These are competitive times

As I ease myself into my harness as IAML (UK & Irl)’s Performance Set officer, I thought I’d share some things I’ve been chewing over about the various forms of competition there are to the services we offer.

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Here in Birmingham, we’re quite new to charging for performance sets, having only been doing so for four years or thereabouts. Even so, some distinct trends have become apparent. While the number of orchestras borrowing has remained roughly the same, there has been an appreciable decline in the number of choirs, particularly small, community-based ones, and our concert band / big band / youth orchestra section now gets little use.

Orchestral sets

Here’s what we charge for borrowing instrumental sets. These are one-off charges, and the organisations don’t pay a subscription.

A piece is “short” if it is 20 minutes or less, and “long” if it is more than 20 minutes.
Duration Birmingham price Outside Birmingham price
Up to 20 minutes £10 £20
Over 20 minutes £20 £30
Concert band, big band, school orchestra £7 £10

We’re looking to add another price band for Premium sets which would add another £10 onto the ‘Long’ price.

The greatest decline in usage is for the shortest pieces. Unsurprising really, when you consider that £20 might almost buy a set of parts from Goodmusic. Shorter pieces are also quite attractive for orchestras to print off their own set from IMSLP or similar. And for conductors who are less fussy, some orchestras are using elderly Hawkes sets that they already own. Add in borrowing from other organisations, either locally or through Making Music’s system, and that’s a lot of competition. I’ve also had instances where wealthier organisations have spurned my Kalmus offerings (Mahler and Bruckner, for example) in favour of hiring a more urtext edition from a commercial source.

After several lean years, there was a proper budget allocation here last year, and I spent most of it replacing parts or buying new urtext sets to replace old, tatty versions. I’m very conscious that taking a hire charge for a set that’s held together with tape is not a recipe for a satisfied customer.

Choral sets

Here the situation is complicated by the charging system. Not a system of my devising, I hasten to add. We are hoping to change it to a charge per copy with a reduced charge for short pieces.

Short choral sets

A piece is “short” if it is 20 minutes or less, including vocal compilations.
Number of copies Birmingham price Outside Birmingham price
Up to 30 copies £10 £15
31 to 60 copies £20 £30
61 to 90 copies £30 £40
91 + copies £40 £60

Long choral sets

A piece is “long” if it is more than 20 minutes.
Number of copies Birmingham price Outside Birmingham price
Up to 30 copies £20 £30
31 to 60 copies £40 £60
61 to 90 copies £60 £90
91 + copies £80 £120

As you can see, it penalises small groupings who pay as much as a larger choir of thirty. And if any choir wishes to do a number of short, separate pieces, then the charges rack up quickly. This also exacerbates the problem of getting loans for short anthems and similar pieces. Although I’ve been reluctant to buy separate shorts, we do have quite a lot. Sometimes it was the only way of introducing a new composer. However, in the future, I shall be following the trend of only buying the larger publications of gathered together pieces.

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It is easy to download free choral music and it fits on a standard sheet of paper without being reduced in size. It also makes economic sense for choirs if it’s something they think will be used again. Making Music’s mutual loan arrangements are also an option. And private individuals who set themselves up as a vocal score hire library. Maybe I’m behind the times – I only discovered this option a couple of months ago. So I find myself with a number of titles which don’t get hired and are unlikely to be so. With pressure on space, those are the titles which are going to be discarded first. I’ve also found that loans of Christmas carol titles have plummeted, so those will be whittled down considerably.

Another pressure from choirs is for new titles – whether they’re to fill repertoire gaps or for recent publications. And of course, a substantial outlay may be required for a new set, particularly if like us, access to other collections isn’t possible to supplement the numbers. There are additional pressures from the demand for urtext editions, the need to replace copies, and also to increase the quantities of particularly popular sets. I’m also finding that some conductors have fixed ideas of which edition they’d like. There have been a couple of instances when we offered an urtext edition, only to be turned down because it wasn’t the urtext edition they had in mind.

In conclusion

From my experience, there is a pressing need to keep performance set collections relevant, in good condition, and as competitively priced as possible. This is easier said than done. It needs a manager who’s on board, funds, and the wherewithal to spend them sensibly. In other words, someone who knows what to buy and why, and access to a supplier who also understands what it is that you want. I am lucky that we are allowed to purchase printed music outside the buying consortium arrangements for the rest of our stock.

And yes, this is only one of the challenges we face, but it is an important one, and one we ignore at our peril.

I would be very interested in your responses, either via the IAML list, by commenting on here, or to

Anne Elliott, Performing Sets Officer, IAML UK & Irl., Music Library, Library of Birmingham

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New music library for Leeds’ cultural quarter

leeds-1 In 2017, Leeds College of Music will be moving their music library to the Quarry Hill Skyline building, dramatically increasing the resources available to their students, and opening up their impressive facilities to the public.

The new library will house Leeds College of Music’s huge vinyl archive and music collection, which includes over 30,000 items of printed music, 11,000 CDs, 700 DVDs and 9,000 LPs, as well as around 8,000 books. The two-storey development will also contain student learning spaces, staff offices, quiet and meeting rooms and I.T. and communications facilities.

The conservatoire has always been a key player in the Leeds cultural scene, championing relevant and innovative music education since its inception in 1965. Giving the public access to its unique music resource and enhancing Leeds’ creative resources was a significant focus of the project.

“The conservatoire already boasts numerous industry-standard studios, Mac labs, practice rooms and performance spaces, and is continually investing in resources for students and visitors” said Principal and MD, Gerry Godley. “In order to remain a leading player in the UK’s music education marketplace, it is critical that our facilities remain cutting edge and enhance our diverse and innovative offer. This new home for our library, and the creation of an additional stimulating place to study, will play a key part in achieving this. As part of our aim to be a centre of creative discovery for Leeds, I’m delighted that we’ll also be able to share our extensive collections with music lovers throughout the city.”

DarntonB3 Architecture is once again working with Leeds College of Music to devise and deliver a bespoke learning environment focused on enhancing the already exceptional student experience delivered at the conservatoire. Building on the successful working relationship developed during the realisation of the 2015 regional RIBA award-winning new entrance at Leeds College of Music’s Quarry Hill campus, the team have collaborated to create a dynamic design that represents the ethos and aspirations of the conservatoire.

DarntonB3 Director, Keith Hardcastle commented, “It is great to be involved in the development of such an exciting and important facility on behalf of Leeds College of Music. We have re-employed the same design principles that we applied to our previous award-winning project for the conservatoire and will focus all our skills on achieving the same high quality end result for this scheme.“

leeds-2Quarry Hill has become known as the Cultural Quarter in Leeds, and includes noteworthy cultural organisations such as the BBC, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Northern Ballet, Phoenix Dance and Munro House Arts Centre. LCoM moved to its current location in 1997 and The Venue, the conservatoire’s main performance space opened in 2003. The Skyline building opened in 2009 and comprises a 16-storey block providing a mixture of luxury apartments, but the ground floor has, until now, remained vacant. Having now secured planning permission, construction of the library will commence in January 2017, with completion anticipated for June 2017.

[EDITOR] : Leeds College of Music is the largest music conservatoire in the UK and offers Higher Education provision in Classical Music, Jazz, Popular Music, New Music, Folk Music, Songwriting, Film Music, Music Production and Music Business, as well as Further Education courses, short courses for adults and children and a Saturday Music School for young musicians.

The conservatoire also hosts a year-round schedule of events and performances, covering a broad variety of musical genres. Workshops and masterclasses are delivered by world-renowned industry professionals and performances from internationally-acclaimed artists feature alongside the conservatoire’s ensembles.

DarntonB3 Architecture is an architecture-led multi-disciplinary consultancy providing services throughout the UK and internationally. The firm has 9 UK offices and a further representative office in Dubai, UAE. Clients range across public and private sectors and the firm works on all scale of project.

For further information, images and interview requests please contact: Anna Keogh, Head of Marketing & Communications –

Anna Keogh

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Philosophy, astrology and… Christmas lists?

Interesting posting from the Holst Project Archivist.

holst archive project

Nobody panic- despite the title, this is not an (exceptionally early) festive post!

I had no idea that it was possible to observe, understand, and come to know, so many sides of one person through only one medium, until now. This is exactly what I have encountered in my first couple of weeks as the new Holst Project Archivist, engrossed in the task of cataloguing Gustav Holst’s notebooks and engagement diaries.

While to the eye, they appear as nothing special, simply every day notebooks, once tucked into a back pocket, these hastily, (and often scruffily) jotted records actually provide an invaluable insight into the man behind them, and also the man behind some of the most well-known English musical compositions of all time.

In Imogen Holst’s biography of her beloved father, Ralph Vaughan Williams contributes a poignant memory of a friend and contemporary:

Though he seemed sometimes to be living…

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Happy New Year!

For academic librarians throughout the UK and Ireland it’s the start of another academic year. Over the next few weeks we’ll see lots of eager new faces, often looking slightly scared along with worried looking final years. Some of the librarians are looking pretty worried too as they start library induction tours and talks; and plan user education. How can we make sure new readers appreciate the importance of our collections, and know what a library can do for them? Then there are all the complexities of library life – self-issue desks, the essential do’s and don’t’s, how do you find what you need? Most of all – DON’T BE SCARED OF THE LIBRARIAN! (We’re nice honest! We hug trees, bake cakes, and get a kick out of helping our readers).

I recently came across a wonderful video courtesy of Liverpool University Library, which got me thinking about novel ways to introduce readers to library life. Here are just a few innovative videos – an inspiration for library user education everywhere…

Of course we all know that despite being tree huggers (books are made out of them, after all) a librarian is always ready to spring into action, as another take on self-issue borrowing from the University of Stirling demonstrates…

As far as library tours are concerned, there are several routes you can follow. Some libraries give in-depth online tours. These are great if you have time to watch them. Some, like the University of Bedford do “Just a minute” tours, which give a brief but thorough over-view. Others, like Anglia Ruskin in Cambridge, go for a slightly different, but memorable approach.

Western University has a great range of short films, many featuring animation, on all aspects of research life. We may not all be artists, but these certainly gave me some food for thought.

The University of Minnesota has put together a great short video, making the most of their students, and the questions that they’ve asked. Part tour, part library informational, it’s simple but also memorable. (Also did you know that Minnesota has one of the largest Sherlock Holmes collections in the world?)

Many thanks to all the libraries who’ve produced some wonderful videos. They’ve certainly given this particular librarian lots of ideas.

Happy academic year to all my fellow academic librarians.

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All the fun of the fair

Despite September’s impressive attempts to imitate our August heat wave, summer is finally over. Autumn has rolled in and schools and universities have resumed business as usual. Here at Westminster Music Library, however, we do not resent the end of summer. The beginning of the school year brings with it thousands of students, and many of them musicians. Did you know that there are five specialist music conservatoires in London alone? Even conservatively estimating an intake of 100 per college per year, that’s 500 new music students in the Greater London area each year – all of whom could benefit from our wonderful collection at Westminster Music Library.

We are proud to have the finest public music collection in the country, and are keen to share it with as many musicians as possible. But how do you reach all of these newly-settled musicians? This is where we are immensely thankful for Freshers’ Fairs. Conservatoires’ Student Unions do a fantastic job arranging these each year for new students to discover what services they could benefit from during their time in London. I was fortunate enough to get to some of these Fairs this year, and meet hundreds of students in the process.

All the fun of the fair in the Royal Academy of Music's concert hall

All the fun of the fair in the Royal Academy of Music’s concert hall

I first attended Royal Academy of Music’s Fair, in their very grand concert hall. Over an intense two hours, students flooded in. The amount of foot traffic was amazing and our stall was always surrounded. A large number of students signed up for memberships after learning about our wide selection of stock and generous loan allowances. Being music students, many were particularly interested in Westminster Music Library’s rehearsal room with piano. Here I also met our friends from Barbican Music Library, with whom I would be sharing a table at our next Fair. By the end of the Fair, we were exhausted but satisfied with the interest shown.

Barry Tsirtou of Marylebone Library. <br/>One of many librarians selling their wares at Freshers Fairs across London.

Barry Tsirtou of Marylebone Library.
One of many librarians selling their wares at Freshers Fairs across London.

After a few days I was out on the road again, carrying with me sheet music samples, flyers, membership forms, and, most importantly, free chocolates to entice hungry students. I was slightly concerned that my poor little folding bicycle would collapse under the strain on the way to Guildhall School of Music and Drama! Guildhall’s Fair was in their downstairs Theatre, a huge underground space. The size of the space allowed many more stallholders to be present, and I particularly enjoyed seeing my friends from Paxman Musical Instruments Ltd., who sold me my French horn many years ago. Other stallholders ranged from the local police force to the Royal British Legion, and even a stall selling second-hand bicycles to new students. Fortunately my bike had survived the journey and I didn’t need to replace it!

During the Guildhall Fair I was able to talk to many interested musicians about their musical needs and how we can help them at the Library. Once again we had a great success, handing out many shiny new membership cards. Jacky, representing Barbican Music Library, was a wonderful table partner. The students could hardly believe it when they discovered that there were two specialist music libraries in London!

We are grateful to the conservatoires for hosting us, and look forward to meeting more students very soon!

Jacky and the Barbican Music Library stall

Jacky Mitchell and the Barbican Music Library Freshers Fair stall

Jon Frank, Westminster Music Library

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In at the death

Partly inspired by an ASW….

MusiCB3 Blog

Laurence Boyce at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons The Last Trump for music blogs?
Detail from a mediaeval Doom wall-painting in St. Andrew’s, Chesterton, Cambridge
Laurence Boyce at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0 ]
via Wikimedia Commons The other day I came across a classical music blog that was musing on the death of….classical music blogs. The online world has been prophesying the death of blogs for some time, I remember Twitter being hailed as sounding the last trump for blogs. Yet still they manage to survive, partly, I guess, because music blogs are there for different reasons. If some bloggers are perhaps no longer as independent as they once were, there are still plenty of music blogs catering to a diverse range of tastes and needs.

Fan blogs tend to centre more around popular music, and act as a link between bands and their followers. Paul McCartney’s website, for example, has a series…

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In a child’s mind

It’s not just scores! Some unexpected items to be found in a music library.

MusiCB3 Blog

Thanks from schoolchildren after an early music workshop. Thanks from schoolchildren to David and Gill Munrow after an early music workshop.

The BBC over the last few years has tried to get children to become more involved in classical music. November 2014 saw the introduction of Ten Pieces, an initiative aimed initially at children of primary school age. There was a “Ten Pieces” prom in August 2015. With the success of the primary school programme the initiative was expanded in 2015 to include children of secondary school age; and culminated in another Prom (Ten Pieces II) in July 2016.

Among the more unexpected items that we have in the Music Department of the University Library are children’s responses to classical music. Specifically their response to Sir Arthur Bliss‘s Colour Symphony, and to medieval music as performed by David and Gill Munrow.

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