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
|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
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.