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Commemorating 100 years of service  

Harris County Public Library is celebrating 100 years of service with a Centennial Celebration. You’ve probably seen the promotions at your local branch or online. Our celebration includes artfully crafted activity kits honoring the decades, a carefully curated archives collection dedicated to the history of HCPL’s first 100 years, and entertaining online programming that embrace all aspects of the culture we’ve created here at HCPL.  

But what is a celebration without music?  

No celebration is complete without music, and while we do have several Centennial playlists on Freegal, we wanted to kick things up a notch and create our own HCPL Centennial Anthem.  

Meet the producers and learn more about the anthem. 

When it came to the production of the Centennial Anthem, Theodora Muokebe and Carl Smith led the project. As the Division Director for Branch Services, Theodora has been with HCPL for five years. Prior to that she worked at Houston Public Library for over 10 years in several capacities. Carl Smith, Branch Manager at the Aldine Branch Library, is about to celebrate 1 year with HCPL. Carl comes to us from the Montgomery County Memorial Library System where he was the Genealogy Librarian for almost 5 years. 

We sat down with Theodora and Carl, for an in-depth, socially-distance conversation about the anthem’s inception, the creative process, and the final product.  

What was the inspiration for the anthem?  

Theodora: Our staff. I thought that it was important that we have something that we use to celebrate our centennial. I felt it would be cool to have an anthem created in honor of our 100th year. I like writing poems, so I thought I would write a poem for this. But then I thought, ‘No, we are celebrating. This is something we, as a library, should be working together on.

I let HCPL Division Directors know I had this idea for a centennial anthem, and emailed branch managers to ask their staff to come up with a word or a phrase that shows what HCPL means to them. The inspiration was to have something that we work on together to celebrate the birthday of Harris County Public Library. 

Carl: When Theodora originally gave the call out asking for someone to compose a song for the HCPL centennial – I confess that I joked about it a bit with staff here at Aldine and said "an HCPL song? Do they want us to make like a school fight song but for the library [singing] Harris County Public Library?" When no one stepped up to volunteer, I let Theodora know my idea and she was like "Yes! a fight song feel is exactly what I was thinking.“ 

Tell us about the process of creating the anthem.   

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The anthem musicians in costume for the 1940s Decades Project (top to bottom); Molly McGinty, Katelyn Helberg, Charity James, Lisa Blackwell, Carl Smith, Bryan Kratish

Theodora: I got lots of feedback and I was so happy to see the support. It just showed me that our staff really love working for our organization. So, I started putting all the words together. Every word describing what HCPL means to them was used in this anthem…except for one: ‘cornucopia’! [laughs] We just couldn’t find a way to fit it in.” 

Carl: Right! "HCPL means Cornucopia of knowledge” was too difficult to put into the lyrics and not have it sound like a tremendous mouthful for the singers.

Theodora: I said, "Carl, can you do this—you play and compose music…" and he said, "Sure! Send me the words and I’ll look into it." So, the music is Carl’s, and the words are from the staff.

Carl: I hoped the melody was fairly easy to sing (although there is a bit of a range to it - Sorry Altos!) With the piano and vocals done, I next looked at the different instruments you’d find in a marching band: trombone, trumpet, percussion – and created parts for those. Turns out we didn’t have players for most of those instruments, so I made adjustments. Once all the parts were on paper, I was really excited to hear it all come together.

Tell us about recording the anthem.  

Carl: It took a long time to record. It was a learning process every step of the way. We originally recorded it with the instruments in the HCPL Administrative Offices meeting room with a mic while the vocalists were across the hall listening and recording with a different mic. The quality was terrible and couldn’t be salvaged, so we had to table the launch and re-record. 

Theodora: We recorded it again, just to test to see if we could do it with all of us in the same room, and it was so much better!. We made sure we were safe by socially distancing and wearing our masks. And that was the one we adopted.

How does the anthem reflect your experience as a librarian at HCPL?  

Carl: I’m still relatively new to the HCPL organization and being part of creating this anthem hit home to me that I’m part of a bigger organization that shares the same values that brought me into the library service field – that of community building, places of service, learning, ingenuity, and also places of fun! 

Theodora: It’s what keeps me here! I would say that all the words in this anthem are what makes me love HCPL so much. We love each other. We do work together, but we still have fun with each other. We collaborate. I believe strongly that the library’s role is to improve the quality of life for our customers and our staff. To me, this anthem just says it all. It says what we stand for, it says what we believe in. It says how we very happily continue to serve our customers in our communities. 

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The HCPL Singers pose at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum (l to r): Amanda Tachibana, Kathy Bostick, Theodora Muokebe, Maria Rawls and Linda Stevens

What is one lyric or line from the anthem that stands out the most for you?  

Theodora: To me, it’s the word "love." That sums it all up. You know, from love comes every other ability and willingness to do good in everything we do. If we don’t love each other and the people we serve, we won’t do our jobs well. Love runs through all of it. Start to finish. But, also the phrase, ‘We are fun.’ [laughs]. That one just touches me a lot because it’s not something that people think about when they talk about work. It’s always good to know that we can come to work, do good work and enjoy it.

What do you want listeners to take away from it?  

Carl: I’d want listeners to understand and remember the values we hold dear here at HCPL. We don’t want to be like every other library- we strive to be exceptional in our service and proactive in our approach to helping the community. I also confess that the tune to the anthem is a bit of an earworm – I'll catch my 5 year old daughter still randomly singing to herself 'Harris County Public Library' as she washes her hands or gets her shoes on for the day. 

Would you like to express anything more about the anthem to our customers?  

Carl: It’s been quite a year as an organization. Reaching the 100-year mark is a big occasion – and it felt right to celebrate in a way that would last beyond a one-time event or program. Encapsulating our mission through a song will leave a tangible artifact that we all can look back on and remember whenever we hear or sing the anthem – we will remember this experience of 2020/2021 and the Centennial year.

Theodora: I just ask that we all embrace this anthem. I want staff to see that they all contributed to this and be proud of it. And to join in the singing when we can all come together safely and do that. I hope staff and customers look at this, hold their heads up and are proud of the work we’ve been doing throughout this year during this pandemic.

You are cordially invited.  

You’ve seen the promos, met the producers, and heard the story behind the anthem. Now we invite you to celebrate with us. Contact your local library today, follow us online, and celebrate 100 years of service with us. We couldn’t do it without you, and we look forward to another 100 years!  

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