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John Davison papers

Identifier: HC.MC-839

Scope and Contents note

The John Davison collection, 1943 to 1999, documents his work as a composer and as a Professor of Music at Haverford College. The collection includes written scores and recordings. It also includes correspondence and personal materials collected by Davison throughout his life. Other materials found in the collection are clippings, concert posters and programs, framed certificates and photographs, as well as audio and video materials in the form of cassette tapes, reel-to-reel, long playing records, and VHS tapes. The collection is divided into two series: “John Davison Materials” and “Materials by Others.”

The first series, "John Davison Materials,” is divided into five sub-series: “Scores,” “Personal Material,” “Recordings,” “Music Programs,” and “Correspondence.” Within “Scores” are Davison’s opuses composed between 1948 and 1998. Score titles in this series include "Jonas’ Song and Dance" (Opus #130), Symphonies 1 through 6 (some of which are oversized), psalms and hymns, and "Arthur’s Return for Bagpipes and String Orchestra" (Opus #82). Researchers interested in John Davison’s scores would benefit from examining his “Catalog of Works,” available from Haverford College Special Collections.

The “Personal Materials” subseries is comprised of items collected by Davison, and include the following subseries: “Clippings,” “Diplomas and Certificates,” "Education,” “Maps,” "Miscellaneous,” “Notes,” “Planners,” “Photographs and other graphics,” “Quotes,” “Reviews,” and “Sketchbook.” His collected “Clippings” largely pertain to Davison. His “Diplomas and Certificates” include diplomas from Deerfield Academy and his 1951 Haverford College diploma. “Education” includes items such as his Statement of Intentions for his senior year at Haverford College and an invoice for a semester of college. Within the subseries “Photographs” is a framed black and white photograph of John Davison, Aaron Copland, and Sylvia Glickman taken at Haverford College (undated). Throughout Davison’s life, he sketched the world around him. These sketches, found in the “Sketchbook” subseries, were occasionally used for concert programs and posters.

The subseries “Recordings” is composed of Davison’s performances and studio pieces from the early 1960s through the 1990s, arranged numerically. Also found are interviews with Davison on programs such as National Public Radio (NPR). These recordings are found in following formats: cassette tapes, reel-to-reels, long playing records (LPs), and VHS tapes.

“Music Programs and Posters” consists of concert programs and posters for Davison’s performances from 1955 through 1999. Also included are programs Davison collected from concerts attended.

“Correspondence” is divided into letters to Davison (ordered chronologically, 1943 to 1999), letters from Davison, and an exchange between Davison and his former music teacher Ronald Thompson. Also included are holiday cards sent to Davison and a computer disk of his saved letters.

The second series, “Materials By Others,” includes items collected by Davison throughout his professional life. Within the subseries are scores by Steven Gerber and musical works by Wilson Townsend, consisting of masses, prayers, canticles, and other fragments. Davison also collected many of his students’ musical works, which are represented in the subseries “Student Compositions,” from 1962 to 1999. Researchers can request a complete list of Davison’s students to review alongside this series. In the subseries “Musical Works by Others” are works by Sydney Carter, David Hatt, and the 1934 publication Songs of Haverford.


  • Creation: 1938-1999


Conditions Governing Access note

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use note

Standard Federal Copyright Law applies (U.S. Title 17)

Biographical/Historical note

Born May 31, 1930, in Istanbul, Turkey, to American parents, John Davison moved to the United States soon after his birth. He was raised in Auburn, NY, and New York City and “showed an early interest in music, studying piano and theory,” (Catherine Nardiello, Pianist). He was educated at Juilliard School’s lower school; Haverford College, graduating in 1951; Harvard University, earning his master’s degree; and the Eastman School of Music, earning his doctorate in creative composition. Among his teachers were Alfred Swan, Randall Thompson, Walter Piston, Bernard Rogers, Howard Hanson, Alan Hovhaness, and Robert Palmer (Haverford website).

In 1959, after obtaining his doctorate, Davison began teaching at Haverford College as the Ruth Marshall Magill Professor of Music. He continued to teach at Haverford until his death in 1999, and saved his students’ compositions throughout this period.

A prolific composer, “Davison's idiom is rooted in the great Western classic-romantic tradition with Baroque, Renaissance, jazz, modernist, and folk elements mixing in at times,” (Dram). He wrote for trumpet, trombone, piano, horn, and violin, in addition to less traditional instruments such as koto, cimbalom and bagpipe. His “compositions are published and recorded [and] have won awards and received numerous performances,” (Catherine Nardiello, Pianist). Among orchestras playing his compositions have been the Eastman-Rochester Orchestra, the Concerto Soloists of Philadelphia, the Susquehanna Symphony, and the Minnesota Orchestra. The Chestnut Brass Company recorded his Brass Quintet on their CD "Pastime with Good Company," and Albany Records issued an all-Davison CD (Haverford website).

In addition to his composing and teaching, Davison also co-authored a book about the songs of Robert Burns with John Ashmead. Davison also kept a sketchbook, where he drew figures occasionally used for concert programs and posters.


Catherine Nardiello, Pianist. Record (Box 120).

DRAM. “Music of John Davison.” (accessed October 1, 2009).

Haverford College Music Faculty Website, “In Memoriam” (accessed December 9th, 2009).


93 linear ft. (182 boxes)

Language of Materials



John Davison was a prolific composer who taught music at Haverford College from 1959 until his death in 1999. Several of his compositions were performed and recorded by orchestras throughout the United States. Within this collection are drafts of almost all his 144 scores, as well as audio recordings of a couple dozen of his pieces. Thus any researcher interested in his work should start here. Also of note to alumni are the scores Davison saved from his students.


Materials are arranged in chronological series by correspondence.

Physical Location

This material is stored off-site. All requests for materials from this collection must be made at least one week in advance. Contact to arrange access.


"JD" will always stand for "John Davison"

"HC" will always stand for "Haverford College"

Processing Information note

The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.

Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.

John Davison papers, 1938-1999
Leslie O'Neill, Forrest Wright, and Elizabeth Peters
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting repoductions from Haverford College Quaker & Special Collections Library

370 Lancaster Ave
Haverford PA 19041 USA US