Sunday, February 11, 2001

Mega-music dictionary comes online

        Music scholars might do a double-take when they see The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, published last month. The Beatles rub shoulders with J.S. Bach, grunge rock with grand opera, Mozart and Mahler with Michael Jackson.

        The world has changed light years since 1890, when the first four-volume Dictionary of Music and Musicians was published, the crowning achievement of Sir George Grove.

        One can only imagine what the civil engineer and classical music lover would think if he could see it today, in the digital age. The New Grove II, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, has broadened its scope to a diverse range of current and historical topics in 29 volumes.

    The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition
    Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, editors
    Grove's Dictionaries Inc.; $4,850 (print); 29 volumes.
    The New Grove II Online
    $295 per year; $30 per month
    To order: (800) 972-9892; fax (802) 864-7626. Online:
        And all 25 million words of it are online. The New Grove II Online debuted Jan. 30.

        “It's not just the size, it's that the market is there for an online version,” says Sara Lloyd, executive producer of The New Grove II Online. “When the Web started to come into its own, it became clear to us that the academic sector had been using the Internet for information retrieval for years.”

A valuable resource

        When The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians was published in 1980, it quickly became recognized as a comprehensive and authoritative music reference tool. More than a dictionary, it was a dazzling, 20-volume encyclopedia for music lovers and a valuable resource for scholars.

        But, as the world began racing down the information highway, even The New Grove became outdated. It was soon clear that its contents were not thorough — or inclusive — enough.

        In its first updating in two decades, the new edition opens up a vast new world to scholars and aficionados alike. Sir George might be relieved to know that the meticulous editing and high caliber of the original endures.

        The amount of material covered is staggering: More than 6,000 contributors from 98 countries have written 29,000 articles. More than 5,600 articles are new.

        New and expanded areas include jazz, pop and light music, feminism and women in music, the music publishing and recording industries and world music. Biographies of 20th-century composers have been updated. For instance, composer Philip Glass, given a skimpy paragraph in the old New Grove, has eight pages in New Grove II.

A click away

        In the online version, it is all literally at your fingertips.

        The “quick search” box allows you to perform a simple search. A search for African-American composers, for instance, turns up 500 entries, from Florence Price to gospel music.

        Type “Jazz” and you have a complete history of jazz, plus a menu that includes “Jazz-funk” and “Jazz at the Philharmonic” (a series at the Los Angeles Philharmonic).

        Not sure what you want? You can browse by clicking on “Browse A-Z.” This way, I found the entry for “Cincinnati,” tracing Cincinnati's early music history to the present, by Eldred Thierstein and Cincinnati Opera historian Charlotte Shockley.

        By clicking on “Explore,” you'll get a short list of subjects by topic. Interested in organists? There are 1,188 of them here.

        Or you can take advantage of links. That means, you can zip instantly between topics that in print would be in different volumes. It also means you can link to illustrations, digital sound or related Internet sites.

Living history

        Of course, there is a down side to the online resource. If your Internet server is not working, you are out of luck. And some folks may want the feel of curling up with a good encyclopedia or flipping through pages.

        “There are clearly some people who like books on their shelves,” Ms. Lloyd says. “But I think there's a large sector of the younger end of the market who might not have a house that can fit a 29-volume set of books, or who might have kids who are into finding their information on the Net.”

        The fact that The New Grove II Online will be continuously updated is an unprecedented feat, making this truly a living music history. Ten years from now, the print and online versions will be vastly different, Ms. Lloyd says. “By April of this year, we will have made hundreds of changes.”

Price of access

        Will the general public use New Grove II Online? Short-term usage options are more attractive than paying the hefty $4,850 for the print version. You can subscribe by the month ($30), year ($295), and eventually by the hour (price undetermined). For instance, a family with a child who studies violin will be able to purchase a “MetroPass” for an hour to find out more about the instrument. It will work like a phone card, ticking off the minutes as they are used up.

        Perhaps it was risky for the London-based publisher (Macmillan Publishers Ltd. published New Grove II in the United Kingdom and Europe) to expand into a new technology — and a new online business. The cost to produce it might have Sir George turning in his grave: $33 million. But the time was right, the editors believe.

        “For scholarly reference information publishing, this is the way forward,” Ms. Lloyd says.

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