Diving into musical incipits (so to speak)

Musical incipits — how does one do this? We followed the leaders.  Since we wanted the musical incipits available to scholars where they work,  we selected OCLC’s WorldCat Discovery for bibliographic access; however, the WorldCat lacks software to display musical incipits.  The other place where music scholars work is RISM (Répertoire International des Sources Musicales), which does display musical incipits. So, it was a matter of making our bibliographic records with incipits in WorldCat and migrating our records to RISM so that the music incipits display.  Another huge factor in this decision was that the Moravian Music Foundation looked for a hosted IT solution that would not require servers and customization at the local level. So, it was not a matter of finding software that could use Finale or Sibelius files, we needed a whole solution.

Musical incipits were baked into the RISM cake from the beginning in the 1970s. An encoding system called, Plaine and Easie Code, is the international standard used for musical incipits in RISM records. It is suited for use without technology, but is made much easier to use with modern tools.  It is said that Plaine and Easie Code is neither plain, nor easy; but using online software Verovio makes creating the code almost as easy as playing the incipit on the piano. The RISM staff and programmers maintain the Plaine and Easie Editor for making  musical incipits.

Our project has a group of three music encoders, who add incipits into bibliographic records for each collection. Here is an example of musical incipits from the source catalog card transformed into an encoded musical incipit in our bibliographic record.

The source information:

Musical incipit encoded into the  bibliographic record:

The display of encoded information in RISM:


The incipit coders apply the codes from the Plaine and Easie Code standard using the Verovio Plaine and Easie Editor, then copy information into field 031 using the MARC 21 Standard for Bibliographic Information.  After the bibliographic record is loaded into the RISM database, it can be displayed to users.