Music to Researchersí Ears
Ten Top Sites for Researching Music
By Lindsay Hansen
Information professionals involved in music research understand the subject’s broad scope. From opera, classical, jazz, blues, hip-hop, soul, pop, and world music, the genres evolve and merge, creating fusions that result in new research opportunities. The Internet plays well with music research, offering sound and video that are lacking in older resources, both print and electronic. Free Web sites help even the tone-deaf appreciate the full range of music topics.
Many standard sources for music research, like Grove’s Dictionary of Music, International Index of Music Periodicals, and Smithsonian Global Sound, are available only by paid subscription. For casual researchers, or for those who have exhausted these sources, many Web sites orchestrate valuable information and provide musical guidance. This article will highlight 10 sites, all of which are available for free and without user registration. I have evaluated each site for coverage, scope, and ease of use. They should help any researcher of music, as well as librarians who have not formally studied music.
National Geographic has assembled a comprehensive database of world music materials on National Geographic World Music (http://worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com). Launched in July 2006, it offers a world music glossary, a world music directory (which may be browsed by artist, album, genre, or country), podcasts, song samples, and a thorough guide (country by country) to music.
According to Carol Vidali, who reviewed the site for the Music Library Association ( “Notes for Notes,” Notes 63, No. 2, November/December 2004: pp. 337–339), “In supporting National Geographic’s core aim of inspiring people to care about the planet, the National Geographic World Music site uses the language of music as a medium to tell the stories of the world.”
A large part of National Geographic World Music is a world map. Click on a continent, and then country, to view a brief history of a country’s music and arts and see a sampling of artists and related links. For example, by choosing Puerto Rico, you learn about jibaro music, a staple of Puerto Rican culture. You’ll also see a list of artists, such as Jose Gonzalez and Brass Roots, and links to related sites, such as Global Rhythm Magazine and Calabash Music. In addition, you can listen to a wide variety of music and, similar to iTunes, purchase individual tracks or albums from Calabash Music. Calabash offers “fair trade” downloads, meaning that artists receive compensation for their work (currently musicians on the site receive 50 percent of the proceeds). Further, one free download is available each week. The site also features short videos that explain and demonstrate various musical styles, such as Taraab from East Africa. This site focuses on traditional and folk music; there is no information provided on traditionally Western artists.
The site is relatively easy to use, although there is so much content that users may be overwhelmed. Current users of the music store in iTunes or similar portal sites should have no trouble navigating it. The information is an excellent complement to the Garland Encyclopedia of World Music (available in print) and Smithsonian Global Sound (available as a subscription database). It is ideal for researchers needing an overview of an artist, country, or style of music. National Geographic World Music does not have a search function, but it does have a site map, and the main navigation is fairly intuitive. One downside of the site is its ads, which are primarily for upcoming shows on National Geographic’s television channel.
ALL MOZART, ALL THE TIME
The mission statement of Neue Mozart Ausgabe/Digital Mozart Edition (http://dme.mozarteum.at) says that the “purpose of this Web site, operated by the Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum in cooperation with the Packard Humanities Institute, is to make Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s musical compositions widely and conveniently accessible to the public, for personal study and for educational and classroom use.” The Digital Mozart Edition provides the Urtexts (earliest versions) of Mozart’s music, which is critical for musicians. Anyone can use the materials on the site without registering, but you must agree to the copyright terms. You may browse the collection in German (the default) or English, and the music is organized in 10 series. The site can also be searched by keyword, key (such as E-flat minor), or editors. When opening an individual piece of music, such as a piano sonata, there is the option to read the analysis of the piece or go directly to the printed music.
Unfortunately, although the navigation is available in English, the analysis is only in German. The printed music uses standard musical terms, which are primarily in Italian, which should be familiar to even rudimentary students of music. All the materials in the Digital Mozart Edition are available in two formats: The default is a file embedded in the site with straightforward navigation, and the second is an option to view each file as a PDF.
The Digital Mozart Edition also offers valuable links, such as the Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum, which is the organization that maintains Mozart-related museums in Salzburg and has further information (in German and English) about Mozart and his life. Digital Mozart also provides contact information for those responsible for creating the site, primarily musicologists. Since its inception in 2006, the Digital Mozart Edition has been well-received. David Ossenkop, who reviewed the site for Choice (“Digital Mozart Edition,” Choice, May 2007: p. 1544), called it “a most welcome addition to the growing body of electronic classical music resources.”
Presented by the Archives of African American Music & Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University, Black Grooves (www.blackgrooves.org) is a monthly report on new releases and reissues of sound recordings featuring compositions or performances by black artists. The recordings cover the gamut of musical genres—everything from gospel and blues to soul, hip-hop, and classical. The reviewers are primarily connected with Indiana University. New reviews come out monthly, and there is an option to receive a free, monthly email update. Although the site does not have an advanced search option, it is relatively easy to find specific reviews. You can do a keyword search and browse by month or by category. Individual reviews are to the point and not filled with musical jargon. The reviewers provide the title, artist, label, catalog number, and date of release, along with any relevant links. For example, in the review of Alice Smith’s “For Lovers, Dreamers & Me,” there are links to Amazon (to purchase the CD) and to the BBE Records label.
The reviews available on Black Grooves provide a good introduction to anyone curious about African and African-American music. The link to the AAAMC gives information about the Archives, including the full text of Liner Notes, the Archives’ annual newsletter. Finally, the Archives has a list of the staff members, including research specialties and contact information, so that users of the site can contact them for additional research help.
Black Grooves is a valuable resource of reviews to complement Down Beat, Annual Review of Jazz Studies, and other jazz journals, as well as popular magazines like Rolling Stone.
Hosted by the University of Michigan’s Schools of Information and Music, respectively, the CHICO Instrument Encyclopedia (www.si.umich.edu/CHICO/instrument) is an initiative of CHICO, the Cultural Heritage Initiative for Community Outreach. The site has a wealth of resources, including reference materials about instrument groups (complete with bibliographies for further research), a “geographical browser” to explore instruments by country, a guide to instrument collections in the United States and Canada, and links for sites about different instruments.
When you look at a specific instrument (browsing by continent), a record comes up with information about the instrument held in the Stearns Musical Instrument Collection (housed at University of Michigan), the instrument’s materials, a brief description, a thumbnail image (which can be clicked on to enlarge), and a subject heading according to the Sachs-Hornbostel scheme (a standard controlled vocabulary of ethnomusicology).
For example, by clicking on North America and choosing Fife, you learn that the instrument comes from the United States, is made of rosewood and metal, is a transverse instrument, and has the subject heading “edge instruments or flutes.” The subject is hotlinked, so one click will produce all other instruments classified with the same term.
By using the reference part of the site and choosing Winds (one of four choices; the others are String, Percussion, and Electronic) and then Ocarina, you find an article about the instrument, with pictures, and a full bibliography.
One drawback to the Instrument Encyclopedia is its age; the site has not been updated in more than 10 years. However, the information is still valid, and the links all function. In addition, there is a link to the Stearns Collection, which offers helpful information about the collection (including online exhibits) and about instrument research. This site is a good complement to Grove’s Dictionary of Musical Instruments and to Smithsonian Global Sound. The site does not offer sound clips but does provide a good introduction to many different instruments.
TALKING ABOUT MUSIC
In 2001, the Library of Congress commissioned a four-part series of films to showcase composers, performers, and other musicians, hosted by the late Eugene Istomin. Istomin was a renowned pianist, best known for his recordings with Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose in the Istomin-Stern-Rose trio. Originally aired on PBS stations nationally, the films, in addition to new footage, are now available online. The Great Conversations in Music site (http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/html/greatconversations/index.html) features five different categories of films: The Pianists, The Composers, Chamber Music, The Virtuosos, and The Conductors. In addition, the site offers biographies and discographies of each of the participating musicians, musical examples (the original manuscripts) that relate to the films, and external links for each musician.
Great Conversations highlights a variety of musicians from well-known mainstream musicians, like Yo-Yo Ma, to the lesser known, such as American composer Ellen Taaffee Zwilich. The films, in combination with the other tools available, offer valuable insights to musicians and non-musicians alike.
The films are only available in RealPlayer, which may be unavailable to some researchers. In addition, the navigation of films is not intuitive unless you are familiar with finding aids and metadata. To view a film, first choose a film and then click on “Recording Contents.” From there, each section of an individual film has a link along with the running time. The site is not as easy to use as YouTube, which might deter some users. Fortunately, the site offers a Help page, and each film has a full transcript for review. The transcripts are especially valuable, given that many of the interviewees speak with heavily accented English.
Finally, Great Conversations has a link to the Performing Arts Reading Room of the Library of Congress, a portal for arts research. From there, you can research copyright, view digital collections, and get help from librarians.
MUSIC IN CANADA
First published in 1981, the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada is a standard reference tool. The online version (www.thecanadianencclopedia.com/index.dfm?PgNm=TCECategories&Params=A1SUB44) debuted in 2001 and is published by the Historica Foundation of Canada. The site proclaims that there are “over 50,000 articles, and growing every day.” Edited by editor-in-chief James H. Marsh and associate editor Laura Bonikowsky, the Encyclopedia covers everything from basic definitions of musical terms to histories and discographies of performing groups. For example, the entry on the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra provides a rich history of the group, including conductors and notable musical debuts, guest conductors, collaborating organizations, works commissioned, a picture of the Epcor Centre for the Performing Arts (the orchestra’s home), and a sound clip of a performance. Each article has a bibliography and links to relevant sites. Authors’ names are prominent at the end of each article, making creating bibliographies easier. Further, everything in the encyclopedia can be viewed in English or French. The focus and strength of the encyclopedia is the treatment of notable composers and performers (famed pianist Glenn Gould is one). A main criticism of the encyclopedia has traditionally been its lack of Canadian classical music history.
The site is straightforward to navigate with keyword search capability or browsing by subject. There is no advanced search option, but it is unnecessary for this site. You cannot email individual articles, but you can select a “printer-friendly” version, then cut and paste into an email message.
The encyclopedia is one part of a larger site that includes the Canadian Encyclopedia, Youth Encyclopedia, and numerous multimedia galleries covering the history of Canada. There is also a full-text archive of Maclean’s Magazine dating to 1995.
Although it lacks a dedicated help page, there is a section that explains the various encyclopedias and introduces the subject editors.
RESEARCHING THE BLUES
Martin Scorsese recently produced a successful seven-film series about the blues. Partner organization PBS has amassed a comprehensive Web site, Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues (www.pbs.org/theblues/index.html), with a host of materials. The site offers detailed information about each film, including director information and a complete list of performers featured. Previews of each film are also available, in addition to full credits and director interviews. Unfortunately, the site does not link to libraries that hold the films, but researchers can easily find that information in OCLC’s WorldCat.
One especially valuable part of the site is “The Songs & the Artists,” which provides biographies and context for the artists featured in the film, including so-called “essential listening.” Another interesting feature is the “Blues Road Trip,” an interactive map of the United States and Great Britain. Mouse over various areas to learn about their importance in the development of the blues. For example, selecting Memphis gives a history of blues, along with information about the style of blues unique to Memphis, and a list of significant musicians and songs based in Memphis.
For teachers and librarians, there is a “Blues Classroom” with a glossary of blues terms, bibliographies of print and Web resources, and two essays: “What is the Blues?” and “Under-standing the 12-Bar Blues.” Finally, there is a Teacher’s Guide CD that has Web clips of 15 songs from the films. Choosing a particular song launches a new window with RealPlayer embedded. Finally, another section of the site, “Partners & Resources,” gives links to museums and other organizations that have free material available on the Blues.
This site is easy to navigate and does not require any special software to view individual pages or listen to music. Although the site as a whole does not seem to be updated frequently, all of the links function, and artist biographies have been updated as necessary since the films were originally broadcast on PBS.
OPERA AT THE MET
The Metropolitan Opera recently created Met Opera Archives (www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/history), which includes everything from opera synopses and historical pictures to timelines and facts. The main part of the site discusses the Met’s history. By clicking on “Sights & Sounds,” a new window opens with a Flash-based timeline of the Met complete with archival pictures and sound files. For example, choosing “September 16, 1966,” retrieves a picture of the new opera house at Lincoln Center (which can be viewed as a larger image) and an excerpt of “Antony and Cleopatra.” The sound files use a sound program that is embedded in the window, so no software is necessary.
One of the more useful aspects of the Met Archives is the Met Opera Database. Although it is not a fancy site, it contains a great deal of useful information. There is a complete list of operas, organized by number of performances, under Repertory Report. The most performed opera, at 1,178 performances? La Bohème. There is also a list of all performers, also organized by number of performances. This particular list is not yet complete; the late Beverly Sills, famous for her career at the Met, is absent. You can also conduct a keyword search to find performers or operas and find pictures, reviews, and program notes. The Met Opera Database is a little difficult to navigate easily, but there is a thorough user’s guide. Further, you can easily contact Met staff members responsible for the database, for help with navigational and content issues.
The Archive section of the Met’s site links to the main Met Opera site, which has ticket and performer information. The site also has fun aspects, like celebrity (within the opera world) iPod playlists. In the “Ask Figaro” section, there is an opera Q&A where you learn concert etiquette.
Using the same familiar interface as Wikipedia, the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) is a virtual library of public domain music scores (http://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page). Anyone can contribute to IMSLP, but with the understanding that scores under copyright cannot be uploaded. There are already more than 5,000 scores, and the site grows daily. The majority are from standard composers, such as Bach and Beethoven, but contemporary composers (who are comfortable sharing their music in this forum) are also featured. In addition to complete musical works (available as PDFs), there are various forums for anyone to exchange ideas. When a forum contains a discussion relevant to a specific piece, it is linked to the piece’s page.
The site is easy to navigate; you can search for scores by keyword or by browsing composer names, periods, or work genres. English is the default language, but the site is also available in German, Greek, Spanish, French, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Turkish. Selecting a “Fantasie” by Schubert takes you to a page that offers the opus number, year of composition, orchestration/instrumentation, genre, and piece style. The name of the person who uploaded the piece is also available. Each contributor has a personal page, and some include personal and contact information. No one may upload files anonymously. Some of the individual pieces of music have analysis and commentary. Depending on the edition and country of origin, the language may not be English.
Although this site has obvious parallels to the Digital Mozart Edition site, its Wikipedia interface makes it easier for younger users to search and browse. There is a help page and a site map. Only scores reside on the site; there are no sound files. This is a great site for a student of music who does not have access to a score library or who wants to learn more about individual composers.
The Beethoven-Haus Bonn runs a museum of Beethoven’s birthplace and a library for scholars and researchers; it also presents concerts and programs. Beethoven-Haus Bonn also manages a substantial online archive that includes music manuscripts, music clips, portraits, and sound files of letters written by Beethoven (www.beethoven-haus-bonn.de/sixcms/detail.php//startseite_digitales_archiv_en). The site offers straightforward navigation and is available in German and English. A vertical navigation bar on the left part of the screen remains static during browsing and prevents users from getting lost in the site. A thorough help page covers technical requirements for viewing and listening to all areas of the online archive.
The archive has many areas of interest for Beethoven researchers. The section of manuscripts (available under “Works by Ludwig van Beethoven”) offers images of printed manuscripts, musical excerpts, links to more resources (in both German and English), a list of original manuscript holdings by other institutions (such as The British Library), and dates of composition. A glossary of terms is available with the manuscript images; it covers everything from archival terms like “copper engraving” to musical terms such as “bagatelle” and “coda.” The glossary on its own is a terrific supplement to Grove’s or other standard dictionaries of musical terms.
Of interest to German-speaking researchers and historians is the section of Beethoven’s correspondence. Beethoven-Haus holds 500 letters to and by Beethoven, 335 of which are available as audio files. The letters are organized by topic. Each letter has a summary in English, an image of the original letter, the full text (in German only), and, in some cases, an audio version of the letter (read slowly in German). Finally, the archive has a large online collection of images of Beethoven. Many of the images are familiar paintings of the composer, but the site also has images of busts, death masks, pictures of Beethoven’s homes, posters for performances, and caricatures.
Music researchers need not limit themselves to expensive databases to find quality information. This article has highlighted 10 valuable Web sites that are free and provide multimedia information about a wide variety of topics. This is not a comprehensive list of valuable sites, and each of the sites reviewed has great links for further exploration. Whether you are an experienced music researcher, an information professional with an occasional interest in music, or just humming along, these sites provide perfect-pitch information.
Top 10 Sites for Researching Music
|National Geographic World Music
||Multiple ways to browse
|Neue Mozart-Ausgabe/Digital Mozart Edition
|| Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum
||High image quality
||Some features only in German
||Archives of African American Music & Culture
||No musical jargon
||No advanced search option
||Schools of Music and Information (Michigan)
|Great Conversations in Music
||Library of Congress
||Transcripts available for films
||Difficult to navigate
|Encyclopedia of Music in Canada
||Library of Canada
||Easy to determine author credentials
||Little information on living composers
|Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues
||Not enough video and audio clips
|Met Opera Archives
||Richness of collection
||Met Opera Database hard to navigate
|International Sheet Music Library Project
|| ISMLP staff; the public
||Familiar Wikipedia interface
||Uneven collection (relies on public)
|Beethoven-Haus Bonn Digital Archives
||Yes (Flash, RealPlayer, Windows Media Player)
||Beethoven-Haus (Bonn, Germany)
|| Easy navigation
||Some materials only available in German