What kind of person spends much of her day in a dark, musty attic?

WHAT KIND OF person spends much of her day in a dark, musty attic? A senior on a mission to save one of the largest collections of musical scores in the country. Montclair’s Jean Cunningham climbs the old, narrow staircase to the top of the historic Paramount Theatre several times a week — where she catalogs music that comes in from all over the world.

On the day I was there, a match was made. The drum and trumpet scores arrived for an out-of-print “pop” piece and Jean carefully added them to a folder with parts for the flute, saxophone and other instruments. “I believe that makes a complete set,” she said, like a puzzle-master fitting in the final, critical piece.

The Paramount Library of Popular Music has thousands of pages of musical scores — out of print and priceless. What it doesn’t have is enough money or staff to catalog and preserve them. But that may be changing.

Just days ago, Jean got a call from two members of the Stanford MBA Alumni Program, who agreed to help set up a master plan. It includes funding sources like grants and donations, as well as ways to bring in more volunteers for the massive job of cataloging and data base management.

For Jean, it could be a dream come true. In her days as a professional flutist for the Oakland Symphony, she played many of the songs that she’s now trying to save. There are scores from as far back as 1850, and they’re still in demand today. The library gets calls from conductors worldwide who want the perform these pieces. Jean is working to save a priceless treasure — and it makes her labor of love all the more melodic.

For more information, you can call the Paramount Theatre at 510-893-2300, extension ext. 810. Or you can e-mail Jean at jcunningham@paramounttheatre.com

E-MAIL BAG: Reader J. Orbis remembers the “good old days” of radio I’d written about in my column several weeks ago.

“There never has been, and never will be again, a morning radio show like the old Gene Nelson show, with you, Dave (Henderson), Hap (Harper) and the rest of the crowd,” he writes. “I listened to Gene faithfully from the time I discovered him as a high schooler until he retired from KSFO.”

Orbis says Gene was definitely his role model.

Thanks for the kind words, Mr Orbis. I’m saddened that the Federal Communications Commission has voted to further de-regulate the broadcast industry. When I was in Aberdeen, S.D., recently, I drove down a gravel road to a tiny trailer. Inside, was a handful of employees running not one, but five radio stations — all owned by broadcast giant Clear Channel. Five cookie-cutter stations running syndicated programming out of New York or Los Angeles or someplace where they’ve never even heard of Aberdeen.

Later, driving along rural highway 12 to Minneapolis, I searched the dial trying to find the hog futures, a farm report — any programming originating from South Dakota. All I could get was Rush Limbaugh. It was disgusting. And I like Rush Limbaugh.

MUST SEE: Imagine taking an 8,000-mile journey without ever leaving your arm-chair. It’s almost better than being there, when you see the giant screen film “Lewis & Clark — Great Journey West”. Narrated by Jeff Bridges, this National Geographic film puts you in the action, canoeing through perilous rapids, braving bitter snow storms and forging a trail from Saint Louis to the great Pacific Ocean. It’s a 45-minute history lesson disguised as a thrill ride — just months before the expedition’s 200th anniversary. For showtimes, call the Chabot Space & Science Center.

TRAVEL TALES: After sharing some of my travel tales, I’m hearing some great stories from readers. Scott Sanders still gets chills when he recalls his trip to West Africa. Driving through the countryside with his parents, he got out of the car for a rest stop. In the bat of an eye, he was surrounded by a pack of baboons — with the leader giving him threatening stares.

“It was a scene right out of the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,'” he says, adding it was clear to him that we descended from these animals. How did he escape? He walked slowly toward the car, and drove off — no doubt counting his blessings for days.

Almost as freaky was the travel tale my husband brought home from New Orleans. He spent part of last Friday the 13th in the Voodoo district — where the Tarot card readers were working overtime. “It was creepy.” Chris Piganelli said. “New Orleans is a very haunted city and I could feel the spirits. Or maybe it was just one too many Hurricanes (the city’s popular rum-punch).”

EYES HAVE IT: What do you do if you don’t have insurance for eye exams? Reader Amy Moore says she goes to UC Berkeley, where the School of Optometry offers low-cost eye exams. It’s one of the best clinics in the country, you go through a myriad of tests for one low price — and they even have a shuttle service for patients who are temporarily “blinded” by dilated pupils.

EARTH HOMES: Deep in the woods of Canyon (on the backside of our hills down Pinehurst Road in Contra Costa County), a charming little Cob cottage is being built. The young man with the plan and the muscles to pull it off, is Jared Aldrich, an environmentalist who was born and raised in this bohemian enclave. What is a Cob cottage? It’s a home that you hand-sculpt with earth — an ancient technique developed in the British Isles that almost completely eliminates the use of timber. There are a few Cob Cottages in Berkeley and one in Alameda and soon — there will be a sweet little pat-a-cake cottage in Canyon.


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