True, it has long presented concerts in its Coolidge Auditorium, but this is something else. On Thursday, the American baritone Thomas Hampson arrives at Carnegie Hall, the next stop (after a performance Tuesday at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul) on his tour “Song of America.” The tour, which began in November in this suburb of Kansas City, Kan., and is presented by the library, is meant to draw attention not only to the extraordinary collection of American music among its vast holdings but also to its flourishing Web site, which registered nearly four billion hits last year.

“We are probably the world’s largest provider of dependable, high-quality educational cultural material on the Internet,” said James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress. The site offers free access to more than 10 million documents, books and other items. It will soon include an audio component that will feature a variety of singers performing American songs, and Mr. Hampson is intimately involved with that project as well.

“Tom is not only a great artist,” Dr. Billington said, “but he is a great maven – if that’s the right word – of the collections of the library. Over the years, he has impressed our curators with his curiosity and his interest, and we seemed to hit it off on this idea that maybe we take the song of America and give it back to Americans.”

Mr. Hampson participates in several events in each city. Here, in November, he made a speech and sang unaccompanied at a reception at the home of Mr. and Mrs. Donald J. Hall Sr. (he, the retired chairman of Hallmark Cards).

The next morning, he visited the new home of University Academy, an elementary and high school for urban children (built entirely with private money and so successful that all seniors go on to college). While addressing the students, he demonstrated the power of singing without a microphone with “High Row the Boatman Row,” and the assembly roared its approval. He also observed as dozens of students procured copyrights for sculptures, essays, poems and musical compositions.

Later that day, he gave a master class with four promising singers. He dropped by a Library of Congress seminar for local teachers on how to use the Web site as a resource to encourage creativity, and shared his thoughts on the value of education, exposure to the arts and the importance of understanding our artistic heritage. The concert itself drew a large crowd.
These activities fit right in with Mr. Hampson’s longstanding interest in American vocal music. He has made several recordings of it, including the new companion disc, “Song of America,” from EMI Classics. With his recital programs, he said, he wants to show how “music is one of the great powerhouses of creativity in America.”

“What I want to make sure,” he added, “is that we, say, have a listen to Sam Barber, have a listen to John Duke and to Virgil Thomson; and no, you can still enjoy ‘Shenandoah,’ and it’s O.K. to listen to them in the same hour; and yes, Jerome Kern was a great composer, and Cole Porter was one of the most brilliant Americans who ever walked the face – all those sorts of things.

“The body of this repertoire is about the American experience and the American development, the American psyche,” he continued. “It is always song and storytelling. It is always linked up to a particular school of thought at a particular slice of time in the various epochs and generations that make up the American experience. And you can hear that.”

For all of that, Mr. Hampson is not the tour’s only attraction. The library is also displaying groups of 20 or more treasures from its collection in some cities. Concertgoers here saw manuscript pages by Gershwin, Louis Armstrong and Stephen Foster as well as first editions of songs, photographs and letters of historical interest. The range and variety are intentional, and they reflect the nature of Mr. Hampson’s programming.

“My particular expertise is in what I would call the concert song, which I prefer as a phrase to ‘art song,’ because ‘art song’ can be somewhat off-putting,” he said. To him, a concert song is different from – though not necessarily better than – a Jerome Kern song. “The issue is really a poem or a poetic form being willfully set to music,” he explained. “There is a musical interpretation; augmentation; expansion; enlivening, enriching manipulation; distortion of the poem. And the minute that happens, it’s really obviously no longer the poem, nor is it a musical element either. It’s a song.”

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In song, you have one of the most amazing diaries of any generation’s culture at a given time.

Thomas Hampson