March 13, 2013

NEC Mourns the Death of Patrick Maxfield ’79, Longtime Head of Technical Services in Conservatory Library

Tuba Player, Singer, Cataloger, Mentor Was Institutional Memory for NEC

Renowned for his Knowledge of All Kinds of Music

New England Conservatory is mourning the death of Patrick Maxfield ’79, Head of Technical Services in the NEC Library and a devoted employee of the school for 31 years. He died March 7 after a 14-year battle with colon cancer. Maxfield, a resident of North Reading, was 57 and leaves his wife Alice McDonald-Maxfield ’82 and their adored daughter Bethany. Last fall, he was honored for his “humility and selflessness in service to NEC” with the Rachdorf Award, presented by President Tony Woodcock at the annual Convocation exercises.

Colleagues, friends and family are invited to a celebration of Maxfield’s life, on Saturday March 23rd at 11 AM at the Second Congregational Church of Winchester (485 Washington Street, Winchester, MA). Members of the NEC community with library privileges can listen to an oral history Archivist Maryalice Perrin-Mohr recorded with Maxfield in fall 2012 by clicking here.

“Patrick’s death is like a library burning down. So much information is lost,” said Jean Morrow, Head of Libraries. “His knowledge of music, particularly the symphony repertory, was incredible because, of course, he had to listen to everything he catalogued. His sense of NEC’s history and significance was unparalleled because he knew every administrator, every nook of the building. As a voracious reader, he read every set of Trustees’ minutes, combed the archives. For one entire year, he spent every lunch hour going through NEC yearbooks and alumni magazines learning about NEC’s history. He was often called upon to give tours around NEC to visitors. And he was entirely dedicated to what was going on at NEC, loved the wonderful music education it offered. He felt very much a part of that.” And when he was finally forced to retire because of his illness, he did so with the greatest reluctance and regret.

Maxfield was born in Ohio, moved to Georgia at age 12, and almost every aspect of his music education—from his choice of instrument to his formal training—was serendipitous. He played cornet in elementary school bands and added tuba because he thought it would make him “real popular.” He attended the two-year Dekalb College and stayed for four years, majoring in tuba. At that point, a teacher strongly recommended that he move on. So he applied to NEC because its application fee was cheaper than Juilliard or the Manhattan School and the weather was better in Boston than in Rochester, NY where the Eastman School is located. Once in Boston, he never left.

While at NEC, he played tuba, studied voice, and worked as an aide in Firestone Library, where he met Alice, his wife-to-be. After graduation, he played in regional ensembles, and both he and Alice—a soprano—performed in music theatre and sang in their church choir. In 1989, for example, he starred as Professor Harold Hill in a production of The Music Man, staged at the Weston Town Hall by the Weston Friendly Society.

Through Morrow’s intervention, he was hired as a catalogue assistant in the Library and his wife was engaged as a bookkeeper in the Business Office. Seizing the opportunity to study at the University of Rhode Island’s regional library school at UMass, he received a Master’s degree in 1985 in Library and Information Services. That set him on the path to a lifelong career that gained him the deep admiration of the NEC community and quiet renown within the ranks of music librarians throughout the world.

When asked to describe his job in an Alumni questionnaire, Maxfield wrote: “to catalog and classify all print materials, maintain the catalogs, and provide primary reference service and assistance in research to the conservatory community.” To these duties, he also added responsibility for the recorded materials housed at NEC.

“He was responsible for the development of the collections, particularly in Firestone (the recording library),” said Morrow. That collection [which included every NEC sponsored concert recorded in Jordan Hall] grew enormously, probably doubled, during his time.”

Patrick was “an incredibly fast worker,” Morrow recalled. Of items catalogued, he “routinely racked up 4000 entries a year,” when “most individuals could manage only 1500—2000.” But in addition to speed, he was accurate, “really detailed oriented.” “He was a perfectionist, who would work until a job was done,” recalled Wallace Corey-Dunbar, Coordinator of Firestone Library Services, who worked with Maxfield for seven years. “He couldn’t stand to leave things unfinished.”

As a result, Maxfield became well known in the field and one of a handful of music catalogers who were allowed to edit entries in the Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC) national database. Because of his encyclopedic knowledge and attention to detail, he often went into the national database to clean up records, Corey-Dunbar said. From his cubby in the stacks,“he would pipe up,” excoriating the perpetrators of the mistakes: “’Don’t these people know what they’re doing?’ It’s definitely a lot quieter now that he’s gone,” Corey-Dunbar added.

Maxfield trained many library staff members and worked with student librarians from schools like Simmons College, where music library courses were not offered. “He mentored a whole generation of music cataloguers,” Morrow said. “He was an open book,” said Corey-Dunbar. “He would share with you everything he knew in the most generous way.”

Since Maxfield’s death, there has been an “outpouring of sympathy from librarians across the country, Morrow reported. “Everybody knew Patrick, even if they had never met him.”

Among Maxfield’s most remembered qualities was his tart tongue. “He didn’t suffer fools and he had strong opinions which he expressed with candor and wit,” Morrow said. Corey-Dunbar agreed and pointed to the MLA-L discussion group in which Maxfield would cite database mistakes and his fixes. “He let everyone know and not always in the most politically correct or diplomatic way.”

Even as far back as fall 1979, Maxfield was venting in a Career Information Survey he filled out for the Alumni office. When asked if his NEC training had adequately prepared him for a career in music, he wrote: “No. The emphasis on the solo performer at NEC is absolutely foolish...The practice, practice, practice ethic without an outlet for performing is ridiculous… I’d love to see NEC introduce some practicality into its education approach.”

Russ Girsberger, a former NEC staffer, recalled Maxfield as “one of the most cheerful and upbeat people” he knew. “I sometimes saw his more sardonic side, but there was usually a chuckle at the end of the story. And I always enjoyed talking to him and hearing the stories. He was the heart, soul, and corporate memory of the school.”

Maxfield’s devotion to his work, to NEC, and to learning have become legendary. Morrow recalls that during his first round of treatment he never skipped a day on the job even though undergoing daily chemotherapy sessions. This writer recalls him talking last fall about ignoring doctors’ advice to cut back. “They say I’m wearing myself out,” he said. “But this is what keeps me going.” And in telephone calls since he retired, Maxfield would lament, “I miss it so much.”

In their last conversation a week before he died, Maxfield complained of being “’so tired.’ Corey-Dunbar related. “I said, ‘Why don’t you let go?’ But endlessly curious as always, he responded, ‘I’m reading a book—the Egyptian Book of the Dead—and I want to finish it.’”

In lieu of flowers, Maxfield’s family requests that friends “please consider a contribution in Patrick's name to the Colon Cancer Alliance or the American Cancer Society.”


Recognized nationally and internationally as a leader among music schools, New England Conservatory in Boston, MA offers rigorous training in an intimate, nurturing community to 720 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral music students from around the world. Its faculty of 225 boasts internationally esteemed artist-teachers and scholars. Its alumni go on to fill orchestra chairs, concert hall stages, jazz clubs, recording studios, and arts management positions worldwide. Nearly half of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is composed of NEC trained musicians and faculty.

The oldest independent school of music in the United States, NEC was founded in 1867 by Eben Tourjee. Its curriculum is remarkable for its wide range of styles and traditions. On the college level, it features training in classical, jazz, contemporary improvisation, world and early music. Through its Preparatory School, School of Continuing Education, and Community Programs and Partnerships Program, it provides training and performance opportunities for children, pre-college students, adults, and seniors. Through its outreach projects, it allows young musicians to engage with non-traditional audiences in schools, hospitals, and nursing homes—thereby bringing pleasure to new listeners and enlarging the universe for classical music, jazz, and contemporary improvisation.

NEC presents more than 900 free concerts each year, many of them in Jordan Hall, its world- renowned, century-old, beautifully restored concert hall.  These programs range from solo recitals to chamber music to orchestral programs to jazz, contemporary improvisation, and opera scenes.  Every year, NEC’s opera studies department also presents two fully staged opera productions at the Cutler Majestic Theatre or Paramount Theatre in Boston.

NEC is co-founder and educational partner of From the Top, a weekly radio program that celebrates outstanding young classical musicians from the entire country. With its broadcast home in Jordan Hall, the show is now carried by National Public Radio and is heard on 250 stations throughout the United States.

Contact: Ellen Pfeifer
Senior Communications Specialist
New England Conservatory
290 Huntington Ave.
Boston, MA 02115