Archive of Recorded Church Music

Archives Hub feature for February 2017

Mobile Recording Van outside Hereford Cathedral
Mobile Recording Van outside Hereford Cathedral, 1927.

THE FOUNDING OF THE ARCHIVE

The first gramophone records went on sale in England 120 years ago and five years later, in 1902, the first ever gramophone record by an English robed choir of gentlemen and boys was issued.  Since then many thousands of recordings of our choirs have been produced and they represent a unique and priceless recorded legacy of these choirs, which are woven into the very fabric of our cultural and musical heritage.

For a country which takes such care of all aspects of its heritage, this is one area which has been woefully neglected and even the National Sound Archives contains only a small selection.

Having spent a lifetime associated with church music and choirs, I decided to start researching and collecting recordings.  As this had never been undertaken there were no discographies to consult and in many instances the choirs themselves had only scant information on what they had recorded over the years.

After fifteen years of collecting and research the Archive of Recorded Church Music is acknowledged to be the definitive collection of recordings worldwide and acquisitions are constantly being added as more and more treasures are discovered.

THE RAISON D’ETRE OF THE ARCHIVE

The Archive seeks to preserve this cultural heritage for future generations from the very first gramophone record in 1902 to the latest new releases.  The recordings in the Archive are ‘from choirs of gentlemen and boys singing in the English Cathedral tradition’ both Anglican and Roman Catholic, from Cathedrals, Abbeys and Minsters, Parish churches, Royal Peculiars (such as the Chapel Royal) Oxbridge chapel choirs, School chapel choirs and independent choirs.

Recording a CD in King's College Chapel
Recording a CD in King’s College Chapel.

This uniquely English tradition became the blue print for Anglican & RC choirs abroad, mainly in Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia and the Archive contains a representative selection of recordings from these ‘English’ foreign choirs.

THE RECORDINGS IN THE ARCHIVE

Every category of recording is represented in the Archive, whether it be a commercial issue from a major record company or a smaller independent company; or an in-house recordings issued by the choir themselves for limited sale in their surrounding area; or a private recording of which only that one copy exists.  Each category contains recordings on 78rpm records, reel-to-reel tapes and cassettes, mini-discs, vinyl records and CDs.

Commercial issues:  From 1902 to the present day, every commercial issue is listed in the Archive’s Discography with over 95% being in the collection; the remaining 10% are still to be tracked down.  Many small independent labels over the years have specialized in choir recordings and these form a substantial part of the collection.

St Andrew’s, Wells Street in London
St Andrew’s, Wells Street in London, 1895.

Listen to the very first choir record, issued by the Gramophone Company (the forerunner of EMI) in 1902 of the choir of St Andrew’s, Wells Street in London by clicking here:  http://www.recordedchurchmusic.org/first-choir-to-record.

Of the numerous smaller independent companies specializing in choir recordings, Abbey/Alpha was one of the most famous, owned by Harry Mudd, OBE.  Listen to one of his vinyl records from the choir of All Saints, Margaret Street in London, a choir of legendary status in the history of church music:  https://youtu.be/UBgki4dGicc?list=PLEv7ZfArXoUm9-1GkoVpHpMbVlzNbt5Om.

In-house recordings:  These were commissioned by the choir themselves and usually on sale only in the local area, so therefore more difficult to discover.  The Archive contains thousands of these recordings on every format and many of these choirs are now long gone, their legacy being their recording.

Choir of All Saints, Margaret Street in London
Choir of All Saints, Margaret Street in London, 1968.

As these recordings were commissioned by the choirs themselves they give an excellent representation of the different types of choirs and of choirs which would not have otherwise recorded.

The Chapel Choir of the Royal Wanstead School was in its heyday a particularly fine example of this genre and produced some in-house recordings on 78rpm records.  Listen to the choir and two of their finest chorister soloists singing:  http://www.recordedchurchmusic.org/historic-recordings/royal-wanstead.

Private recordings:  Some of the rarest gems in the Archive are one-off copies of private recordings which were usually made by the choirmaster himself or an enthusiastic amateur. Some choirs are represented with a large archive of these recordings but for many it’s the only recording of that choir in existence and many of the private recordings are of choirs which no longer exist.

Choir of Magdalen College Oxford
Choir of Magdalen College Oxford, 1973.

One of the choirs for which we have a large collection of private recordings is Magdalen College Oxford, under the legendary Bernard Rose.  This particular recording is of Stanford’s Magnificat in C and Rose recalls Sir Walter Alcock, a friend of the composer, telling him of Stanford’s puzzlement at the speed at which most choirmasters took the Magnificat.   In Rose’s and Alcock’s view, this is the speed Stanford wishes it to be sung: https://youtu.be/MHgjuhp74w8.

RADIO & TV BROADCASTS

A major part of the Archive consists of Radio and TV broadcasts which represent an important part of this choral heritage.  The broadcasts consist of services, concerts, recitals and documentaries on choirs and church music and are in particular danger of being lost for ever, as tapes were regularly wiped by the broadcasting company to save space.

TV broadcast from York Minster
TV broadcast from York Minster, 1965.

This is especially true of BBC Choral Evensong broadcasts as the BBC has no broadcasts from before 1990.  Over the years the Archive has gathered up almost 2000 Evensong broadcasts which provide a fascinating snapshot of the choir under the Director of Music at that moment in history.  We regularly upload archive radio broadcasts and BBC Choral Evensong broadcasts to our Youtube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/c/archiveofrecordedchurchmusic.

LIBRARY AND PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVE

This complimentary collection has developed over the years with many thousands of photographs, newspaper and magazine articles, books; in fact, anything relating to choirs, choir schools and choristers and often provides invaluable background information to the recordings.

Visitors are always welcome to come and browse the archive and should you have any recordings of interest, please do get in touch and help the preserve this unique and priceless recorded heritage: www.recordedchurchmusic.org.

Colin Brownlee
Archive of Recorded Church Music

All images copyright the Archive of Recorded Church Music and reproduced with the kind permission of the copyright holder.

 

Archives Wales Catalogues Online: Working with the Archives Hub

Stacy Capner reflects on her first six months as Project Officer for the Archives Wales Catalogues Online project, a collaboration between the Archives and Records Council Wales and the Archives Hub to increase the discoverability of Welsh archives.

For a few years now there has been a strategic goal to get Wales’ archive collections more prominently ‘out there’ using the Archives Wales website. Collection level descriptions have been made available previously through the ‘Archives Network Wales’ project, but the aim now is to create a single portal to search and access multi-level descriptions from across services. The Archives Hub has an established, standards based way of doing this, so instead of re-inventing the wheel, Archives and Records Council Wales (ARCW) saw an opportunity to work with them to achieve these aims.

The work to take data from Welsh Archives into the Archives Hub started some time ago, but it became clear that getting exports from different systems and working with different cataloguing practices required more dedicated 1-2-1 liaison. I am the project officer on a defined project which began in April to provide dedicated support to archive services across Wales and to establish requirements for uploading their catalogue data to the Archives Hub (and subsequently to Archives Wales).

This project is supported by the Welsh Government through its Museums Archives and Libraries Division, with a grant to Swansea University, a member of ARCW and a long-standing contributor to the Hub. I’m on secondment from the University to the project, which means I’ve found myself back in my northern neck of the woods working alongside the Archives Hub team. This project has come at a time when the Archives Hub have been putting a lot of thought into their processes for uploading data straight from systems, which means that the requirements for Welsh services have started to define an approach which could be applied to archive services across Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Here are my reflections on the project so far:

  1. Wales has fantastic collections, holding internationally significant material. They deserve to be promoted, accessible and searchable to as wide an audience as possible. Some examples-

National Library of Wales, The Survey of the Manors of Crickhowell & Tretower (inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, 2016) https://www.llgc.org.uk/blog/?p=11715

Swansea University, South Wales Coalfield Collection http://www.swansea.ac.uk/library/archive-and-research-collections/richard-burton-archives/ourcollections/southwalescoalfieldcollection/

West Glamorgan, Neath Abbey Ironworks collection (inscribed in the UNESCO Memory of the World register, 2014) http://www.southwales-eveningpost.co.uk/treasured-neath-port-talbot-history-recognised/story-26073633-detail/story.html

Bangor University, Penrhyn Estate papers (including material relating to the sugar plantations in Jamaica) https://www.bangor.ac.uk/archives/sugar_slate.php.en#project

Photograph of Ammanford colliers and workmen standing in front of anthracite truck, c 1900.
Photograph of Ammanford colliers and workmen standing in front of anthracite truck, c 1900. From the South Wales Coalfield Collection. Source: Richard Burton Archives, Swansea University (Ref: SWCC/PHO/COL/11)
  1. Don’t be scared of EAD ! I was. My knowledge of EAD (Encoded Archival Description) hadn’t been refreshed in 10 years, since Jane Stevenson got us to create brownie recipes using EAD tags on the archives course. So, whilst I started the task with confidence in cataloguing and cataloguing systems, my first month or so was spent learning about the Archives Hub EAD requirements. For contributors, one of the benefits of the Archives Hub is that they’ve created guidance, tools and processes so that archivists don’t have to become experts at creating or understanding EAD (though it is useful and interesting, if you get the chance!).
  1. The Archives Hub team are great! Their contributor numbers are growing (over 300 now) and their new website and editor are only going to make it easier for archive services to contribute and for researchers to search. What has struck me is that the team are all hot on data, standards and consistency, but it’s combined with a willingness to find solutions/processes which won’t put too much extra pressure on archive services wishing to contribute. It’s a balance that seems to work well and will be crucial for this project.
  1. The information gathering stage was interesting. And tiring. I visited every ARCW member archive service in Wales to introduce them to the project, find out what cataloguing systems they were using, and to review existing electronic catalogues. Most services in Wales are using Calm, though other systems currently being used include internally created databases, AtoM, Archivists Toolkit and Modes. It was really helpful to see how fields were being used, how services had adapted systems to suit them, and how all of this fitted in to Archives Hub requirements for interoperability.

    Photo of icecream
    Perks of working visits to beautiful parts of Wales.
  1. The support stage is set to be more interesting. And probably more tiring! The next 6 months will be spent providing practical support to services to help enable their catalogues to meet Archives Hub requirements. I’ll be able to address most of the smaller, service specific, tasks on site visits. The Hub team and I have identified a number of trickier ‘issues’ which we’ll hash out with further meetings and feedback from services. I can foresee further blog posts on these so briefly they are:
  • Multilingualism- most services catalogue Welsh items/collections in Welsh, English items/collections in English and multi-language item/collections bilingually. However, the method of doing this across services (and within services) isn’t consistent. We’re going to look at what can be done to ensure that descriptions in multiple languages are both human and machine readable.
  • Ref no/Alt ref- due to legacy issues with non-hierarchical catalogues, or just services personal preference, there are variations in the use of these fields. Some services use the ref no as the reference, others use the alt ref no as the reference. This isn’t a problem (as long as it’s consistent). Some services use ref no as the reference but not at series level, others use the alt ref no as the reference but not at series level. This will prove a little trickier for the Archives Hub to handle but hopefully workarounds for individual services will be found.
  • Extent fields missing- this is a mandatory field at collection level for the Archives Hub. It’s important to give researchers an idea of the size of the collection/series (it’s also an ISAD(G) required field). However, many services have hundreds of collection level descriptions which are missing extent. It’s not something I’ll practically be able to address on my support visits so the possibility of further work/funding will be looked into.
  • Indexing- this is understandably very important to the Archives Hub (they explain why here). For several archive services in Wales it seems to have been a step too far in the cataloguing process, mainly due to a lack of resource/time/training. Most have used imported terms from an old database or nothing at all. Although this will not prevent services from contributing catalogues to the Archives Hub, it does open up opportunities to think about partnership projects which might address this in the future (including looking at Welsh language index terms).

The project has made me think about how I’ve catalogued in the past. It’s made me much more aware that catalogues shouldn’t just be an inward-facing, local or an intellectual control based task; we should be constantly aware of making our descriptions more discoverable to researchers. And it’s shown me the importance of standards and consistency in achieving this (I feel like I’ve referenced consistency a lot in this one blog post; consistency is important!).  I hope that the project is also prompting Welsh archive services to reflect on the accessibility of their own cataloguing- something which might not have been looked at in many years.

There’s a lot of work to be done, both in this foundation work and further funding/projects which might come of the back of it. But hopefully in the next few years you’ll be discovering much more of Wales’ archive collections online.

Stacy Capner
Project Officer
Archives Wales Catalogues Online

Related:

Archives Hub EAD Editor – http://archiveshub.ac.uk/eadeditor/

Archives Hub contributors – list and map

 

Blowing the dust off Special Collections

Guest Blog Post by John Hodgson

Mimas works on exciting and innovative projects all the time and we wanted Hub blog readers to find out more about the SCARLET project, where Mimas staff, academics from the University of Manchester and the archive team at John Rylands University Library are exploring how Augmented Reality can bring resources held in special collections to life by surrounding original materials with digital online content.

The Project

Special Collections using Augmented Reality to Enhance Learning and Teaching (SCARLET)

SCARLET addresses one of the principal obstacles to the use of Special Collections in teaching and learning – the fact that students must consult rare books, manuscripts and archives within the controlled conditions of library study rooms. The material is isolated from the secondary, supporting materials and the growing mass of related digital assets. This is an alien experience for students familiar with an information-rich, connected wireless world, and is a barrier to their use of Special Collections.

The SCARLET project will provide a model that other Special Collections libraries can follow, making these resources accessible for research, teaching and learning. If you are interested in creating similar ‘apps’ and using the toolkit created by the team then please get in touch.

SCARLET Blog: http://teamscarlet.wordpress.com/

SCARLET Twitter: twitter.com/team_scarlet

The Blog Post

Blowing the dust off Special Collections

The academic year is now in full swing and JRUL Special Collections staff are busy delivering ‘close-up’ sessions and seminars for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

A close-up session typically involves a curator and an academic selecting up to a dozen items to show to a group of students. The items are generally set out on tables and everyone gathers round for a discussion. It is a real thrill for students to see Special Collections materials up close, and in some circumstances to handle the items themselves. The material might be papyri from Greco-Roman Egypt, medieval manuscripts, early printed books, eighteenth-century diaries and letters, or modern literary archives: the range of our Special Collections is vast.

Dante Seminar

Dr Guyda Armstrong shows her students a selection of early printed editions of Dante.

From our point of view, it’s really rewarding and enlightening to work alongside enthusiastic teachers such as Guyda Armstrong, Roberta Mazza and Jerome de Groot. The ideal scenario is a close partnership between the academic and the curator. Curators know the collections well, and we can discuss with students the materiality of texts, technical aspects of books and manuscripts, the context in which texts and images were originally produced, and the afterlife of objects – the often circuitous routes by which they have ended up in the Rylands Library. Academics bring to the table their incredible subject knowledge and their pedagogical expertise. Sparks can fly, especially when students challenge what they are being told!

This week I have been involved in close-up sessions for Roberta Mazza’s ‘Egypt in the Graeco-Roman World’ third-year Classics course, and Guyda Armstrong’s ‘Beyond the Text’ course on Dante, again for third-year undergraduates. Both sessions were really enjoyable, because the students engaged deeply with the material and asked lots of questions. But the sessions also reinforced my belief that Augmented Reality will allow us to do so much more. AR will make the sessions more interactive, moving towards an enquiry-based learning model, where we set students real questions to solve, through a combination of close study of the original material, and downloading metadata, images and secondary reading, to help them interrogate and interpret the material. Already Dr Guyda Armstrong’s students have had a sneak preview of the Dante app, and I’m look forward to taking part in the first trials of the app in a real teaching session at Deansgate in a few weeks’ time.

For many years Special Collections have been seen by some as fusty and dusty. AR allows us to bring them into the age of app.

UK Archives Discovery Network is born!


The National Archives Network of the UK (NAN) has been around for some time. It had a reasonably high profile around the turn of the century (that sounds weird!) when the cross-searching networks were being set up, but then in the following years its remit and purpose became less clear.
However, a great deal has been achieved over the past 10 years. The NAN projects and hubs have involved literally hundreds of archive repositories across the UK, ranging from public authorities through to the archives of small charities, and the result is that archives have had some resources to enable them to convert existing descriptions for contribution to the national projects, and that users have a number of very valuable cross-searching sites to use in order to facilitate discovery.
The vision was always to provide one gateway to search archives across the UK. Whilst this may still be a desirable vision, it may not be a realistic one, given the resources that it would involve and the issues of effective cross-searching of disparate descriptions. However, what we can do is to move towards opening up our data in ways that encourage cross-searching, sharing and working together to learn about how we can benefit users.
Over the past year, the NAN has been thinking about where it should be heading. At a recent meeting (August 2009), it was decided to change the name to the UK Archives Discovery Network, to reflect the UK-wide status of the network and to emphasise that we are about facilitating discovery for users.
The aims of the UKAD Network include working together in the best interests of archive users, surfacing descriptions, opening up data, sharing experiences and increasing links between repositories and networks. Whilst it may take some time for the Network to realise its remit, there are already benefits happening as a result of coming together, talking and sharing ideas and experiences.
I hope that the community continues down this path, because I think that it has become more important than ever to work together and really consider interoperability. Creating closed systems, however impressive they are in themselves, means continuing in a silo-based mentality, which is not truly responding to users’ expectations.
We have a social network site, which provides a fairly informal way of communicating:
http://archivesnetwork.ning.com/
There is also a JISC listserv: archives-discovery-network@jiscmail.ac.uk. We encourage archivists to use this to raise any issues associated with cross-searching, data standards, use of technology and archive networks.
We hope that archivists will be keen to use the UKAD network as a means to foster connections and collaborate on projects. Here’s to the next 10 years – goodness only knows where we will have reached by then!
Image: Flickr cc. Jan Leenders

International Archives Day 9th June 2009

Did you know that today is International Archives Day?

This is the 2nd International Archives Day ever held and 9th June was chosen because the International Council on Archives (ICA) was founded on 9th June 1948. Last year was the First International Archives Day, coinciding with the 60th Anniversary of ICA.

For more information about this and the history of ICA, go to the Unesco Archives website.


Over the last year the Archives Hub has had over 120,000 visits from over 184 countries. The map above gives an indication of international use.

One of our contributors, Glasgow University Archive Services, is celebrating International Archives Day by launching an online resource highlighting the international scope and reputation of Glasgow University and its archive collections.

The exhibition, searchable by region, will demonstrate the involvement of Scottish businesses on the development of the world economy and the influence that University of Glasgow and staff and students have had on the development of education around the world and on the history of many countries.

To go to the resource please see the following link: http://www.gla.ac.uk/services/archives/collections/internationalarchiveday/

If you are interested in international archives you could try the following websites and blogs:

Websites:
ArchiveGrid: A subscription site where you can find historical documents, personal papers, and family histories held in archives around the world.

European Archive: A freely available digital library of archives, with an emphasis on audio-visual materials.

MICHAEL UK: MICHAEL aims to provide simple and quick access to the digital collections of museums, libraries and archives from different European countries.

Unesco Archives Portal: a gateway to international archive collection websites

OCLC WorldCat (Manuscript materials): nearly 1.5 million catalogue records describing archival and manuscript collections and individual manuscripts in public, college and university, and special libraries located throughout North America and around the world.

Blogs:
Archiefforum.be: An online community which aims to support students and young archivists in their studies and profession by peer help and advise. (Flemish language)

ArchivesBlogs: a US blog which is a syndicated collection of blogs by and for archivists.

@rchivista: Spanish language blog written by Paco Fern

Museums neglecting needs of researchers?


A recent RIN report ‘Discovering Physical Objects’ looks at how researchers find out about collections of objects relevant to their research. The report relates to museum objects rather than archives, but as ever, the Archives Hub feel that its always worth looking at library and museum studies, and seeing how they might apply to the world of archives.

Well, the results don’t seem to be very surprising. Researchers want online finding aids but are unaware of those that exist; they want contact with curatorial staff; and access to objects amongst museums is inconsistent.

I was interested to see that access to online finding aids NOW is more important than access to ‘perfect’ descriptions. The report states “technological developments that allow researchers
and others to easily add to and amend the content of these records have the potential to help all museums and other collections to improve the quality of their records.” I assume the report is reflecting what researchers have actually said here, rather than making an assumption, although the wording doesn’t make this explicit.

On the whole, the report gives the impression that museums are really rather behind the archive community in providing online access to descriptions. I’m curious about the statement that ‘only a few have the needs of researchers in mind’ when they create their online finding aids – I’d like to know more about this and the the evidence for it.

I’m surprised that curators apparently underestimate the value of online finding aids. It certainly seems that museum curators have not generally embraced technical possibilities and are not really into the spirit of collaboration and sharing.

The ways forward that the report recommends fit in quite nicely with the Hub’s ethos: to make museum descriptions open and interoperable so that people can create their own interfaces sourcing the data. We’ll keep an eye on the progress of Culture24 with interest.

Image from RIN report: Discovering Physical Objects (2009)

EAD: your super flexible friend


I’ve just come across the Smithsonian Archives of American Art online collections. This is a wonderful source, with all the archives digitised and available to view. The navigation available on the site is great, with an image viewer allowing the user to scroll through images, enlarge them and navigate through the folders. It seems to me to be a very well designed site, with a clear information architecture enabling the user to drill down to different levels and get a good sense of exactly where they are. I like the way that they have used the mix of text, photographs and drawings. The site is not perfect though – it does fall down on the use of XHTML, which is not valid. I suspect that the Smithsonian have rather more resources available for this sort of project than many of us are lucky enough to get (although the project did receive external funding from the Terra Foundation for American Art).

I was particularly interested in this site because it uses EAD, so it is a great example of the way EAD descriptions can be re-purposed. Whilst for many of us, simple EAD descriptions are all that we have the time and resources to create at present, this shows how using EAD means that we retain the flexibility to create more ambitious sites in the future.

If you go to the ‘finding aid’ link you can see the more traditional EAD description.

Image from the Smithsonian Archives of American Art website, under fair use (for non-commercial purposes).