How to play sheet music without a piano

November 22, 2013 Leave a comment

[Kelsey Gower has been faithfully contributing descriptions to the Project for some time and is gradually working her way through the scores and creating sound files for them. These will eventually be linked to the images of the sheet music on the What’s the score? platform. Meanwhile, a small selection of Kelsey’s transcriptions can be heard here.]

I found What’s the Score? late last year through Zooniverse. I found the history behind the sheet music fascinating, but I was not satisfied simply describing it. I wanted to hear the music, but aside from a few pieces on the project page and some classical pieces on Youtube I could not find recordings anywhere. Another issue was that I did not have a piano, so I could not play the songs the way I believe they should be played. Luckily, though I didn’t have a piano, I did not have to go searching for one. With some advice and help, I found I could transcribe the sheets in a MIDI creator and play the music on my computer.


A MIDI creator is a program that provides an easy way to annotate instructions to a computer’s sound card in order to produce music. So far, I have transcribed these pieces using the program Noteworthy Composer, which can be used to both produce MIDI files, print sheet music, and preview composed songs. I use the number keys to set note values and accidentals. I press ‘Enter’ to set a note on a specific place on the staff and press ‘Space’ for a rest. It’s a simple though repetitive system. Overall, I find the program easy to use and achieve good results with it. There are limits though – for one piece I needed to improvise a bit when I found that the program does not group quarter notes into quintuplets.


After I finish transcribing a piece of music, I listen to it, make corrections, and export it in MIDI format. From there, I convert the MIDI into an MP3 using a free converter. After that, the file is sent off to the Bodleian. Soon the MP3s will be linked from the songs themselves, and everyone can listen to the music stored in this archive. I currently enjoy making and listening to these songs, and I hope you will enjoy them too.


Kelsey writes about herself:

Kelsey Gower has had an interest in music history for some time. She started transcribing sheet music out of a desire to hear the music she was describing on the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project. Previously she has served in the United States Air Force from 2007-2013 as a linguist. During this time she earned an Associate’s of Arts in Arabic Studies. She is currently planning on attending university for a business degree. Kelsey is also a regular contributor to other Zooniverse projects.

Categories: Uncategorized

Who was Adelina Patti?

Image: Patti QuadrillesOne of the new sound files on the What’s the Score? website is of a piece called the Adelina Patti Galop. Among the sheet music selected for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project, there are several pieces inspired by this lady, including the galop, The Adelina Patti Polka, The Adelina Waltz and the Patti Quadrilles.

Probably the most famous singer of her time, Adelina Patti has been described as the second most celebrated woman in the world in the year 1900, after Queen Victoria. Born in 1843, into an Italian family of singers while her parents were working in Madrid, she toured the USA as a child prodigy and made her London début at the age of 18 in the demanding role of Amina in Bellini’s La sonnabula. From that point, she dominated the stage at Covent Garden for a quarter of a century, as well as performing in all the major opera houses of Europe and the Americas.

Her personal life had a degree of turbulence not unusual in such circles. She married the Marquis de Caux in 1868, the French tenor Ernesto Nicolini in 1886 (after a lengthy affair) and finally the Swedish Baron Rolf Cederström in 1899. A shrewd businesswoman, she could command enormous fees and amassed a considerable fortune. In 1878, she purchased Craig-y-Nos Castle and its estate, near Brecon, where she built her own private theatre, a miniature version of La Scala, Bayreuth and Drury Lane, rolled into one. She retired officially in 1906, but continued to make charity performances until the beginning of the First World War. She died at Criag-y-Nos in 1919 at the age of 76.

Although singing was doubtless in her genes and Patti always claimed she was self-taught,
Image; The Adelina Patti Galopshe did receive lessons from family members when she was a child. In her heyday, she was renowned for her astonishing vocal agility and stamina, as well as for the beauty and purity of her tone. Her remarkable vocal technique meant that recordings she made in her 60s, in the early years of the 20th century, do more than hint at what she must have been like in her prime.

John Rosselli, in his book Singers of Italian opera: the history of a profession (CUP, 1992)
describes her in these terms: “The highest paid opera singer in history, in real terms, was probably the soprano Adelina Patti. Her doll-like looks and pure, even vocal emission masked a notable competence in running her career and a will of iron.”


– Listen to the Adelina Patti Galop

– View the score

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

What’s the Score at the Bodleian? goes live

The Snails GalopAfter several months of development work and testing by a limited number of users, What’s the score at the Bodleian? is finally being released to the general public today. The Bodleian Libraries are enlisting the help of the public in this experimental project to help improve access to parts of their music collections. A selection of unbound and uncatalogued piano sheet music from the mid-Victorian period has been digitised and people are asked to submit descriptions of the scores by transcribing the information they see. This will help to make them more readily discoverable online.

The Bodleian has teamed up with Zooniverse, world leaders in crowd-sourcing technology and the people behind various high-profile ‘Citizen Science’ projects, such as Galaxy Zoo and The Milky Way Project. They have recently branched out from purely astronomical subjects into other areas, with projects like Old Weather and Ancient Lives, and have adapted their software in order to present our music scores for the gathering of crowd-sourced data ( In conjunction with this, the Bodleian has developed a website which will contain the digitised scores and descriptive information about them ( Data collected from crowd-sourcing will eventually feed into this database, to add to the basic metadata already there, making the collection searchable and available for the first time.

The Jubilee WaltzesThe music selected for this project has never been catalogued by the Library so has not been readily available to users. Although music of this kind was considered to have little academic value at the time of receipt, it can now offer an insight into the nature of amateur music-making during the Victorian period and reveal something of the social history of the time. Many of the scores have attractively illustrated covers which are a subject of study in their own right.

This project may lead in future to the Libraries exploring further ways in which members of the public, who may be experts in particular fields, can be encouraged to enrich the existing catalogues and other finding aids by contributing additional information about the collections.

So, please sign up and become a contributor (

For more information about the project, see

Categories: Uncategorized

Trial by Jury Polka

September 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Sample scores from our collection:

Trial by Jury Polka (on airs from Arthur Sullivan’s operetta)

by Charles d’Albert.

Cover for 'Trial by Jury Polka' scores
Charles d’Albert was a prolific composer who, like many other composers during the second half of the  nineteenth century, based some of his dance music on popular operas or ballets. Some examples of such pieces are found among the first batch of material digitised for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project (visit our Recordings page for some samples).

Among the works that have inspired d’Albert is Trial by Jury by Gilbert and Sullivan.

Trial by Jury is a comic opera in one act, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It was first produced on 25 March 1875, at London’s Royalty Theatre, where it initially ran for 131 performances and was considered a hit, receiving critical praise and outrunning its popular companion piece, Jacques Offenbach’s La Périchole. The story concerns a “breach of promise of marriage” lawsuit in which the judge and legal system are the objects of lighthearted satire.  (Wikipedia Accessed 6 Sep 2011)

d’Albert wrote a series of dances based on the opera, and the Polka is one. It did not receive a particularly favourable reception by The Argus (Melbourne), which reviews it under its ‘Music Received’ heading on 31 August 1876 (page 5) :

The ‘ Trial by Jury Polka” is from the veteran hand of Charles D’Albert (Chappell and Co., New Bond-Street), a lively enough fragment but not equal in effect to ‘The Trial by Jury Lancers,’ which we noticed recently in these columns. The name of Charles D’Albert gives rise to higher expectations than are satisfied by this production. (

What the quote shows, other than that the reviewer wasn’t particularly impressed,  is that other works by d’Albert were known and appreciated in Australia at that time. It is also interesting to note how quickly dance music based on stage hits was produced and exported. The Trial by Jury Polka scores had reached Australia within 18 months of the original opera opening in London, and then it had still been preceded by other titles, like The Trial by Jury Lancers.

In his article Dance arrangements from the Savoy Operas, John Sands notes that although popular in its time, many of the pieces like Trial by Jury Polka are little known today.

These attractive pieces are virtually unknown today, whilst comparable dances based on the operettas of Johann Strauss II (1825-1899) are highly regarded and regularly performed. The difference, of course, is that Strauss was responsible for arranging many such pieces himself whilst the names of Sullivan’s arrangers are little more than footnotes in Victorian musical history. (Dance arrangements from the Savoy Operas by John Sands. Accessed 6 Sept 2011)

Many more pieces by d’Albert were published, and some of them are being digitised and made available through our What’s the Score at the Bodlian? project. A list of d’Albert music can be found in Universal Handbook of Musical Literature (on pages 128-132)  available online at The Open Library.

logo: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence In this recording of Trial by Jury Polka, created for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project, we hear Ben Sheen on the piano. The recording is released with the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence. It can be reused and redistributed globally provided that it is used in a non-commercial way and the reuse is attributed to “What’s the Score at the Bodleian?” and Ben Sheen. If you derive a new work from the recording, the new work may be distributed provided it is released under the same licence.

You can read about the recording session when this and other pieces were recorded in our ‘So that’s what they sound like…’ blog post. More project recordings and scores are available on the project webpage.

The Cleopatra Galop

September 2, 2011 1 comment

A sample of the scores in our collection:

The Cleopatra Galop

by Charles d’Albert

The version of The Cleopatra Galop that the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project is digitizing has a cover featuring a big obelisk, not unlike Cleopatra’s Needle, the famous London landmark.Cover of Cleopatra Galop

Cleopatra’s Needle is an ancient Egyptian obelisk that can be seen in London. It was presented to the United Kingdom in 1819 but it took almost sixty years before it was actually moved from Egypt to the UK. The move was both expensive and dramatic. A special vessel was built to hold the 68 foot tall stone, and this iron cylinder – which was dubbed the Cleopatra – was then to be towed to London. The whole venture nearly ended with failure on 14 October 1877 when the vessel and tow were hit by a storm in the Bay of Biscay. Six men drowned when trying to save the Cleopatra, and the vessel with the obelisk was thought lost.  She was, however, found a few days later and on 21 January 1878 the Cleopatra with her valuable cargo arrived in London. The obelisk was erected on the Victoria Embankment on 12 September 1878. (source Wikipedia 1 Sept 2011)

The Cleopatra Galop was written by Charles d’Albert, a prolific composer of the time and former dance-master. The piece is advertised as ‘new dance music’ in the New Zealand The Hawke’s Bay Herald from 19 April 1878 (Volume XXI, Issue 50417, page 1), so it must have been written well before then to allow time for the scores to be printed and then transported all the way to Napier. D’Albert’s music was not infrequently inspired by contemporary events and it is easy to imagine that the move of the Egyptian obelisk may have influenced this piece. It could also be the case that the piece was simply a reflection of the Victorian fascination with all things oriental and that the cover is a later addition, perhaps to a later re-print? The obelisk was, after all, only erected in September 1878 – several months after the arrival of the scores in New Zealand.

In this recording of The Cleopatra Galop made for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project, we hear Tim Hawken on the piano. You can read about the recording session when this and other pieces were recorded in our  ‘So that’s what they sound like…’ blog post. More project recordings and down-loadable versions of the Cleopatra Galop and other scores are available on the project webpage.

logo: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence This recording is released with the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence. It can be reused and redistributed globally provided that it is used in a non-commercial way and the reuse is attributed to “What’s the Score at the Bodleian?” and Tim Hawken. If you derive a new work from the recording, the new work may be distributed provided it is released under the same licence.

Nearest and Dearest

Sample score from our collection:

Nearest and Dearest
Waltz, on airs from Audran’s comic opera, Olivette,

by Charles d’Albert

Audran’s opera Olivette (Les noces d’Olivette) was first played in Paris in 1879 and then in London  in 1880-1881 (English language adaptation).  It must have been well received because not only did it go on to play at the Strand Theatre for 466 performances but the music was also adapted and released in several versions intended for home use. Charles d’Albert, the prolific composer/arranger, produced a waltz for piano (solo or duet) based on airs from the opera. Vocal pieces and pieces for the piano were also released, as demonstrated by adverts placed by Chappell and Co in other music publications (such as in this version of Iolanthe from 1882).Cover of 'Nearest and Dearest'

D’Albert’s version is marketed under the heading ‘dance music’ and was presumably intended not only to be played and listened to but also to be suitable for dancing. That d’Albert’s dance music was popular is not surprising when it is considered that he was very familiar with dance himself. Before he dedicated his time fully to composing and teaching, d’Albert had been a dancer. He had worked with in Paris and been a ballet-master at the King’s Theatre, London, and Covent Garden. He also published a book on ballroom etiquette.

The cover of the scores digitised by the What’s the Score at the Bodleian project advertises other works by the same composer: “Olivette Quadrille, Waltz & Polka” & Torpedo Galop. The cover also features a portrait of Violet Cameron who starred in the London production of Olivette. Cameron (1862-1919) had made her stage début only eight years old, and went on to have an intermittent career in comic opera and opera bouffe. She is said to be “blessed with extremely blond hair [and] a fine figure” (Richard Foulkes, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

logo: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence In this recording of the Nearest and Dearest waltz, made for the What’s the Score at the Bodleian project, we hear Ben Sheen on the piano. The recording is released with the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence. It can be reused and redistributed globally provided that it is used in a non-commercial way and the reuse is attributed to “What’s the Score at the Bodleian?” and Ben Sheen. If you derive a new work from the recording, the new work may be distributed provided it is released under the same licence.

You can read about the recording session when this and other pieces were recorded in our  ‘So that’s what they sound like…’ blog post. More project recordings and scores are available on the project webpage.

To hear the music from the Olivetti opera, listen to the MIDI files made available by Colin M. Johnson

The Rink Galop

Sample scores from our collection:

The Rink Galop: as performed at the Royal Aquarium Westminster

by Charles d’Albert

The Royal Aquarium was an entertainment venue in Westminster, London, which opened in January 1876 with royal pomp and circumstance. As suggested by the name, a major feature of the venue was a set of large aquariums (although due to ‘operational difficulties’, these did not hold any fish). There were also rooms for different types of entertainment including a theatre, a roller skating rink, and a library as well as drinking bars, a restaurant and even a hairdresser’s!

 “It was covered with a roof of glass and iron and decorated with palm trees, fountains, pieces of original sculpture, thirteen large tanks meant to be filled with curious sea creatures and an orchestra capable of accommodating 400 performers. Around the main hall were rooms for eating, smoking, reading and playing chess, as well as an art gallery, a skating rink and a theatre.” (

Cover page for 'The Rink Galop'

The cover of The Rink Gallop scores shown here gives an indication of what The Royal Aquarium may have looked like at the time. The music for this piece of dance music was written by Charles d’Albert. As it is advertised in the contemporary weekly magazine The Musical World from January 6th 1877 it is likely that it was written the same year the Aquarium was opened (1876).

The Rink Galop is one of hundreds of d’Albert’s pieces listed in The Universal handbook of musical literature  (p. 132). The Handbook was published in 1900 and claims to feature “all published compositions which at the present time are included in the various catalogues as being still obtainable at the original prices.”  (introduction, page A*). That suggests the piece was still for sale a quarter of a century after it was first published.

logo: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence In this recording of The Rink Galop, created for the What’s the Score project,  we hear Ben Sheen on the piano. The recording is released with the Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence. It can be reused and redistributed globally provided that it is used in a non-commercial way and the reuse is attributed to “What’s the Score at the Bodleian?” and Ben Sheen. If you derive a new work from the recording, the new work may be distributed provided it is released under the same licence.

You can read about the recording session when this and other pieces were recorded in our  ‘So that’s what they sound like…’ blog post. More project recordings and scores are available on the project webpage.

Further reading:

So that’s what they sound like…

August 19, 2011 3 comments

On Thursday 11 August, three accomplished musicians and one tone-deaf member of the project team congregated in the new Ensemble Room in Oxford University’s Music Faculty to record some of the pieces which are to be included in What’s the score at the Bodleian?

Our sound engineer chose to use some rather less daunting equipment than this.

The pieces recorded are all by Charles d’Albert, and were selected on the somewhat unscientific basis that the collection is being digitised alphabetically by composer, and d’Albert is by far the most prolific of those composers whose surname begins with the letter A.  That and the fact that we rather liked some of his tunes.

The Faculty provided us with microphones and some portable recording equipment (and instructed us how to use it), as well as – crucially – a piano (for which instructions weren’t required).  Twenty-seven takes and a couple of hours later, we had five piano pieces in the bag, performed with aplomb by Ben Sheen and Tim Hawken, all ready for editing and post-production:

  • Nearest and Dearest (Waltz, on airs from Audran’s comic opera, Olivette), performed by Ben Sheen
  • Trial by Jury Polka (on airs from Arthur Sullivan’s operetta), performed by Ben Sheen
  • The Rink Galop (as performed at the Royal Aquarium, Westminster), performed by Ben Sheen
  • Adelina (on Jules Cohen’s Opera Les Bluets), performed by Ben Sheen
  • The Cleopatra Galop, performed by Tim Hawken

Meanwhile, having been thoroughly entertained by some live performances of parlour songs at the project’s introductory reception in June, and with plenty of studio time left, it seemed too good an opportunity to miss to also record some non-project songs which demonstrate other aspects of domestic music which were popular in the 19th century:

  • Come into the Garden, Maud, by M. W. Balfe (words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson)
  • Home! Sweet Home! by Sir Henry Bishop (words by John Howard Payne)
  • The Lost Chord, by Sir Arthur Sullivan (words by Adelaide A. Procter)

As at the June event, these were sung by Greg Skidmore, accompanied by Tim Hawken on piano.

All of these pieces have now been made available on a new Recordings page on the project’s website, and for each of the d’Albert piano pieces a PDF file of the score itself is also provided.  Once the crowd-sourcing aspect of the project is in full swing, it is hoped that any members of ‘the crowd’ with a modicum of talent on the ivories will make their own recordings of piano pieces delivered through the project and allow us to put them online.

Crowdsourcing for transcription projects

What’s the Score at the Bodleian? featured at an event this weekend. The Crowdsourcing for transcription projects workshop was held at Merton College, Oxford, and saw a group of eager participants gather to hear about and discuss crowdsourcing in the context of transcription projects.

The program for the half-day event opened with three talks:

Arfon Smith (Zooniverse) couldn’t be at the event in person but luckily a podcast was available of his very relevant talk from the Beyond Collections 2011 conference last month. The talk provided a useful introduction not only to Zooniverse but to a number of issues to be considered by anyone setting out to conduct an academic crowdsourcing project.

David Tomkins described the What’s the Score at the Bodleian? project and showed some examples of the kind of material we are working with. He could also share some screenshots from the data collection interface which has just been made available to small group of testers.

Giles Bergel (Bodleian Ballads) talked about the work with ballads that has been going on at the Bodleian for a number of years. He presented some of the problems with the material, such as some text being very difficult to read for both humans and machines, and outlined some ideas for future projects.

The rest of the morning was spent productively discussing thoughts on crowdsourcing in general and ideas about transcription crowdsourcing in particular. It was agreed that this was beneficial, and that we’d like to continue the discussions and exchange of ideas. A first step will be to collect the ideas and references gathered during the day and circulate these, together with suggestions for further activities for the group.

Categories: events Tags: , ,

With a bit of music

June 17, 2011 1 comment
Greg Skidmore and Tim Hawken performing parlour songs

Greg Skidmore and Tim Hawken performing parlour songs

What’s the Score at the Bodleian? was introduced to a number of specially invited guests at a small event in Oxford this week.  About 40 people gathered in the Denis Arnold Hall in the University’s Faculty of Music to hear Bodley’s Librarian, Dr Sarah Thomas, introduce the project, after which three members of project staff each gave short presentations.  Martin Holmes outlined the Bodleian’s extensive music collections and explained some of the problems currently faced in making them more accessible; Ylva Berglund-Prytz gave an overview of crowd-sourcing as a relatively quick and economic means of capturing data, citing in particular some of the initiatives undertaken by Zooniverse; and David Tomkins gave an overview of the project methodology and its potential for additional enhancements in the future.  The presentations provided a platform for much informal discussion about the project and its future directions between guests and project staff over drinks and canapes.

Before and after the presentations, Greg Skidmore and Tim Hawken stole the show with a series of outstanding performances of parlour songs and piano pieces selected from the first batch of digitised scores for the project.

Categories: events Tags: , , ,
%d bloggers like this: