September 2013 | Nate Pedersen

Historical Music Going Digital

The Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University, in partnership with the American Antiquarian Society, will be digitizing, cataloging, and providing online access to a wide variety of American vernacular music manuscripts. The project has been made possible through a $126, 956 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Director for the Center, Dale Cockrell, said the collection contains some 9,000 music manuscripts, dating from 1775 to the 1970s. Cockrell said the project will particularly focus, however, on music from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Cockrell also said that handwritten music books were common in that time period.

"Instead of buying books, they would keep books they made themselves around, then they would write the book, so they could keep it to play time and time again," Cockrell said, in an interview with the Daily News Journal. "These are kind of like a play list on your iPod. They wouldn't have spent so much time writing the songs down if it wasn't music that mattered to them."

The project will catalog the music manuscripts and make them viewable online for free.  Lindsay Millon, the cataloging librarian for the project, said it will be a "big task."  She continued, "Sometimes the ink bleeds through pages over time, or some of it is so old that I may have a terrible time reading it. I'll, of course, scan that material into our database; it just really limits what information I can include as part of the cataloging process. And a lot of these are written in beautiful handwriting -- that I can't read. It's this beautiful, old scroll-style writing. It's crazy, beautiful handwriting, so we may have to get some assistance for that."