Groovy Grove’s changes its name and gets a facelift

Earlier this year Grove Music Online was rebranded as Oxford Music Online now incorporating The Oxford Companion to Music [OCM] (2002) and the 2nd edition of The Oxford Dictionary of Music [ODM] (2006) in addition to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera [NGDOP] (1992) and The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz [NGDOJ] (2001) which have been available with the entire second edition of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians [NGDOM] since the database launched sometime in 2001. I’m mildly amused when resources attempt rebranding exercises as they ignore one’s cognitive and experiential development.Case in point, my own first exposure to Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians was Stanley Sadie’s 1980 version. I was preparing with other Music majors for one of our History of Western Music examinations, in particular, Professor Suzanna Waldbauer’s infamous ‘drop the needle’ listening tests in the midst of a blizzard. Those who do not have a pre-CD/digital audio awareness may not appreciate how fun name-the-tune examinations used to be!Whilst the Palisca and Grout History of Western Music was our central textbook with some additional support from Hoppin’s Medieval Music and Reese’s Music in the Renaissance, several of us were having a hard time distinguishing aurally between motets, virelai, madrigals, caccia, ballata, frottola. We would take turns just dropping the needle somewhere in the middle of the LP and try to identify the clip within a few seconds. Passing by our study room, Prof Waldbauer said (in her thick Hungarian accent), “Honey, if you are unsure, just go to Grove’s and investigate. From there you can follow the bibliography and see where it takes you. Sadie has corrected most of the mistakes [particularly on early music]. Go to Grove’s.” Worried about the impending snow storm someone asked whether the listening examination would be cancelled.Having grown up in rural Hungary studying with Zoltán Kodály and attending both the Franz Liszt Academy and the National Conservatory of Music in Budapest, “ZhuzhyWaldbauer was not afraid of anything, let alone some snow. In characteristic style, she responded “don’t worry darling, I’m sleeping here in the Department so that I can give you your exam.”

view of snow storm from the Music Department

And in spite of the blizzard which dumped nearly 1.5 metres of snow (above), we did have our ‘drop-the-needle’ listening exam having excised some further distinguishable elements of the various musical forms from Grove’s. Now despite the name change to Oxford Music Online, I will always have Grove’s indelibly burnt into my brain (as will many others coming out of that tradition!)

In terms of this latest incarnation, there are some notable changes. There has been a complete revamp of the overall structure of articles. Previously, when searching for a particular composer, one might retrieve two valid results drawing on an article from NGDOM and another one from the NGDOP (if it was a composer who had composed operas like Verdi for example) or from the NGDOJ (if it was drawing its source from there). Now entries from these specialised Grove’s are classified as ‘subjects’ which function as ‘sub-articles’ to the primary article.

So a search in the new interface for Gioachino Rossini retrieves 55 results. A filter according to ‘subjects’ limits the result to 41 (above) which are mostly entries of his individual operas from the NGDOP. Overall, this is an improvement from Grove Music Online as the individual results used to display as valid entry points with no way to filter the results. You were in either Grove Music ‘proper’ or in the ‘opera’ section with this example. (However, I did like the fact that results would have the Level 1, 2 or 3 designation for exact matches and those which might be related. And this seems to be absent now.)

Whilst structurally improved, content (IMHO) can seem unnecessarily more cluttered. The addition of OCM and the ODM have certainly collocated more digital content, but does it add any more value? It is easy enough to de-select/select these options to bring in/exclude their respective articles, but in the editor’s own words, the new content will “supplement Grove’s more extensive coverage with content geared toward undergraduates and general users.” It is already an authoritative source and researchers of varying level can take what they need. I certainly did as an undergraduate and I do now professionally albeit for very different reasons. At the end of the day, I don’t think their particular addition adds much more value to the online experience.

Searching across the interface, the Boolean operators and truncation wild cards are still the same. Symphon* will retrieve plurals and foreign spellings. One of the nice features of the new layout is the ‘tab’ setup between the primary article, works, multimedia and related content. The related content refers to other relevant NGDOM articles as well as to the other external content. For example, if your institution has a subscription to Oxford Dictionary of National Biography then there is seamless integration to pursue further information leads. For example, more information on John Lennon can be found in the ODB below.

In addition to closer collaborations with the ODB, there is also the opportunity to connect bibliographic data in the entries to RILM. It should also be noted that it is also now possible to listen to materials licensed via the Classical Music Library and the Database of Recorded American Music (DRAM). These recordings would display in the Multimedia tab (if your institution has a subscription). If not, there are still other interesting materials such as score examples, various photographs and images and even playbills from the first performance (below).
One of my main criticisms of Grove Online (and to some degree Oxford Music Online) comes down to one of the key parameters used to evaluate online resources. In relation to the CRAP Index (which measures Currency, Reliability, Authority and Purpose/Point of View) the database sails through the ‘R’, ‘A’ and ‘P’. Where I think it still needs a lot of work is with the issue of Currency.

 When the NGDOM went online, there was no date (other than the copyright at the bottom of the screen) indicating when the entry was written. In the printed domain, one could easily identify this from the imprint. However, when it migrated into the virtual world, one could not identify with certainty when and/or if an article had been updated. Unlike journal articles which have volume and edition specific information, databases, particularly, those built on article entries, can not be uniformly captured with a roving copyright. This issue has been addressed to some degree in the latest upgrade. Some of the entries now contain a ‘last updated’ statement but many still do not. Oxford Music Online has said that the static articles (those drawn from the NGDOP and the NGDOJ) will not ‘be subject to regular updating’ and as such, will not have this critical piece of identification.

It should come as no surprise that this authoritative online music resource with its capacity for full text searching is still overall a tremendous benefit to researchers outweighing any of its shortcomings. The fact that it is collaborating with other existing music providers bodes well for future integration and seamless serendipitous information discovery.

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