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Creating a Sheet Music Web Site: The British Columbia Sheet Music Project 2008

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Creating a Sheet Music Web Site: The British Columbia Sheet Music Project By Terry Horner Music Library, University of British Columbia Almost  two  years  after  I  spoke  about  the British Columbia Sheet Music Project at the CAML  conference  in  Lethbridge,  it  is nearing completion. There are now over 150 pieces  that  reflect  the  people,  events  and features  of  British  Columbia.  The  project has been over five years in the making and, depending  on  copyright  clearances  of  the remaining  pieces,  will  be  finished  in  late 2005 or early 2006. The idea of a web site was first proposed at  a  meeting  of  the  Pacific  Northwest Chapter  of  the  Music  Library  Association. The intent was to create a site for music held in  various  libraries  within  the  chapter,  but the project did not materialize. For my part, I  discovered  after  searching  a  number  of Canadian collections there was enough sheet music about British Columbia to warrant a web site of its own. Why  a  web  site  on  B.C.  sheet  music? Popular sheet music has long been regarded in  libraries  as  ephemera.  Difficult  or expensive  to  house,  it  was  mostly  left uncatalogued  in  filing  cabinets.  Similarly, sheet  music  in  archives  was often indexed just  as  “music.”  Much of it  was buried in folders  of  significant  events  in  British Columbia  history,  with  little  indication  of content. In contrast, displaying this music on a  web  site  has  proven  to  be  a  cheap  and effective  way  to  give  it  unprecedented exposure and prominence. A close examination showed there was a type of music in British Columbia that had largely  been ignored.  For the most  part,  it was composed not  by music professionals, but  by  people  who  wanted  to  express something  in  music  about  the  province. Many of the pieces on the site were written by prominent citizens. Their stories are also told in the accompanying biographies (when known). In this way, the site shows not only an  aspect  of  the  music  history  of  British Columbia,  but  the  evolving  local  and cultural history of the province. Dale  McIntosh’s  History  of  Music  in British  Columbia,  1850-1950  contained  a checklist  of  musical  compositions  that became the starting point for the project. It not  only  listed  music  about  British Columbia,  but  music  published  in  B.C. Some of the locations of the music were also given. The Vancouver Public Library, which has indexed the sheet music in its collection, was  (and  is)  a  valuable  resource.  The Vancouver Museum also held unique pieces. Joan  Seidl,  Curator  of  History  at  the Vancouver  Museum,  gave  permission  for me to scan its public domain works. These were the first to be launched on the site and they became the template for the ones that followed. The  Historic American Sheet Music web site, published by Duke University, offered me much technical information on scanning as  well  as  ideas  for  display.  Indexing  and 1 access to the British Columbia Sheet Music Project  was derived in part  from the Duke template.  Also  helpful  were  the  scans  of indexed public  domain sheet  music  on the site. Most sheet music web sites display only works in the public domain or, for works not in  the  public  domain,  just  the  cover.  I decided to take my project to a higher level by  trying  to  find  the  copyright  owner  and ask for permission to  use the music (or at least  the  cover).  Because  biographical information for most of the composers was available, this was included as well. The site also  features  MIDI  sound  files  and  pieces written in Finale to correct errors or in some cases to provide a cleaner copy. Many of the pieces were probably in the public  domain,  but  how  could  I  be  sure? What would I do with pieces that were not in  the  public  domain?  Were  composers willing to allow me to display their music on the  World  Wide  Web?  And  how  would  I contact the composers or their heirs? These were some of the questions that had to be addressed  throughout  the  course  of  this project. First  and  foremost,  it  was  important  to understand the Canadian copyright act as it pertained  to  music  and to determine if  the music in hand was in the public domain. The best  starting  point  for  the  latter  was  the British  Columbia  Archives’  Vital  Events Indexes.  This  online  index  lists  birth, marriage and death registrations, as well as references  to  microfilm  copies  of  the registrations.  Several  composers  were identified through the index and their works were found to be in the public domain (i.e., fifty years had passed since the composer’s death).  A  difficulty  with  searching  these indexes was that death registrations are not available until twenty years after the date of death. Another problem was verifying if the person listed in the index is the same person who wrote the music. As noted before, many of the songwriters did not make their living from  music  and  occupations  in  the registrations  were  not  necessarily  given  as “composer.” It was also time-consuming to search  for  people  with  a  common  name, such as William Campbell. Another  resource for  obituaries  was  the indexes  of  provincial  newspapers.  The notices  not  only  determined  the  date  of death  of  the  composer,  but  also  provided much  information  on  the  composer’s  life and the whereabouts  of the heirs,  some of whom were located this way. This was how I learned that one piece composed in 1919 was  still  not  in  the  public  domain.  The composer’s daughter, who herself is now in a nursing home in California,  told me that fifty years had not passed since her feather’s death.  (Fortunately,  she  was  more  than happy to  allow me the  use  of  her  father’s music.) It should also be noted that some of the sheet music itself mentioned where the composer was living,  and Canada 411 was another  excellent  source.  Many composers or their heirs were located by telephone. Once contact was made, a covering letter and  permission  form  was  sent  to  the copyright  owner  to  use  the  material.  The form also asked for biographical information and  why  the  piece  was  written.  It  was important  to  state  clearly  the  use  of  the music and to get written permission from the copyright  holder.  I  did  not  assume  that everyone was familiar with the Internet, and I was prepared to demonstrate the use upon request. Also, if permission was granted, the copyright holder still had the moral right to determine the use. I emphasized that it was strictly  for  research  and  educational purposes, not financial gain. 2 Although locating copyright owners was difficult  and  often  frustrating,  the overwhelming response made it well worth the  effort.  All  but  two  of  the  located copyright owners allowed their works to be displayed. One of the copyright owners was unaware  his  piece  had  been  published  as sheet music. He had only granted permission to reproduce the piece as part of a collection of  songs  distributed  to  British  Columbia schools.  (The  composer  threatened  to  sue the  violator,  but  decided  against  it  after being  advised  it  was  not  worth  the  effort financially.)  The  second  copyright  owner declined  to  say why she  did not  want  her mother’s piece used. The  Copyright  Board  came  into  the picture  for  copyright  owners  I  could  not find.  The board issued me a non-exclusive license to do what I wished with the music. But it also required that I make reasonable efforts  to  locate  the  copyright  owner. Information provided to the board included detailed  information  on  the  piece,  the copyright  owner,  and  sources  consulted  to locate the copyright owner. These included Amicus,  CMRRA,  SOCAN,  BMI Repertoire, ASCAP, British Columbia Vital Statistics  Death  Registration,  British Columbia Archives, Encyclopedia of Music in  Canada,  Canadian  Archival  Information Network, British Columbia Archival Union List,  City  of  Vancouver  Archives,  City  of Victoria  Archives,  British  Columbia Provincial  Library  Newspaper  Index, Canada  411,  Canadian  Music  Periodical Index and Google searches. In  the  case  of  the  B.C.  Sheet  Music Project,  the  license  for  web  site  use  was granted under the following conditions: a) The  license  expires  when  the  works become part of the public domain; b) The  license  is  non-exclusive  and  valid only in Canada. For other countries, it is the law of that country that applies; c) The applicant (UBC in this case) will pay the sum of $25 per work to any person who establishes, no later than five years after the works  coming  into  the  public  domain, ownership  of  the  copyright  of  the  works covered by the license; The  license  came  into  force  on  my  filing with  the  board  an  undertaking  to  comply with the conditions set out above. So  far,  no  copyright  owners  for  works licensed by the Copyright Board have come forward. Copyright clearance took the bulk of  the  time  in  this  project.  The  steps included locating the owner, waiting for the form to be sent back,  reminding  copyright owners to fill  out the form, and awaiting a decision from the Board. The latter can take up to six weeks. During  the  course  of  the  research,  I searched  or  visited  collections  at  many libraries  and  archives  across  Canada. Amicus proved to be an especially valuable resource  not  only  for  locating  pieces,  but also for verifying if a work was in the public domain. Word-of-mouth led to other pieces. A list of libraries and archives where pieces were  found  is  listed  under  Collections (under  the Search button) on the web site. There is also a section for missing material, located under the About This Site button. The site presently  receives 200-300 hits per  month.  It  also  is  being  used  as  an experimental  site at  the UBC Archives for adding metadata.  Once testing is complete, an  announcement  of  the  new  site  will  be made. It is featured at the Irving K. Barber web  site  at  UBC:  http://www.,  and  it  will 3 also continue to stay at its present location. Future  plans  include  adding  more  sheet music  as  it  becomes  available,  converting MIDI files to MP3 files, adding MP3 files of recordings of some of the songs, and adding photos of the composers. In  conclusion,  I  wish  to  express  my sincere  thanks  to  CAML  for  its  financial support  of  this  project,  which  has  helped advance  research  and  publication  in  the field of Canadian music bibliography. 4


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