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Digital Music Project Gets NEH Funding

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded a $150,000 grant to Richard Freedman, John C. Whitehead Professor of Music at Haverford, for an innovative two-year project focused on Renaissance music.

“Recovering Lost Voices: A Digital Workshop for the Restoration of Renaissance Polyphony,” which Freedman directs, brings together an international team of scholars and information technologists to reconstruct missing voice parts for an important repertory of 16th-century French polyphonic songs. The NEH grant is Freedman’s second success this year in attracting major funding for the project. In the spring he was awarded an $80,000 Digital Innovations Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

“I am thrilled to have the support of the NEH,” says Freedman.  "Competition for these grants is extremely tough. There were, in fact, only three awards made in musicology this year.  Their endorsement means a great deal to me, and to my many collaborators here in the U.S. and in France.  I look forward to the next two years of work on this project."

The new funding will help pay for a series of workshops and conferences which Freedman expects will take place at Haverford College, at the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library in Chicago and at the Centre d'études supérieures de la Renaissance (CESR) in Tours, France, where the project is based and where he has been a visiting professor. The CESR is the leading center for Renaissance studies in France.

“The NEH funds are also going to pay for the work of some specialist scholars in fields like literary studies and music history,” says Freedman. “They will be supervised by me and other scholars who are part of the project team, and will edit poetry and re-compose missing voice parts. These in turn will be encoded in ways that work with the rest of the digital system to allow readers to juxtapose texts and versions of texts in flexible ways.”

“We are also widening the circle of collaboration to other projects on early music,” he says. “There is a group of U.S. and Italian scholars editing some Italian music of the 16th century, another group at Stanford University at work on sacred music from around the year 1500, and a group in Montreal doing statistical analysis of musical styles. I am also looking forward to sharing the results of our collaborations with scholars here in the Tri-College community, thanks to our own Digital Humanities initiatives coordinated by Professor Katherine Rowe at Bryn Mawr College.”

Freedman’s exploration of digital tools as aids in early music scholarship started more than four year ago when he began developing a website that would allow users to view and play Renaissance-era songs in their original format. That project, also created in collaboration with the CESR, was supported by a $25,000 Start Up Grant from the NEH Office of Digital Humanities.

That website went live last year and focuses on 16 sets of music books published between 1549 and 1568 by Parisian printer Nicolas Du Chemin, whose work shows the impact of printing (the “new media” of the time), on music of the era.

--Eils Lotozo

The ramp from Magill Library with Ryan Gym and Sharpless Hall in the background.

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