Annie Swafford is a NINES fellow for this academic year and a 4th year PhD student in English at UVa.
This year, like last year, we NINES fellows will be blogging about our areas of DH interest. Since we were each selected for the program to focus on a digital project of our own choosing, I decided to take this opportunity to explain the rationale behind my project, entitled “Songs of the Victorians: A Hypermedia Archive of Song Settings of Victorian Poems,” which I began last year through the NINES program.
I study the intersections of music and Victorian poetry, and the final chapter of my dissertation focuses on Victorian musical settings of contemporaneous poems. I have written papers on such topics in the past, and have discovered that it’s nearly impossible to make arguments that involve music through traditional print media unless one writes for a musical audience. I have included excerpts of the musical score, which helps the handful of people who can read music, but even fewer of them can actually hear in their mind the music they see on the page. I’ve seen instances where scholars have included a cd along with their article, but even that is no guarantee that the reader will listen to the music or be able to follow the audio or the argument without guidance. As a result, I’ve developed a website that can help solve this problem.
My website features scans of the first edition printings and audio files of the songs as well as an analysis of the ways the song interprets the poems they set. Although users can focus on each part separately (view the score, listen to the audio, or read the commentary), they will be best served by the interactive functionality of the site. When the audio file is played, a box highlights each measure in time with the music so a user can follow along. Additionally, when the commentary explains a particular musical effect that augments the meaning of the text, the user can click on a parenthetical note at the end of the sentence that will play that portion of the audio file and highlight the score in time with the music, so the user can follow the argument regardless of their musical prowess. I hope that this will be useful not just for my own work, but also for anyone who wants to present an argument involving music for non-musicians.
The project is not yet live, but if you would like to see it in its current incarnation, then feel free to view the demo video I made.
If any of you have suggestions on MEI incorporation, design, or score following, then please let me know! I’m always open to suggestions.