MURFREESBORO — Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Popular Music has completed a groundbreaking digitization project to launch its new American Vernacular Music Manuscripts website.
Hundreds of American music manuscripts from the 1730s to 1910 are available online for the first time at http://popmusic.mtsu.edu/ManuscriptMusic.
Built as part of a three-year project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and undertaken in partnership with the American Antiquarian Society, the AVMM site covers American manuscripts of vernacular music from the Colonial era to the early 20th century.
Approximately 350 unique, handwritten manuscripts were included in the project, totaling more than 17,000 pages of music.
The complementary collections of the Center for Popular Music and the American Antiquarian Society are among the largest and most significant holdings of such material in the nation.
“The AVMM project makes available to everyone an overwhelmingly large collection of manuscripts that reveal what kinds of music Americans enjoyed at home before the advent of radio and recordings,” said Dr. Greg Reish, director of the Center for Popular Music.
"Furthermore, the cataloging of these manuscripts was uncharted territory in the library and archival fields. What the project team accomplished will be of inestimable value not just to musicians and musical researchers but also to other institutions who hold similar items and never knew how to deal with them.”
“Until now, repositories such as the American Antiquarian Society that had this material had no way to help researchers identify particular pieces of music in order to understand what tunes were in circulation and how widely they were copied,” added Dr. Thomas Knoles, curator of manuscripts at the Worchester, Massachusetts-based American Antiquarian Society and AVMM project co-director.
Using the $127,956 NEH grant since September 2013, center staffers scanned manuscripts in high resolution to archival standards for preservation, then stored the images at the Internet Archive, the nonprofit library of millions of free books, movies, software, music and more.
The MTSU AVMM website serves as a front page and search engine for the images, where users can search by year, song title, subject, origin, creator and keyword.
All the project manuscripts also were cataloged in MARC library format, making them accessible through WorldCat, a combined library catalog that itemizes the collections of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories that participate in the Online Computer Library Center global cooperative.
MTSU’s Center for Popular Music created a set of guidelines to allow other institutions to catalog similar manuscripts in their collections.
“Handwritten music manuscripts by common Americans contain primary and direct evidence of their musical preferences during a particular time and in a particular place,” said Dr. Dale Cockrell, former CPM director and AVMM project co-director. “To see, play from or study one of these old manuscripts brings us as close to that person’s musical life as history allows.”
Joshua Sternfeld, senior program officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities, said the organization is “pleased” at the success of the digitization project.
“Such a rich collection of early American materials, collaboratively produced, will not only reveal new insight into music-making but also shed light on the social and cultural fabric of communities, including ethnic traditions, social networks, religious practices, family life and class,” Sternfeld said.
MTSU’s Center for Popular Music, which was established in 1985 by the Tennessee Board of Regents as one of 16 Centers of Excellence across the TBR system, is devoted to the study and scholarship of popular music in America. Its staff maintains a unique archive of research materials that spans shaped-note songbooks to hip-hop mash-ups in a collection stretching from the early 18th century to the present.
The Center for Popular Music also develops and sponsors programs in American vernacular music and regularly presents special concerts, lectures and events for the campus community.
For more information on the Center for Popular Music and its projects and special events, visit http://popmusic.mtsu.edu.