Reid Concerts Database project - 2nd anniversary

Two years ago on St Cecilia’s Day, November 22, 2013, the Reid Concerts online Database went ‘live’. 

After two months of planning, preparation and database design, followed by a 4-month trial to explore the feasibility of the project, at last the day had come for the contents of the Reid Concert programmes to be available on the internet.  It was still very early days and there were only about 70 concerts listed with basic concert information on the instrumental and orchestral items – the songs and the vocal items were a little more complex and have since been entered into the database - but it was a start.  The challenge ahead was to enter the data for the remaining concerts.

The trial period from July to November 2013 had tested the various links, formats, designs and search options and elicited feedback from friends, relatives, musicians and non-musicians IT specialists and librarians all of whom approached the site from different perspectives, were looking for and expected different things from the site and used the site in different ways.   The overwhelming response was positive: that the site was user-friendly and easy to navigate with many ways of finding the same information.  The flexibility of the database was praised and I received many helpful suggestions and recommendations that I took into consideration in the development of the design.  After the site went live further feedback came in and, as more concerts were entered, minor adjustments were made to the layout and design to reflect, in the database, the feedback on the site and the evolution in the style and format of the concerts and the concert programmes.

The Reid Concerts Database is a tool I created to help me cope with the large amount of primary concert programme data I need to consult for my PhD research and it is proving to be a really fantastic, practical and useful resource. The University of Edinburgh College of Humanities and Social Sciences Web Development Team has been key to making this project possible and I would like to thank Gavin Maxwell for his patience, understanding and support in making sense of all my ideas for the site.  I am also indebted to my research assistant Lance Whitehead who has helped me to populate the database. Lance's assistance has been facilitated thanks to an Innovation Initiative Grant from the University of Edinburgh for 200 hours in 2014 and in 2014/15 a further 240 hours of funding from the Reid School of Music.

The design of the database provides an overview of the evolution and development of the Reid Concerts from 1841 and enables multiple research questions to be posed and answered e.g.  What was the orchestral and chamber music repertoire being offered by the University of Edinburgh and how did it develop and change?  Which composers or performers were popular and which less so?    Interrogation of the database facilitates direct comparison, for example, between composers Rossini, whose works appeared from 1841 to 1906 and not again until 1938, and Mendelssohn, whose works were performed almost every year.  It is also interesting to see when composers first appeared in the series, for example Schoenberg in 1937 and Stravinsky not until 1959.

The database is one of the first of its kind in this area of research to take such a detailed look at the contents of concert programmes and make them easily accessible online.  It has already been identified by archivists, librarians and researchers as an example of good practice in the online data management of performance ephemera at item level.  Most collections of this type of archive material can be sourced and searched only at collection or institution level.   In June 2015 I had the pleasure of speaking about the database to librarians and musicologists at the IAML/IMS 2015 Congress at the Juilliard School of Music.  (International Association of Music Libraries, Documentation and Archives Centres/International Musicological Society)

The University of Edinburgh, Centre for Research Collections, Deputy Archivist, Grant Buttars has said, “We now have a real opportunity to discover much more about a key activity within the University over an extended period and can use the resource Fiona is developing as a key finding aid to one of our collections…”     An article on the database has been published in the Summer 2015 newsletter of  CHOMBEC (Centre for the History of Music in Britain, the Empire and the Commonwealth).  In August 2015 I presented a paper on the database at the ‘Dealing with Data’ Conference 2015 at the University of Edinburgh and the slides from this presentation are online.

From its inception in May 2013 the Database project has developed, expanded and grown to include data on University of Edinburgh Reid Concert programmes from 1841 to 1974.    By May 2015 the database listed 946 concerts and over 4000 works, with links to 594 composers and more than 800 performers. Currently work is underway on concerts the 1970s and organ recitals in the 1990s.  On this second anniversary of the site going ‘live’ I can report that data entry figures have risen to 1120 concerts, 3150 works, 693 composers and 985 performers.  

The content is only as complete as the information available in the printed programmes.   There are gaps in the data and as a result many entries lack the year, the date, the time or the venue.  With ephemera of this type, programmes are available at the event and if you are there, you know where you are and what day and time it is.  You don’t need it printed on the programme.    The archive collection of Reid Concerts at the University of Edinburgh Centre for Research Collections is extensive, but I am still searching for items to add to the collection.  If you have, or if you know of, any Edinburgh University Historical Concert programmes from the 1920s, 30s or 40s I would be delighted to have this information. (I don’t need any of the Reid Orchestra programmes from this period.)

I am very proud of this exciting resource which offers an insight into reception history through the contents of the Reid Concert programmes, a window on concert life and an overview of the music to which the Edinburgh concert-going public were exposed.   It provides a basis for my research, future academic study, contributes to the musical and social history of Edinburgh and has great potential to be adapted for use in similar projects.   

I do hope that you are enjoying exploring the site and that you are finding it easy to use.  It seems to work well on all platforms and users like not only the concert information but also the image banner and the timeline at the foot of the home page.  Your feedback and comments about the site are most welcome and if you can help me to fill any of the gaps in the data, I would be delighted.  In particular I am aware that I have been unable (as yet) to find information about several of the musicians who have participated in the concerts over the years, many of whom were students or local musicians, both amateur and professional, and are listed on the database as ‘performers.’   Any information would be very much appreciated.

My research period is 100 years from 1841, stopping in 1941 but the database will eventually include Reid concerts up to the present day.   I have clearly set myself a challenge which will keep me busy long after I complete my degree.   It is a work in progress and will be for a while!

If you would like to get in touch please email me or send me a message through Twitter.  Thank you.