City of Song: A Guide to Music Archives and Libraries in Cardiff

Cardiff may be the UK’s most musical city: in addition to over 30 live music venues, it is home to some incredible music archives – from unique, original compositions and ancient volumes to newspaper cuttings of Tom Jones’ tabloid exploits.

To celebrate our diverse music heritage, we invited experts and enthusiasts from all over the city, to share their work and collections, as part of Explore Archives Week.

From cantatas to colliery choirs, Grace Williams to Charlotte Church – we got a glimpse into how music has been a part of the fabric of Cardiff for centuries. Here’s a roundup of what we found out:

Cardiff University Special Collections and Archives

First up was Alison Harvey, who gave us a rundown of what we have here at our own Special Collections and Archives. These collections are available for anyone to study, and the archives are open to all. Here’s what she had to share – make sure to turn subtitles on:

Cathays Branch and Heritage Library

Katherine Whittington joined us next, showcasing what they have in store at Cathays Branch and Heritage Library, which is open to the public and full of resources about the history of Cardiff.

Its extensive collection of the Western Mail and South Wales Echo go back to the 1860s – and so provide an incredible insight into how music has been part of south Wales’ social history for generations.

woman with short hair holds a copy of a newspaper article, it is a tabloid-style article about the singer Charlotte Church, probably printed around the 2000s

Music in the press: Katherine shows us an example from the Western Mail collection

For example, these cuttings, about the singer Charlotte Church, give an insight into how young women and celebrity were treated by the press at the turn of the 21st century. In addition to the archives of local choirs and groups, the library holds a quirky collection of CDs by local artists.

Anyone interested in delving into their musical collections can use their Performing Arts Resource Guide, available on site, which goes into fuller detail about what there is to discover.

Glamorgan Archives

Rhian Diggins presented the vast and varied musical collections of Glamorgan Archives, saying “I was sure we had something about music – but then when we started looking: there is just so much stuff!”

Glamorgan Archives’ collections vary from documents from choirs, music festivals, cymanfaoedd and concerts, to beautiful Welsh-language playbills, planning documents for long-demolished music venues and court records regarding the licensing of live music in the city.

woman standing up near screen, talking to a group of people

Rhian talks us through Glamorgan Archives’ musical collections

Highlights included the National Coal Board collection, which shows the musical life of south Wales’ industrial communities, and the Côr Cochion archive, which detail the long history of Cardiff’s famous protest choir.

Glamorgan Archives are open to all, and you can find out more about how to visit on their website.

School of Music, University of Cardiff

Charity Dove is the University’s Music Librarian, and is responsible for building and maintaining the School of Music’s research library. While it is predominantly used by students, it is open to the public to use, and free. Members of the public can use the library to access information about composers, styles of music, instrumental instruction and access their collection of classical repertoire on CD.

Its collections are dynamic – they reflect the research interests of staff at the University over the years, and so a wide variety of topics is covered in its collections. The library’s catalogue has been designed to make it easy to navigate by composer, and it also holds a number of facsimile copies of important or noteworthy compositions.

BBC NOW Library

Eugene Monteith joined us from BBC National Orchestra of Wales, which has its library based in Cardiff Bay. The library, which holds full orchestral scores for hundreds of symphonies and popular music, is for the use of the BBC’s professional orchestras. It was great to hear about a library with a very specific, crucial role to play in the performance and broadcast of music.

In addition to full scores, these are some smaller collections of Welsh composers’ work, as well as vocal scores collected over 35 years of hosting Cardiff Singer of the World, and an extensive collection of orchestral soundtrack arrangements.

Making Music

a young man in jeans giving a talk in front of a brick wall

Iori Haugen talks about the amazing score-swap system administered by Making Music

Iori Haugen talked to us about the work of Making Music in Wales. Making Music are an advocacy organisation for people who play music in their leisure time – from brass bands to individual players.

While they do not have collections of their own, they administer a vast array of musical scores, by enabling bands and orchestras all across the UK to borrow scores from one another, to learn and perform. This scheme is open to Making Music members. The organisation also campaigns for music education in schools, and promotes playing and performing music for pleasure.

Cardiff University School of Music

archive photo of Morfydd Owen, a fair young woman with dark hair and dark eyes. Taken in the 1900s

Morfydd Owen, whose later works will be performed for the first time this December

Dr Peter Leech was next to discuss his work, researching the Morfydd Owen Archive here at our University Special Collections and Archives, alongside scholar Megan Auld. They have been researching particular compositions by Ms Owen – these were ‘in progress’ when she passed away at 26, and so have never been performed – until now.

Dr Leech described the academic and musical process of working with musical ‘sketches’ – unfinished, handwritten notation – and creating performable music. The result of their research will be the debut performance of several works by Morfydd, which until this year, had only been seen by researchers studying individual documents.

You can hear these pieces, performed in public for the first time, by joining us at the ‘Celebrating Morfydd’ concert on December 14th.

Ty Cerdd

Ethan Davies presented Ty Cerdd’s library. Their collection is concerned with Welsh composers, and is split between Cardiff Bay and Aberystwyth – these collections are open to the public by appointment.

The collections in Aberystwyth are of unique composers’ scores, by Grace Williams, Alun Hoddinott and many more – these are cared for by the National Library of Wales. In Cardiff, they hold an extensive collection of recordings and printed material on the theme of Welsh music and composers.

Ty Cerdd is an organisation which promotes and celebrates music in Wales – in addition to library sources, they provide advice and support with recording, composing and disseminating music in Wales.

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

Jennifer Evans talked about the collections held in the library of National Museum Cardiff, which is open to the public by appointment. The library’s main musical collections centre around the early life of the National Museum – through scrapbooks kept by founding members of staff, recital programmes and photographs of events.

In addition to its institutional archive, the collection of Gwendoline and Margaret Davies is kept at the library, which includers concert programmes and handbills for the Gregynog Festival, which hosted luminaries such as Gustav Holst and Vaughan Williams.

Jennifer also mentioned the sound and oral history archive at St Fagans National Museum of History, which houses thousands of hours of social history recordings, mostly made in the 20th century. The folk music collection is an extensive archive of songs sung ‘ar yr aelwyd’ (at the hearth), and were often recorded in people’s homes across Wales. In these, you can hear the regional and musical variations for a huge repertoire of folk songs, ballads and hymns.

Music in the Archive – An Invitation

We hope our roundup has you curious about exploring music archives and collections, wherever you are – don’t forget, you can use archives.wales and the Archives Hub to find out more about what’s going on near you.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to all our Explore Archive contributors for coming to share their collections with us – it was a pleasure to hear about the diversity and depth of our city’s music collections.

If you’re a musician, producer or performer, and you’d like to attend a similar event in the future – let us know. We’re ready to welcome you here at Special Collections and Archives – so if you’d prefer to visit in your own time, here’s all you need to know: Visiting Special Collections and Archives.

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