Author Archives: Nick Patterson

Building the Contemporary Composers Web Archive (by Samantha Abrams)

Building the Contemporary Composers Web Archive
by Samantha Abrams, Web Resources Collection Librarian, Ivy Plus Libraries

Ever-evolving, the Contemporary Composers Web Archive is an extension of an existing collaborative collection development agreement between Ivy Plus Libraries and music librarians at Brown University, the University of Chicago, Columbia University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, Duke University, Harvard University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, and Yale University. The agreement identified approximately 1,500 globally based contemporary composers of sufficient importance, and underscored a shared commitment to have each composer’s published and printed works collected at a comprehensive level by at least one participating Ivy Plus Library. Under the agreement, contemporary composers are defined as: those twentieth-century composers still active in 1975; works by those composers deceased after 1975, but published for the first time in significant new editions after 1975; and / or composers active after 1975.

Now part of the Ivy Plus Web Collecting Program, the Archive exists to preserve official websites that belong to these notable contemporary composers in order to assure the continuing availability of the important, and potentially ephemeral, content they contain, including: biographies, discographies, recordings, writings, audio and video, photos, press notices, and everything in between. As it stands today, the Contemporary Composers Web Archive contains fifty-seven crawled, publicly available websites, and about nine-hundred and fifty websites in the process of being added to the collection. (The fifty-seven sites currently visible on Archive-It were part of the Archive’s pilot collection, and have each been crawled, on average, about eight times since 2014.) in April of 2014 in August of 2017









Curious about what goes into preparing a chosen website for the Archive?

Finding the right website. We all know that the web is as vast as it is cluttered, and part of our work involves finding the correct content we’re looking to capture. Because the Archive exists to collect only official webpages, there remains a lot of freely-available content that we don’t want. Take from our list Philip Glass, for instance, who has an official website — — as well as a Wikipedia page, a Twitter account, a Facebook page, an IMDb entry, and a fan site. Or, try to track down the correct Jon Nelson — who, according to a quick Google search, may teach at the University of North Texas, lecture at the University of Buffalo, lead the Jon Nelson Band, or produce music in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. This is when consulting with our music librarians — and checking our findings against their supplied definition of contemporary — helps. Another strategy involves turning to the Library of Congress, and its Name Authority Headings, for guidance; i.e., if a name in question reveals a birthdate of 1656 — so, the seventeenth century — we know we’ve got the wrong composer.

Which Jon Nelson do we choose?

Collecting metadata. All websites included in the Contemporary Composers Web Archive contain website-level metadata in Archive-It, including: the composer’s name (in the authorized heading from the Library of Congress) as the subject, the title of their website, and the language — or languages! — in which their website is written. It often takes a bit of sleuthing to compile this information accurately: the world of web archiving recommends no official metadata structure — yet! — so pulling, say, a title from a website is often a judgement call made by the archivist doing the work. Is the title the website’s header? Is it the text that appears on the tab of your Internet browser? Is it a combination of the two?

Communicating with composers. Before adding a site to the Contemporary Composers Web Archive, Ivy Plus Libraries contacts the composer — or estate, organization, etc. — it belongs to and informs them of our plans. (Composers are, at any time throughout the process, welcome to opt-out of the Ivy Plus Web Collecting Program, upon which Ivy Plus Libraries will either not collect their site, or remove public access to previous captures.) This gives composers the chance to receive more information, and ask questions, about the Program, and point us in the right direction should we link to an incorrect website, misspell a name, or make another similar mistake. Ivy Plus Libraries recently contacted — via email and, when necessary, by phone — all nine-hundred and fifty composers selected for inclusion in the Archive, to which an overwhelming number have responded favorably to having their website included. (“Sehr schön!” — ”How beautiful!” — one said.)

Testing, testing, testing. Before Ivy Plus Libraries adds sites to the Archive and makes them available publicly, the archivist runs a test crawl of the site (or larger collection) using Archive-It. This gives the Program a chance to run quality assurance and make sure we understand: how much data will be collected, what may prove difficult to capture (like interactive maps, or social media), and what may need to be collected in addition to what’s already been nominated (like a composer’s blog that lives on a different domain). Test crawls allow the archivist to identify problems that aren’t apparent by merely looking at the live site, and enhance the overall quality of the Archive.

What’s next?

The Ivy Plus Libraries Web Collecting Program is a collaborative collection development effort to build curated, thematic collections of freely available, but at-risk, web content in order to support research at participating Ivy Plus Libraries and beyond.

The Contemporary Composers Web Archive will continue to expand as those composers currently absent from the Internet create websites and / or new composers are added to the project by Ivy Plus Libraries Music Librarians. Ivy Plus Libraries is also focused on significantly expanding its second collection — the Collaborative Architecture, Urbanism, and Sustainability Web Archive, devoted to the related topics of architecture, urban fabric, community development activism, public space, and sustainability — and building new collections.

For more information about the Contemporary Composers Web Archive — or, if you’re a selector curious about building new collections in partnership with the Ivy Plus Libraries Web Collecting Program — please contact Samantha Abrams at, or (212) 854-1482.


“A Not So Quiet Space”: Sound Art in the Music & Arts Library, Fri 10/21, 6-8pm

The Music & Arts Library and the Sound Arts MFA Program cordially invite you to “A Not So Quiet Space”, featuring work by the current students in the program, utilizing the space of the Music & Arts Library for temporary installations and performances.

Come join us for some interesting sounds and experiences!
Friday, 10/21, from 6-8pm, in the Music & Arts Library, 701 Dodge.
(CUID required or contact to RSVP).

Online Music Scores

We're of course delighted when you visit the Music & Arts Library (701 Dodge) to browse and check out items from our extensive collection of printed music scores. But, there are those times that you may need some music in a pinch, or when we're closed. For those times, the availability of online scores can be very useful, and the Libraries make available several collections of online scores (also identified by the term "sheet music").

Here's a listing of the various collections which are currently available to full-time Columbia affiliates through the Libraries (these links will take you to the CLIO record for the database; click on the URL in the record to connect):

Classical Scores Library — "a collection of digitized scores of important classical music, manuscripts, and unpublished material."

Naxos Music Library. Sheet Music — "digital sheet music in all classical genres, spanning music from Medieval to the 21st century and composers from Bach to Arvo Part." This Naxos database also offers a downloadable software utility which can be used to transpose some content from one key into another (a feature often useful for singers), and to adjust printing options.

A-R Editions' Online Music Anthology — "a database of music scores containing representative vocal and instrumental compositions from antiquity through the nineteenth century."

Outside of these online resources available through the Libraries, mention must be made of the important and open online resource International Music Scores Library Project (IMSLP). This public project, established in 2006, states its primary goal as:

"… to gather all public domain music scores, in addition to the music scores of all contemporary composers (or their estates) who wish to release them to the public free of charge."

Over the last few years, this project has truly blossomed into a very valuable resource, including not only scores but also performance parts, audio recordings, and some commentary and analysis. It's interesting to note that IMSLP, the open resource, has a far larger volume of content than the subscription services mentioned above – but, not for in-copyright materials (one likely reason for the difference).

Note that there are many options for browsing and searching scores, and recordings can also be browsed, by composer or performer, via a link in the left sidebar. RSS feeds are available to keep track of new additions. Another interesting feature is the "Search By Melody" function, that allows users to input a melody string to search, using a pop-up keyboard. For the adventurous, a "score similarity" algorithm will attempt to match features of scores in the database, to find "similar" works.

Of course, as with any open-source project, there are always concerns with editorial control, and the editions available on the site range from scholarly editions to self-published arrangements with no explicit editorial responsibility or details. So, scrutinize your options carefully when choosing content. That said, there is a wealth of quality material which can be a lifesaver when you just need that score or part, for reference or for performance. And, you'll also find scans of rare or obscure repertoire, both in published editions and in manuscript.

Lastly, many libraries are now mounting extensive collections of digitized scores and sheet music, much of which is under public domain, for world-wide access. Many of these are concerted, scholarly efforts (for an example, see the Digital Mozart Edition) which warrant their own post, so stay tuned for an overview of those collections in a future post!

It’s (Streaming) Music to Your Ears

Like to listen to music on the go?

Explore the Libraries' streaming audio databases.

The Libraries offer several databases which feature streaming audio, in a wide variety of musical styles. One easy way to find these is the click on the "E-Resources" tab from the main Library Web page, and then select "E-Music". You can also search under the "Databases" search tab on Library Web, by the title of any individual database listed below.

You can listen to streaming content from these databases from any computer with audio in the Libraries or on-campus, or from off-campus (via UNI login).

Here's a list of the current databases offering music as streaming audio (including the URL you should use if you want to bookmark the resource, to be recognized as a Columbia subscriber, using your UNI to connect from off-campus):

American song  


Classical music library  


Contemporary world music  


Database of recorded American music (DRAM)  


Music online. Jazz music library  


Naxos music library  


Naxos music library. Jazz.  


Smithsonian global sound for libraries  



You may notice, as you browse, that many of the above titles are from Alexander Street Press. They offer a cross-search function, which searches across their audio databases (but also includes their other content, such as music scores and text). It's available at:


Music Online  



Note that many of these databases offer a choice of bitrates for listening – choose the highest, whenever possible, for better audio quality! You'll often see this option in the pop-up player window which launches when you play a track. It's not always set to the highest setting.


You'll also find results in CLIO, for content in Naxos Music Library and Classical Music Library (including the jazz collections). This is convenient because you can search for music in CLIO and see both sound recordings available in the Libraries, and streaming audio content available. You can launch playback directly from within the CLIO record. Note, however, that the records for this content are loaded in periodically to CLIO, not continuously, so the most up-to-date search for the content of any particular database is through that database's search function.


Get to know the streaming audio databases, and let us know what you think! Comments, questions, problems can be sent to

Note: the listening device pictured above is for illustrational purposes only. Professional listener in a controlled space. The Libraries do not recommend the use of such a device for home and/or unsupervised use.

Archival Recordings of the Composers Forum, 1951-1977

ComposersForum1966Cover3 Contained within the archives of the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center (which are held by Columbia University Libraries) there is a series of original reel-to-reel recordings of the concerts of the Composers Forum, made in New York from 1951-1977.

The Composers Forum concerts were an important series of concerts of art music by contemporary American composers. The series was established by Ashley Pettis in the 1930s, under the auspices of the WPA’s Federal Music Project. Beginning in New York, it eventually moved before WWII to California, then went on hiatus during the period around WWII. It was re-established in New York after the war in ca. 1947, under the joint auspices of Columbia and the New York Public Library, with concerts taking place in the Donnell Library and in Columbia’s McMillin Theater. It is the recordings of this post-war period of the Composers Forum which are represented by the recordings held by the Libraries.

An important feature of these concerts was the inclusion of a discussion section, where a moderator would ask the composers questions provided by the audience (in some cases, the concert program included a tear-off tab upon which an audience member could write their question). Some noted moderators included Virgil Thomson, Jack Beeson, and Mario Davidovsky. Here’s an example of a program with the question tear-off:


Composers represented on the recordings include George Antheil, Milton Babbitt, Jack Beeson, George Crumb, Mario Davidovsky, Luigi Dallapiccola, Irving Fine, Kenneth Gaburo, Leo Kraft, Ezra Laderman, George Perle, Julia Perry, Daniel Pinkham, George Rochberg, Ezra Sims, Harvey Sollberger, Carlos Surinach, Charles Wuorinen, and many others. There are also some notable performers represented (for example, Bethany Beardslee, Jan de Gaetani, Bertram Turetzky, Anahid Ajemian, David Tudor); some in early stages of their careers. Examples of composers performing their own works, or serving as moderators, add to the documentary value of this collection. Taken as a whole, the recordings offer a valuable portrait of American contemporary art music in New York for this period, and the discussion sections add particular insights into the musical culture of the time.

These recordings were created in many cases by the staff of the Electronic Music Center, which possessed the necessary recording equipment. Pril Smiley, former Associate Director of the Center, has recounted transporting the heavy Ampex reel-to-reel tape recorder by bicycle to some concerts for recording (way before the existence of niceties such as bike lanes)!

Ampex400TapeRecorder …and, yes…. these were very heavy!

Thirty concerts have been fully digitized and made available to date, funded by a grant from the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC); they are now available for listening on dedicated workstations in the Music & Arts Library, 701 Dodge. Digitization of the remaining recordings is underway with support from the New York State Conservation/Preservation Program. The recordings digitized to date can be retrieved in CLIO by searching keywords "composers forum". See a sample CLIO record at this link:

To access these recordings, come to the Music & Arts Library, 701 Dodge, and ask for directions on which workstations host the files. Contact us with any questions at

For some further reading on the Composers Forum’s pre-WWII period, see:

Melissa J. de Graaf’s article "Records of the New York Composers’ Forum: The Documentary Motive and Music in the 1930s", Notes, Volume 64, Number 4, June 2008, pp. 688-701

Nick Patterson, Music Librarian, Music & Arts Library

The Digital Music Lab

AudioWaveform     DML-StudentWorking-DSC00157-WEB     DML-DigitalPiano-Web   




 Make some music!

The Digital Music Lab in the Music & Arts Library (701 Dodge) offers an extensive collection of software and hardware to enable your inner Beethoven, rock star, or musical mad scientist. The Lab is equipped with 5 Mac Pro workstations, 2 Yamaha Arius YDP181 digital pianos (with weighted keyboard action and MIDI connectivity), and a large-format scanner to accommodate the scanning of larger music scores. The software available in the Digital Music Lab includes:

So, what can you do with all of this? Some projects to date have included:

  • preparation of professional-quality music scores and parts
  • scanning music for editing, transposing, and preparation for performance
  • experimenting with orchestration & arrangements
  • composing and recording from the digital piano
  • multi-track editing of audio for CD release
  • audio recording, editing, and cleanup of LP content
  • other possibilities might include scoring audio to picture, writing a program to use video to create music, building your own virtual synthesizer, and more. 

Want to learn more? Info sessions on the Digital Music Lab are offered periodically; the next session is on Friday, Oct. 21, from 1-2:30 pm, in the Music & Arts Library. Registration is required, and is available at this link (

Can’t make the upcoming info session, but would like to be notified of future sessions? Just use the same registration link as above, and indicate that you’re interested in future sessions. We’ll get back to you as future sessions are scheduled.

Comments or questions? Contact us at We hope to see you getting creative in the Digital Music Lab!