I have some extremely good news!
After less than a year of this site being online, one of the major objectives of the site has been entirely achieved. When the site started, the three major objectives were –
1) To obtain, and make available, copies of the ten recordings made by the Zono Minstrels in 1913, of the Plantation Songs of Alfred Scott-Gatty.
2) To obtain, and make available, the musical scores of all twenty-four of the Plantation Songs, including the exceedingly rare Fourth Volume.
3) To organise performances and recordings of the entire set of twenty-four songs, possibly to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Scott-Gatty’s death in 2018.
As of now, only 50% of the first objective has been achieved. There are five of the ten recordings available on this site, and I still need to obtain three rare gramophone records to be able to complete the set.
The extremely good news is that the second objective of the site has now been entirely achieved. I now have the musical scores of all twenty-four of the Plantation Songs, in digital format. This has become possible due to the generosity of the people at the North East of Scotland Music School, located in Aberdeen.
St Mary’s Cathedral, in Huntly Street. This building is directly opposite the North East of Scotland Music School, whose entrance can be seen on the left
Obtaining The Rare Fourth Volume
In January of this year, I was performing my usual Google search for the extremely rare Fourth Volume of the songs. Scans of the first three Volumes had been on the site since August 2013, the 100th anniversary month of the Zono Minstrels recordings. During the search, I came across a listing which I had not seen before. It was a catalogue of a library of musical scores, and when I visited the home page of the site, I found that it was the catalogue of a music school.
The School was apparently in possession of the very common Third Volume, and the rare Fourth Volume, but not Volumes 1 and 2. Volume 1 is relatively easy to find, while Volume 2 is more rare but does turn up from time to time. The idea immediately came into my mind to offer my paper copies of Volumes 1 and 2, to complete the School’s set, in exchange for scans of the rare Fourth Volume. This would complete my set in digital form, and satisfy one of the primary objectives of this site.
As the copying of musical scores is a sensitive issue, I should just mention in passing that there are no potential copyright problems. The copyright in sheet music expires 75 years after the death of the composer, as long as the work was performed during their lifetime. Scott-Gatty died in 1918, and there is ample evidence that the songs were performed on many occasions before that date. The scores are therefore now in the Public Domain.
To cut a long story short, the School were happy to take me up on my offer, and so I prepared for a trip to Scotland. I could obviously have sent the scores through the snail mail and saved myself some money, but even Special Delivery is not 100% secure. If the scores had been lost, I have no idea if or when I would ever have been able to obtain replacements. This was too important a project for me not to want to see it through personally.
My Trip To Aberdeen
Coping with Britain’s dilapidated and utterly disorganised transport infrastructure is never a joy, but at least Aberdeen is served by overnight coaches at a reasonable price. I had to travel from London to get that reasonable price, so I made the whole event into a three-day trip. I didn’t need a bed and breakfast, as the journeys to and from Aberdeen both took place overnight. I paid £6 each for advance railway singles from Northampton to London and back, and £31 for the coach trips to and from Aberdeen. £43 for a three day holiday is not really a bad price.
The three day trip included plenty of time in the Royal Parks, listening to Mozart’s string quartets among the rose gardens, and my first sight of the sea for 2014. I normally visit Eastbourne, Hunstanton or Southend for seaside trips. If someone had told me on 1st January that my first glimpse of the sea this year would be in Aberdeen, I would have called for the men in white coats.
My first glimpse of the sea for 2014. Eastbourne? Hunstanton? Southend? Errr….No. Aberdeen!
The weather was much better than I could ever have hoped for. There were heavy showers on the first day, and I had to take special precautions to protect the musical scores which were still in my possession. The day in Aberdeen was windy but clear and bright, and the temperature on the third day in London was up in the mid-twenties.
Most importantly, the exchange of sheet music for scans went entirely without hitch, so the transaction was a complete success. The North East of Scotland Music School now has possession of the complete paper scores of the Plantation Songs, and I have the full series of scans. This not only means that I have achieved one of my primary objectives, it also opens up the possibility of achieving one of the others. Now that the scores have been obtained, performances and recordings can be arranged.
Plantation Song Performance
One of my next tasks is to get in touch with people who may be able to help with the organisation of the performance project. We are still four years away from the 100th anniversary of Scott-Gatty’s death, which would seem to be the best time to perform and record the entire set of songs. By starting now, I will give myself the best chance of organising the event, and of arranging the necessary funding. There will hopefully be many more posts to come detailing how the project is progressing, so please do keep checking back here.
The Next Step
The next step is to prepare the PDF files of the Fourth Volume, and get them uploaded to the site. For now, the Fourth Volume will only be available in monochrome, but that is probably the best format for performance in any case.
Over the course of the next four years, I will undertake extensive restoration work on the scores of all twenty-four songs. Many of the scans of the First Volume are grainy, and there are imperfections which can be removed on all of the existing scores. I will upload the improved versions as soon as each individual score is ready. In the case of the Fourth Volume, I will also create full colour and greyscale versions from the original monochrome scans. By the start of 2018, I hope to have all twenty-four scores available for download in the full colour version which most approximates the 1900-1902 originals in mint condition, and also in greyscale and monochrome formats.
Thank You, NESMS!
For now, the most heartfelt thanks are due to the wonderful people of the North East of Scotland Music School in Aberdeen, who have not only made it possible for me to achieve one of the site’s objectives, they have also opened the door to the possibility of achieving one of the others. In a few days’ time, when I have created the PDF files and uploaded them to the site, the whole world will once again have access to priceless music which has been effectively lost to everyone for a great many years, possibly a whole century. There really are no thanks which are quite enough.