Category Archives: Musicology

The Missing Book

Musard Cherubs Quadrilles“You only miss something once it’s gone”, they say.  So it is with one particular volume in the historical Copyright Music collection at St Andrews.  I transcribed and tabulated every single loan of music between 1801-1849, and I’ve been calculating which were the most popular books.  To be truthful, there’s a lot more to be done with my data, but I began with the most popular book of all.  And as luck would have it, the most popular music volume isn’t in today’s online catalogue.  Did the last-known elderly borrower – who was both a professor of logic, and a local church minister – not return it after he borrowed it on Christmas Eve, 1842?   (What was an old minister of 73-4 wanting quadrilles for, anyway? For a relative? For a party?  He did have fifteen siblings who made it to adulthood!)  At any rate, I’ll need to double-check the loan records to see if the loan was crossed out; if so, this would mean that he did return it!  Clearly if he did, then it went missing some time later;  I stopped checking loan records at the end of that particular book, because music loans were markedly tailing off after the legal deposit legislation changed.

(Since you can take the music librarian out of the job title but not the music librarianship background out of the researcher, I’ve taken the precaution of enquiring whether the book is really, truly missing, or just uncatalogued.  It doesn’t make much difference whether the book’s completely gone or lying in fragments in some cataloguer’s nightmare box, but the romance of the story requires that we know one way or another. At the time of writing, it’s something of a Schroedinger’s cat, which would probably upset Revd. Professor James Hunter mightily!)

First_Quadrille_at_Almack's, WikipediaThe book’s contents consist entirely of dance music for the piano.  I have a good idea what was in it, because the original 1826 catalogue lists the contents.  By comparing these sketchy details with volumes in other libraries, and sometimes, with matching instrumental volumes in the St Andrews collection, I am reasonably confident that I can identify nearly every piece, and if I had a mind to, I could see nearly all of them in libraries as far apart as Aberdeen and London.

It would be fun to reconstruct the volume by getting copies of every item.  Getting digital copies of it all, and permission to “publish” it, even online, could be quite expensive. However, I suspect it will all be fairly functional music, and maybe quite unremarkable.   At the same time, it was indisputably the most borrowed music in St Andrews University Library.  We might consider the music mundane, but it clearly had appeal for its contemporary borrowers!  So – I’m debating how far to take this:-

  • I could get pictures of the title pages (where they exist) and first page of music in each item, which would at least show what they looked like.
  • Knowing my penchant for paratext, I could scour each item to see if any interesting commentary was hiding amongst them, including dance steps.
  • I could record whole or partial pieces to give an idea how they sounded.
  • I’ve had a brilliant idea!  A workshop!

I shall return to this posting if further ideas occur to me!  Meanwhile, I’ve started looking at what I can in Glasgow Uni’s collection …. and  genning up on quadrilles, balls and assembly rooms, not to mention characterising the music I’ve looked at so far.

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Geek Alert! Spreadsheet Adventures

Having completed my spreadsheet of data for historic music loan data in early 19th century St Andrews, I’m keen to start the analysis.  Would that it was so easy!  I now embark on the sharp learning curve of making Excel do what I need it to do.

Graphs from spreadsheets?  Well, I can import data into a Word chart, so that’s a start. But I need to do more.  Anyway, I now have a duplicate spreadsheet for experimentation, to ensure I don’t damage the crucial raw data by accident!  My to-do list looks like this:-

  • Check a few cells where I suspect I slipped up on the data entry (only a few, but each must be double-checked). Then update the experimental sheet AND the crucial raw data sheet to ensure I never use incorrect data.
  • Ensure every empty cell is filled in with zero, to ensure calculations will be correct.
  • Categorise each of 450-odd Sammelbander so I can determine whether certain types went out overwhelmingly more than others:-
  • I – Instrumental; subdivided A – Assorted, H – Harp, K – Keyboard, S- Strings, W – Wind. Further subdivided L – Learning, where appropriate
  • V – Vocal; subdivided A – Assorted, D – Dramatic, R- Religious, S – Secular Songs. Further subdivided L – Learning, where appropriate
  • M – Mixed Instrumental and Vocal. Further subdivided using codes above.
  • Th – Theoretical (not an instrument)
  • Experiment with single volume graphs
  • Experiment with totals for male versus female loans (can I total individual columns, or should I extract columns to form separate spreadsheets?)
  • Experiment with how many volumes at a time can reasonably be displayed in graphic form

There are other questions I’d like to start to answer, too.  I have a list of every borrower, and I  have the data of their chronological borrowing activity, but I need to see if I can display this activity in graphic form.

  • Can I check these names against the archive catalogue to see what I can find out about them?
  • How feasible is it to go through the early proto-census document of St Andrews? Could I, for example, trace Mrs Bertram’s  girls’ boarding school at St Leonard’s?  (Double check date of proto-census document)

Regency Wednesdays

My 9-5 working week consists of two days’ librarianship, one day’s postdoctoral musicology, and then two more days of librarianship.  In principle, my evenings are my own, but I’m currently doing a PGCert (Learning and Teaching in Higher Arts Education), so if I’m going to work in my evenings, it should be towards that.  It doesn’t always work that way, though.  Life has a habit of getting in the way, and sometimes I have writing to do in connection with research.

Tonight, however, I’m enjoying a hiatus.  I am shortly due to submit my ethical approval forms for the PGCert project, and I can’t actually do much until I get approval. The interventions are recorded.  I wasn’t going to turn the questionnaire into a Survey Monkey online one, but I’m having second thoughts now, wondering whether I ought to do so.  I shall seek advice, and then there should be time to create an online survey if I decide to do it.houses-1014074_640

Meanwhile, I’m sitting with an open research notebook and 68 pages of data; last Wednesday I calculated I was two-thirds of the way through transferring it into an Excel spreadsheet.  I’ve reached the end of George IV’s reign, on the cusp of the data for William IV’s, and by the end of tomorrow I should be into the Victorian era.  Can I resist an hour or so this evening, pushing on with the task in hand?  I don’t think so!  It has taken such a long time to get this far, and I really want to start producing interesting graphs – I can’t get started until the whole spreadsheet is completed.