A surprising use of Trove's music

Exploring public domain sheet music

The story started when Trove user plumber contacted Trove to ask whether he was doing the right thing by adding notes to sheet music items in Trove, which included links to YouTube videos and SoundCloud files. After looking at some of the notes, our advice to him was a resounding YES!

You see, plumber was not only adding links to YouTube videos and SoundCloud files, they were links to files which had the audio of the sheet music found in Trove as created by plumber! We’ve always known that Trove users are intelligent and multi-talented so it’s always nice when we see fantastic uses of Trove like this. plumber has since created a list of the sheet music that has been recorded on YouTube and SoundCloud as a way to highlight this collection. The most astounding thing is that plumber doesn't actually read music!

Using the Trove functionality of notes, tags and lists to add value to Trove items is what we encourage all Trove users to do. These are all searchable in Trove and can help other users with their research and provide a better Trove experience for all.

We contacted plumber, who can now be revealed as Hamish Darby, for a short interview about his work in Trove, finding old sheet music and recording it online.

Photograph of Hamish Darby
Hamish Darby. Photo courtesy of Hamish Darby. Viewable via Flickr.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a vocational trainer from the tertiary sector in Western Australia.

I started researching materials I could broadcast to students on the internet. At the same time, I began directing amateur drama at the local repertory club. I made the decision to cast a spectacular vocalist for a song inserted into a non-musical play. The interests began to overlap.

I discovered that the digitization and sharing of prose novels was leaps ahead of stage dialogue. I am happy to say that drama is now catching up. I found three songs published in a particular multicultural one-act comedy "Maharani of Arakand" by George Calderon. The sheet music was in front of me. I wanted to hear the song played out loud.

How did you find out about Trove?

I found Trove while searching for biography details of Australian composers. I had expected to find one or two bush ballads out of copyright. My life was changed forever by the diversity and volume of material I found there. I am doubly astonished to find almost none of them for sale, few recorded and newspaper clippings that betray no performances in living memory.

Do you search for a particular piece of music or do you browse?

I am interested in strictly Australian, strictly out-of-copyright music. I would love to map out all the 'safe' territory. I spent a lot of time searching to suit these criteria. At first, I could not distinguish between Australian and foreign composers. Trove identifies material published here in our country, but composer nationality is somewhat blurred in musical heritage.

I have published a list of Australian composers that died before 1955 as guidance, with the usual warning to obtain clearance on each work. I have started recognizing favourites. I am in love with the works of several great countrymen, of which I had no prior knowledge. Many are heroes of service to Australian in undeserved anonymity. I have Trove to thank for many corrections and filled gaps. Neglect of musical heritage is a source for national Australian shame. Much has no viable commercial value. The work of preserving Australian music history, in a digestible form, for general public consumption is formidable. Let us not waver in their honour of their legacy.

What instruments do you play?

I had some lessons in primary school, but never learned to read music or play an instrument. I was involved with ABC POOL, before it closed. The few music makers willing to share audio all admitted poor music literacy.

My grandmother could have played [the sheet music]. She was a church organist for forty years and had repertoire to die for. The brothers at New Norcia all turned out to hear her play the cathedral organ. When she came down from the loft, they were most impressed and eager to discover what she had played. She told them "ad lib on scales". My granny had the sort of extraordinary keyboard skill, where she could play absolutely anything on sight. If people sang along, she could adjust the key by half an octave to suit the voice, while still playing. I am still dumbfounded by this feat.

Image of the cathedral organ at New Norcia
The organ at New Norcia Cathedral. Photo courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia 008590PD.

How do you record the music?

I use a Linux operating system and recommend open source score writer software for recording audio from sheet music. I am gradually improving the output from multiple voices, but there is a lot of music intended for the complexity of a British style brass band. Sousa has been mapped for years on MUTOPIA* and I feel confident that Bulch and Lithgow will follow eventually. The development of OCR technology for scanning sheet music to digital audio seems to have stalled. I am not sure if there is impetus to continue, that leaves the fingers of volunteers to enter the data as their whim directs.

*MUTOPIA is a project that offers free downloads of out of copyright classical sheet music.


Are you using Trove to help with a hobby as Hamish is? The Trove team loves hearing about the different ways Trove is inspiring people with their research and projects so please feel free to get in touch and tell us your story.

Our feature image, The Riddle of F.F.F. can be found in Trove and plumber's recordings can be found on SoundCloud


This blog was originally published on the National Library's previous Trove blog site in March 2014.