Hmmm... only time will tell, but (knock on wood) things seemed to have dramatically improved after two recent changes. Rather than go back and make one change at a time, I'm going to go with what I've got right now. I'll post an update down the line.
Here are the recent actions that seem to have noticibly improved my WMP's performance and stability:
- Moving the library back to the main/C drive and dropping all external hard drives from the WMP library. Based on recent experiences in another aspect of computer operations, it seems that depending on a USB 2.0 connection can affect speed and overall performance. Perhaps this extends into WMP performance when the music library, "now playing", and all related WMP functions must depend on a USB 2.0 for communication?
- Doing Media Player Troubleshooter. For me it was the umpteenth time in the past several weeks, but I figured "What the heck?" This would be the first time since moving the library back to the C drive exclusively, so I figured it was worth a shot.
- A completely new action - for me - aka Step 5 from this site's Windows Media Player Troubleshooting guide. "Re-registering all concerned dll's." A bit of a leap of faith to do this. But, so far, so good.
I'll post an updated report after a few days or so of use. I'm crossing my fingers the apparent improvement in stability and performance stick around.