The NEUMES Project     Editorial Opinion

A Musicologist's View on NEUMES Data-Entry
by Debra S. Lacoste, Ph.D.

Familiarity with computer applications is truly a necessity for researchers in any field. Computing in the humanities, specifically, has taken great strides in recent decades, and I would estimate that the majority of scholars have risen to the task of adapting their research techniques and delivery of results to accommodate this trend and utilize its resources. I suspect, though, that many of us have little or no formal training in computer studies, and we know only what we have needed to learn along the way.

Some Musicologists and Computer Software Upgrades—Intentional avoidance or is it just about time and interest?

I recall, for example, a professional musicologist who had not used web-based email until a couple of years ago when PINE, all of a sudden, was insufficient for the viewing of attachments. Another musicologist I know was recently at a loss to resize an enormous graphic of a musical example. Many of us persisted in using WordPerfect 5.1 long after WYSIWYG was the norm, simply because the programme could manage all that we needed it to do and, more importantly, we knew how to use it.

Learning new software and discovering up-to-date programming and operating systems are not beyond our capabilities as musicologists and researchers in the humanities—this is instead, most likely, a matter of time and interest. If nothing else, our degrees of higher education have made us trainable. In combination with the skill of being able to learn, however, has come the usual demands of academia, with increased emphasis on quality teaching and the traditional expectations of research and publications. There is little time to experiment with the latest computer software offerings, especially if our interests lie more in the music we are researching than in the software applications which may store the results.

There may even be more issues than time and interest which separate most humanities researchers from the computer scientists. Other researchers may be a bit like myself and feel intimidated at first by terms such as "XML programming" and "codepoint assignments." (When I hear "validating parser" and "XML Schema," I feel so defensive and vulnerable that I want to fire back at the computer scientists with "versus sacerdotum" and "pes subbipunctis"! Ha!)

There is no doubt, however, that an increase of computer usage in humanities research will yield not only more efficient culmination of results, but also improved presentation of those results to potentially larger audiences. The benefits of data in electronic form are enormous; assembling the data, however, will require that we stretch once again and divert some of our time to newer, and possibly unfamiliar, computer resources.
Who Will Create NEUMES Transcriptions?

When the NEUMES Project realizes its potential and has enough data entered to demonstrate the advantages of digital transcription of musical notations, many musicologists will be interested in learning much more about what it can do for their own research. I suspect, however, that there are relatively few chant musicologists at present who would not be discouraged by the XML coding involved in creating new NEUMES transcriptions.
Anyone Can Create a NEUMES Transcription!

That said, I can state from personal experience that one need not understand how the XML operates to create a NEUMES transcription of a chant; it is necessary only to follow a model and enter data in the appropriate places. Learning what to look for amid the XML tags and attributes is merely a process of focusing on the manuscript data and ignoring the characters that are necessarily part of the computer language. This is akin to performing a simplified version of an intense musical passage by seeing only the skeletal framework and ignoring some of the intermediary notes. After a short while reading lines of XML, one becomes accustomed to the "<"s and "&"s, and any initial shock of viewing strings of unintelligible characters declines. With brief instructions and a couple of verified transcriptions to use as a basis, any chant musicologist should be able to create a NEUMES transcription.

There is, after all, a new generation of chant musicologists emerging, a group of young scholars who incorporate into their research more advanced computer applications and who are able to manoeuvre easily through multiple and varied computer platforms. The underlying technology of the NEUMES Project will both complement the work of these young scholars and satisfy their needs for data management and manipulation in the coming years.

Protected by law under one or more of the following copyrights:
Copyright 2005-2008, The University of Oxford.
Copyright 2003-2005, Louis W. G. Barton.
Copyright 2002-2003, The President and Fellows of Harvard College; contains software or other intellectual property licensed from Louis W. G. Barton, copyright 1995-2001 by Louis W. G. Barton.