19 April 2021
Introducing the Internet of Musical Events: a project to capture the history of live performance
The British Library is delighted to be part of an innovative new project that seeks to develop digital tools and methodologies to help capture the history of live performance.
The Internet of Musical Events: Digital Scholarship, Community, and the Archiving of Performances (InterMusE) is a two-year project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council UK as part of the UK-US New Directions for Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions programme. Led by Professor Rachel Cowgill, from the University of York’s Department of Music, it brings together an interdisciplinary team of musicologists, archivists, computer scientists, and performance providers from the University of York, the Borthwick Institute for Archives, Computational Foundry at Swansea University, the British Library, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The project arises from longstanding recognition of the challenges associated with the documentation of, and access to, collections of performance ephemera, for which the British Library is a key repository in the UK. Live musical events play a vital role in community life across the globe, yet they often leave only faint traces on the historical record, even in modern times. Sources can be tantalisingly incomplete, confusingly inconsistent, and often scattered between different archives and collections, if preserved at all. While some ensembles, venues and music societies have documented their histories (the Proms Performance Archive being one notable example), the picture is fragmented with no common standards of description or connection between related online resources, or efforts to archive data.
InterMusE will make possible new ways of capturing and, crucially, linking different forms of data around musical events to form a dynamic, open-access digital archive. The research team will work with a diverse range of concert materials including programmes, posters and other ephemera held at the British Library, the University of York’s Borthwick Institute for Archives, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Linen Hall Library (Belfast), the Royal College of Music, and three former chapters of the British Music Society (BMS): Huddersfield Music Society, the British Music Society of York, and Belfast Music Society. The richness of the resulting data will offer unprecedented opportunities to collect, analyse, and visualise information about musical events and how they have shaped and been shaped by community life over the past century. The digitised data will be used to create a series of online, open-access portals that can be linked with existing collections, resulting in a widely accessible digital archive of musical events.
Central to the project is the ambition to equip performing arts organisations and their communities with tools to help promote and enhance their own musical histories and traditions. This is particularly significant as communities begin to recover from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, as the project’s Lead Researcher, Professor Rachel Cowgill states:
'The experience of living through a global pandemic has, for many, greatly increased the value of music at precisely the time the ‘live event’ has fallen victim to strictures on social distancing and lockdown. InterMusE addresses some of the key challenges emerging for the arts and humanities in post-Covid times, investigating the mutually sustaining relationships between live music and communities and harnessing the capacity of digital technologies to enable collaboration and engagement with members of the public.'
InterMusE will combine computational digital-archiving methods with more accessible, community-focussed approaches such as oral-history interviews, audience reminiscences, and citizen research. This will not only facilitate engagement between particular musical societies and their audiences, but also create a new layer of evidential material for studying the impact and community significance of performance events in the 20th and 21st centuries. As Hilary Norcliffe (Archivist of the Huddesfield Music Society) commented, “Concert attendees are often keen to express their views about what they have heard and experienced but currently there is no means of recording these thoughts. This project offers the means for members of the society to add personal comments, views, reminiscences and materials, whilst also following their own lines of inquiry, thus enriching the archive.”
For more information, see the project website: https://intermuse.datatodata.org/
30 July 2019
Talking about research collaboration: the first British Library Digital Musicology day
On Monday 1 July, the British Library held the study day Digital Musicology and Libraries: Challenges and Opportunities. The aim of the study day was to present different perspectives on Digital Musicology projects, developments and needs, and explore ways Librarians, Musicologists and Digital Musicologists can work together to support each other. The day also intended to inspire attendees to consider collaborating with the British Library on future research projects.
The keynote lecture was given by Dr Kevin Page, Senior Researcher, Oxford e-Research Centre. In an overview of the methods, temptations and experiences of digital musicology, he emphasised the importance of knowing your sources, knowing your methods, and recognising that there is information that will not be retrieved because of the limitations of these. He urged us to "embrace imperfect data"! The desire for perfect data is a temptation, but the perfect dataset does not exist. Instead we should use what exists, being wise to its limitations, and embrace simultaneous perspectives and encodings, rather than expecting one approach to give all the answers.
Throughout the day speakers introduced their specific projects or general approaches to working with different types of digital musicological data.
The Libraries’ perspective session opened with Richard Chesser, Head of Music at the British Library, who gave an overview of projects that the British Library has been involved with in Digital Musicology, including Early Music Online, A Big Data History of Music, The Delius Catalogue of Works and Discovering Music, as well as content the Library is making available through digitisation and other routes that can be used in Digital Musicology research.
Dr Andrew Hankinson, Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford talked about Digital Musicology activities at the University of Oxford and specifically about the advantages of the IIIF technology (International Image Interoperability Framework) for conducting research with digitised images of Libraries’ collection items.
Dr Christopher Hilton of the Britten-Pears Foundation described the archival cataloguing system used by the Archive & Library, which includes work-level information, and the plans to open this up to a wider audience by making archival descriptions available as linked data. He gave interesting insights into the kind of information held: for example, the financial records of Britten and Pears, usually the dullest part of a personal archive, are revealing about how carefully and creatively the financial affairs of a gay couple had to be managed in the era before the de-criminalisation of homosexuality.
Katharine Hogg, of the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, The Foundling Museum, gave an overview of digital activities undertaken, and of planned collaborations. One type of material which the Gerald Coke Handel Collection is keen to acquire is datasets and preparatory material brought together for PhDs and publications; valuable research data which tends to disappear once the work based on it has been published.
The Academic Partners’ perspective session included presentations by Dr Emmanouil Benetos (Queen Mary, University of London), Dr Joanna Bullivant (University of Oxford), Professor Stephen Rose (Royal Holloway, University of London), and Professor Tim Crawford (Goldsmiths, University of London). Speakers talked about Digital Musicology projects they undertook in collaboration with the British Library (Digital Music Lab, Digital Delius, A Big Data History of Music, and F-Tempo respectively), and gave their perspective on the challenges and benefits of collaborative projects.
The session on Digital Archives explored challenges and opportunities around born-digital archives, as well as the Library’s digitised sound archives. Music Curators discussed recent steps that the department has undertaken to acquire born-digital archives of composers, whilst Jonathan Pledge, Curator, Contemporary Archives, Politics and Public Life at the British Library, described the methods recently developed in the Library for acquiring and making available personal digital archives of writers and scientists. Born-digital files are acquired and processed via a six-stage workflow.
Amelie Roper, Research Development Manager at the British Library talked about the British Library’s annual research report and the ways academics and researchers can collaborate through outlining the Library’s research collaboration process.
Some themes emerged from the day. Recurring challenges were rights clearance, sustainability of projects, differing priorities and expectations of libraries, researchers and funding bodies, technical and institutional challenges (for example difficulty in hosting non-standard software), and staff skills gaps and time constraints.
It was inspiring, however, to hear from projects exploiting opportunities. For example, IIIF technology can bring images and datasets together, so a digital copy of a manuscript can be viewed side by side with an interpretation or commentary coming from a completely different source. MEI (Music Encoding Initiative) and OMR (Optical Music Recognition) techniques can be used to enable semantically meaningful full-text analysis of certain types of digitised music, for example 16th-century lute and vocal music, resulting in new work identifications. Other opportunities arise from combining the researchers' ability to focus on a single project with libraries' expertise in the curation of metadata.
Anecdotal evidence was that libraries and researchers can work positively together to overcome challenges, and unlock new musical knowledge.
Caroline Shaw, British Library
 Further information in: Jonathan Pledge and Eleanor Dickens (2018): ‘Process and progress: working with born-digital material in the Wendy Cope Archive at the British Library’, Archives and Manuscripts Volume 46, Issue. 1, pages. 59-69.
24 October 2018
Music Doctoral Open Day - 4 December 2018
Have you just started a PhD in Music or are you a Masters student considering studying at doctoral level?
If your answer to either of these questions is "yes", then the British Library Music Doctoral Open Day on Tuesday 4 December 2018 is for you!
The day will explain the practicalities of using the library and its services, and help you to navigate physical and online music collections. You will also have the opportunity to meet our expert and friendly staff together with other researchers in your field.
A packed programme of events is available for the bargain price of £10 per attendee, including lunch and other refreshments.
What is more, this year's event is generously sponsored by the Royal Musical Association. This means that RMA student members are eligible to claim back the registration fee directly from the RMA.
Please book your place via the British Library website and email email@example.com for further information on claiming back the cost.
17 May 2018
Over There, All Over Again: American Sheet Music, World War 1 and Nostalgic Musicals
It is always a great pleasure when you find your research coinciding with that of your colleagues. There has been a recent spike in discussions around American Music and World War I in the Eccles Centre as Jean Petrovic is currently developing an online exhibition showcasing the British Library's excellent collection of American sheet music, whilst I am research American musicals of the early 1940s which looked back at World War I and vaudeville.
As part of her project, Jean has been focusing on World War I, which saw an explosion in printed music. At the turn of the twentieth century – prior to the rise of radio and the phonograph – pianos were still the main source of home entertainment. Recent innovations in production had bought about a sharp decline in prices and an inevitable rise in demand. Not surprisingly, this was a boom-time for song-writers and music publishers. Print runs of top-selling songs frequently exceeded hundreds of thousands and between 1900 and 1910 more than 100 songs sold over one million copies.
More than 10,000 songs about World War I were published in the United States during 1914-18. In the early days, many of these songs echoed the non-interventionist stance of President Woodrow Wilson and most Americans.
Within days of the US declaration of war in 1917, George M Cohan, already one of the country’s most successful songwriters, penned ‘Over There’. With its patriotic call to arms, its optimism and its references to liberty and the American flag it went on to become the nation’s favourite war song. It was performed and recorded by many artists and eventually sold more than two million copies.
Above: George Michael Cohan. Over There. New York: Wm Jerome Publishing Corp., c1917. British Library shelfmark a.318.(5) (other versions, h.3825.z.(52); h.1562; H.1860.i.(8); h.3825.ff.(7)); image courtesy of the Library of Congress https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.100010518
In 1936, President Franklin D Roosevelt presented Cohan with the Congressional Gold Medal in recognition of his contribution to US morale during World War I. He was the first person in an artistic field to receive this honour.
And this is where I come in. During America’s participation in World War II, a notable body of musical films were produced which reflected on the current crisis through the historical metaphor of America’s role in World War I. By binding these wartime stories with settings concerned with vaudeville and performance, these films conveyed patriotic messages and made entertainment culture central to American values.
Above: promotional poster for Yankee Doodle Dandy (dir. Michael Curtiz, 1942, Warner Brothers)
In 1942, director Michael Curtiz made Yankee Doodle Dandy, a biopic about Cohan’s life. The narrative is framed by Cohan, in the present day, going to visit President Roosevelt at the White House where he discusses his career and receives the Congressional Gold Medal (despite the award actually being made 6 years previously). In the urgent context of World War II the film places Cohan (but also by extension Hollywood itself) as vital agents in America’s cultural mythmaking: the inclusion of his famous, popular songs (‘Over There’, ‘Give My Regards to Broadway’, ‘The Yankee Doodle Boy’ and ‘You’re a Grand Old Flag’) and production numbers involving a lot (and I mean A LOT) of flags, allow the fictional President Roosevelt to comment to Cohan that “your songs were weapons as strong as cannons and rifles in World War I."
Interesting, whilst the film was certainly an important part of Warner Brothers Studio’s commitment to the war effort, aimed partially at legitimizing their own work in the context of the war, the unashamedly patriotic film also served an interesting purpose for its star, James Cagney, who had personally struggled to deny Communist links.
Cagney had initially been opposed to making a Cohan biopic as he’d disliked Cohan since the Actor’s Equity Strike in 1919 when Cohan had sided with the producers. However, during the late 1930s and early 1940s Cagney had run-ins with the Dies Committee (the House Un-American Activities Committee): in 1940 he was named along with 15 other Hollywood figures in the testimony of John R Leech (an LA Communist Party leader) and the New York Times printed the allegation that Cagney was a Communist on its front page (August 15, 1940).
Although Cagney refuted the allegations and Martin Dies made a statement to the press clearing him, his brother, William Cagney, who managed his business affairs is reported to have said that “we’re going to have to make the [most] goddamndest patriotic picture that’s ever been made. I think it’s the Cohan story.” The film certainly achieves this aim: Cagney went on to win an Oscar for the role (and the film was a huge box office success for Warners).
For those interested in learning more about the American sheet music collection at the British Library, Jean’s web exhibition will go live later this summer. In the meantime, an older incarnation of the project can be found here.
I will be discussing ‘American Film Musicals and the Reimagining of World War I’ as part of the British Library’s Feed the Mind series on Monday 21 May at 12.30 in the Knowledge Centre. I can promise clips of Gene Kelly, which must rate as one of the best ways to pass a lunch break. I hope you’ll be able to join me.
By: Dr Cara Rodway, Deputy Head of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, with thanks to Jean Petrovic, Bibliographical Editor.
 Patrick McGilligan, Cagney: The Actor as Auteur (New York & London: Tantivy Press, 1975), pp145-8 [shelfmark: General Reference Collection X.981/20794]
22 February 2017
Introducing British Library Music Collections
Earlier this month, British Library staff held a special open day aimed at doctoral music students.
The programme included presentations on printed music, music manuscripts and sound recordings. There was also a chance to chat to curators and to see items from the British Library's collections.
Attendees at the 2017 music open day browsing music manuscripts with Head of Music Collections, Richard Chesser
If you're a doctoral music student and missed the open day, or if you are new to music research at the British Library, help is still at hand. Our presentations on digital research support at the British Library and on digital musicology can be accessed below.
In addition, there's a wealth of information on the various music sources available at the British Library on our music subject page. You can also ask the music enquiries team or browse the library experts page for further advice.
03 June 2016
Peter Kennedy Archive
As part of an AHRC Cultural Engagement project grant awarded to City University and partially funded by the National Folk Music Fund, ethnomusicologist Andrew Pace, has engaged in a project to catalogue thousands of paper and photographic files from Peter Kennedy’s collection of British and Irish folk music held at the British Library.
This month we have launched a unique website - www.peterkennedyarchive.org - in which listeners can retrace the chronology and geographical routes of Kennedy's extensive field recording activity. In the text below, Andrew describes the project and walks us through the website's main features.
Peter Kennedy was one of the most prolific collectors of British and Irish folk music and customs from the 1950s up until his death in 2006. Working closely with other collectors of his generation, such as Alan Lomax, Sean O’Boyle and Hamish Henderson, he recorded hundreds of traditional performers ‘in the field’, including Margaret Barry, Fred Jordan, Paddy Tunney, Harry Cox, Frank and Francis McPeake and Jack Armstrong. In 2008 his collection came under the care of the World and Traditional Music section of the British Library.
I’ve been working on Peter’s sizeable collection periodically since 2010, cataloguing thousands of audio tapes and photographs of traditional performers and uploading some of this material to Sounds. In fact, just this month an additional 500 photographs and 70 audio recordings from Peter’s collection have been added to the existing collection available online.
However, Peter’s paper files, comprising song texts, scores, contracts, draft manuscripts and a large amount of correspondence between himself and performers, collectors, institutions and enquirers, hadn’t been catalogued. This is the task that I’ve been undertaking since January. All of these papers will be uploaded to the Library’s catalogue in due course.
Amongst these papers I discovered 31 reports written by Peter for the BBC’s ‘Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme’, a project on which he was working during the 1950s. Across 180 typewritten pages, Peter describes his daily itinerary recording traditional performers around the UK and Ireland between 1952 and 1962. Full of anecdotes and insightful information about the musicians he recorded - including confirmation of when and where he recorded them - these documents reveal a great deal about Peter’s fieldwork during this period.
I decided to use these reports as the basis for a new website which brings these narratives together with all of the audio recordings and photographs from Peter’s collection that have been digitised so far: www.peterkennedyarchive.org.
These reports feature ‘hotspots’ placed over the names of the more than 650 musicians that Peter recorded during these trips. Clicking on the name of a performer reveals any sound recordings or photographs taken of them by Peter on that particular day that are available to view and listen to on Sounds. Additionally, links to entries in the British Library’s catalogue are provided for any related material that hasn’t yet been digitised, such as Peter’s tapes or BBC transcription discs.
What makes this website unique is the way it contextualises recordings and photographs of performers with Peter’s own notes about them. Whilst the British Library’s catalogue is useful as a search tool, it doesn’t reveal how a collection was formed and developed – and it doesn’t tell us very much about who created it. This new website gives us a better idea of what’s in this collection by refocusing attention on Peter as a recordist and reconstituting his material into a form that better resembles how he created it.
I hope www.peterkennedyarchive.org will prove useful to researchers and musicians alike and encourage more people to explore Peter’s collection at the British Library. As more of his field recordings are digitised and attached to the site, it should become an increasingly valuable resource
- Andrew Pace
Find out more about the work of the British Libary's Sound Archive and the new Save our Sounds programme online.
Follow the British Library Sound Archive @soundarchive and the British Library's World and Traditional Music activities @BL_WorldTrad on Twitter.
Music blog recent posts
- Introducing the Internet of Musical Events: a project to capture the history of live performance
- Talking about research collaboration: the first British Library Digital Musicology day
- Music Doctoral Open Day - 4 December 2018
- Over There, All Over Again: American Sheet Music, World War 1 and Nostalgic Musicals
- Introducing British Library Music Collections
- Peter Kennedy Archive
- Classical music
- Contemporary Britain
- Digital scholarship
- East Asia
- Medieval history
- Middle East
- Popular music
- Printed music
- Rare books
- Research collaboration
- Russian Revolution
- Sound and vision
- South Asia
- Visual arts
- World and traditional music