.

‘I stopped making money when I retired,’ he says. ‘Now, I’d like to share my talents and beliefs with others.’

His collection of records – along with compact discs, videos and books – has taken over most of his 22-room home.

‘Some day,’ he says, ‘I’ll bequeath my collection to a museum or university for the world to share.’

Published on May 1, 2006