A Weekend Full of Surprises

St Mungo's Centre conference (2) St Mungo's Centre windows (2)So, the Musica Scotica conference is behind us.  It was declared a resounding success. The St Mungo Museum was a  delightful venue – I’m sharing some pictures of the room we met in, and the view out in the courtyard.

St Mungo's Centre courtyard (2)Besides a host of interesting papers, there was the unveiling of Elizabeth Ford’s reproduction Crathes flute – she got an instrument maker to reconstruct a flute the likes of which has never been seen anywhere else but on the ceiling at Crathes, and then played it to Crathes flute by Elizabeth Ford (2)us. We heard John Maxwell Geddes talk about his compositional inspirations, and went to St Bride’s Episcopal Church to hear his latest commission.  And we heard Pete Stewart talking about early representations and references to bagpipes.  Yes, he played several sets of bagpipes, too.

IGlasgow brooch coat of arms (2) certainly didn’t expect to be presented with a gorgeous Glasgow brooch at the end of the conference, but it is so lovely that I thought I’d share it here too – a final surprise for me!

Come and Hear about Scottish Music in All its Different Shades!


Saturday 25th – Sunday 26th April

I thought I’d post one last reminder that the Musica Scotica conference registration form is now online! If you’re attending and you’ve already sent your form to Graham Hair, that’s great!  Otherwise, if you haven’t registered yet, you can still bring the form and remittance (cash or cheque, but we can’t accept credit/debit cards) with you to the conference on Saturday.  We regret that we don’t have online payment facilities.

Link for registration form and conference timetable (Scroll to bottom of page):-  http://www.musicascotica.org.uk/conferences.shtml


With the best will in the world, people sometimes get missed off a mailing list, or change their email addresses. Please don’t hesitate to contact friends who might like to join us this weekend, and tell them about the Musica Scotica website. Better be told twice than not hear at all!

ASW 2015 : Panel discussion on ‘The Impact of Digital Technologies on Music Provision in Libraries’

My final blogpost on the recent IAML (UK & Ireland) Annual Study Weekend. (You can’t beat a blog-IOU, to ensure rapt attention throughout a session!)

IAML (UK & Irl)

It’s an inarguable fact that digital technologies have had a huge effect on library provision in general. The arts have perhaps been slightly slower than the sciences to explore and exploit digital potential, but the panel session on ‘The Impact of Digital Technologies on Music Provision in Libraries’ presented ample proof that music librarians have certainly kept up with the times in recent years.

We heard four speakers from different sectors: Claire Kidwell, from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance; Andra Patterson from the British Library; Roger Press from Academic Rights Press; and Simon Wright of Oxford University Press. Each spoke about their experience of working with digital technologies in their own environment.

Claire began by explaining that Trinity Laban’s use of digital technologies was a question of cost versus accessibility, and commented that whilst there was a distinct preference for electronic versus paper journals, the situation was…

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You Don’t Argue With an Organist?

I had a wee grumble at our last worship committee meeting.  A couple of months ago, I’d written new words and a musical setting of a Scottish folksong, for a choir recessional.  A dozen loyal choristers learned it with me, and we gave the debut performance on Sunday.  There was only one problem – it was a quiet, reflective little number and some of the congregation decided to talk loudly through it.  Kids yelled at each other, and their parent did nothing about it.  There’s nothing quite like this for damping one’s spirits!

Of course, no-one had actually asked me to write it, and no-one actually knew I had written it, so it was just another run-of-the-mill “rounding off the service” items that no-one paid any attention to.  I hadn’t really any reason to grumble at all.  Nonetheless, I was peeved.  What was needed, I felt, was another recessional – this time loud, syncopated and energetic.  More lyrics were written, and I composed it from scratch in a more modern style.  I’m ashamed to say I incorporated some very gaudy, trashy little motifs into the organ accompaniment, but my better nature prevailed and I removed them before completing the piece yesterday evening.  So, let’s see if this kind of recessional at least asserts our presence even if we can’t drown out the chatterers entirely!  This is how it goes, so far.  (I might change a few harmonies, so do come back later and see if I’ve improved upon it!)

Having written my annoyance out of my system, I wrote another blogpost for the IAML(UK and Ireland) website.  This time it was about the impact of digital media in music libraries.  And it has been posted already – here.

ASW 2015: The Bigger, the Better – A Big Data History of Music

IAML (UK & Irl)

Karen McAulay gets in touch with her Inner Geek…

It is strange to think that only a decade ago, hardly anyone would have heard of big data. For something so large, it’s relatively easy to get your head around the concept. Big data is where you assemble such an enormous quantity of digital data that you are able to analyse it and make it tell a story. A fascinating story, in fact. (Or am I just such a geek that it satisfies some geeky need deep within myself? No, that can’t be right – because there are plenty of other people equally enthralled with it!)

Sacred music wordle.With kind permission of the British Library. Sacred music wordle.
With kind permission of the British Library.

In order to work with “big data”, you need a high volume of data, high velocity and high variety; perhaps unsurprisingly, a great amount of work has already been done in the sciences. However, the

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ASW 2015: How the Royal College of Organists acquired a library

In which I recall one of the highlights of the IAML UK & Ireland Annual Study Weekend 2015…

IAML (UK & Irl)

The London home of the Royal College of Organists just across the road from the Royal Albert Hall, 1903-1991 The London home of the Royal College of Organists just across the road from the Royal Albert Hall, 1903-1991

You’ve heard the corny old joke about organists, I imagine? What’s the difference between an organist and a terrorist? You can’t reason with an organist. (Music librarians may not fully understand the joke, organists will protest, but there are clergy who will smile wrily. I’m an organist, or I wouldn’t dare say it!)

Andrew McCrea, reminding us that the RCO had its 150th anniversary in 2014, alluded to recent researches into the organisation’s history, and the varied employment conditions, aspirations, and other occupations held by Victorian organists. (Portfolio careers are nothing new.) However, the RCO initially came about thanks to the determination of a small group of London organists, who wanted their occupation to be regarded as a respectable profession with chartered status. To achieve this, they acquired accommodation which…

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Conferences “R” Us

Back from Birmingham where I was “just” an attendee at the IAML (UK and Ireland) music librarians’ conference, today I’m fortunately at home, because it’s … time to get on with organising the Musica Scotica conference, which is only 12 days away.  A couple of hours’ emailing and general promotional activity, and I’m ready to close the conference webmail for a little while.  Anyone for a Scottish music conference with congenial company?  Please do visit the website!

Is it a Bird, Is it a Plane? Hardly Superman!

I’m just back from the Annual Study Weekend of my professional organisation, the International Association of Music Libraries UK and Ireland Branch. And what’s the first thing I do upon my return – after checking emails, of course?  I dive for my CILIP Continuing Professional Developmento portfolio – that’s the Chartered Instititute of Library and Information Professionals – and log my attendance at the Annual Study Weekend.  Revalidation is in the air.  I did a staggering 163 hours of CPD in 2014, and I have lots of professional activity of one kind and another in the offing, so I have to keep up to date.  Hopefully I’ll check what I have to do, and get my revalidation submitted fairly soon, if I can just fit it in amongst all the other activities!

The problem is, I am one individual with one full-time job, but much of my spare time is going on all the extra activities associated with being a librarian three days a week, and a researcher the other two.  I’m almost drowning in it!  Here’s what I’ve just noted in my CPD journal:-

  • March 2015 – Invited to edit the paper I gave at Musica Scotica last year for inclusion in next Scottish Music Review
  • March 2015 – Engaged to give talk at Edinburgh Central Library, Autumn 2015,  commemorating 200th Anniversary of the first Edinburgh Musical Festival.
  • March 2015 – Applied for and awaiting to hear if I’ll be awarded funding …for a 6-month part-time research project to follow on from the AHRC-funded postdoctoral research that ends in October 2015.
  • March 2015 – Submitted article to Emerald peer-reviewed journal
  • April 2015 – Submitted article to CILIP group magazine
  • April 2015 – Invited to be on organising committee for 2016 conference being hosted at my workplace.
  • April 2015 – am on organising committee for Musica Scotica, a 1.5 day conference taking place in Glasgow at the end of this month.

So many opportunities that I feel both energised and overwhelmed.  Sadly, decided to cease mentoring activities, and am grateful that my SALCTG convenorship is coming to a natural end next month.  There are limits to what the average full-time working parent can achieve in their spare time!

Crunching ballads

As an Exeter postgrad in 1979, I was the first music postgrad to involve the computer science dept in doing exactly what Bronson did, only with plainsong comparisons. I had never heard of Bronson at the time, and I had no idea at all that he had done something similar before I was even born!


punch cards

In the 1940s Bertrand Harris Bronson became one of the first scholars to use computers for musicological work.

For one of his projects he encoded melodic characteristics of hundreds of tunes collected for the traditional ballad Barbara Allen on punch cards, so a computer could ferret out similarities. His project resulted in four groups of tunes, members of which came from both sides of the Atlantic with varying frequency.

This according to “All this for a song?” an essay by Bronson reprinted in his collection The ballad as song (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969, pp. 224–242).

Above, an illustration from the article (click to enlarge); below, the classic recording of the song by Jean Ritchie, a singer Bronson deeply admired.

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