Heading Off… (2)

Unlike many — perhaps even most — of the people I know who work in and around journalism, I myself am not hostile to Wikipedia. Seriously, I’m not; in fact, I’ve even contributed to various of its pages over the last ten years or so. So whereas you can search for hours among media types before you find someone who’s prepared to say a good word about Jimmy Wales’s great experiment in crowd-sourcing, I’m always happy to stick up for it: I think it’s a truly terrific idea.

Well, except where music is concerned. You see, there seems to be something about the subject of music — classical music, at any rate (since that’s the only kind I know about) — which encourages the cheerful acceptance of a level of sheer cluelessness that in any other field would surely attract energetically critical — and, hopefully, corrective — attention. I doubt very much that a Wikipedia entry on a medical subject which confused ‘tibia’ with ‘fibula’, or ‘diverticulosis’ with ‘diverticulitis’, would remain uncorrected for long — yet, a little while back, I not only had to rectify the enduring results of some tyro’s inability to tell a sonata-form ‘subject’ from a sonata-form ‘transition’, but even had to argue about it with an over-confident klutz who kept cancelling my correction in the belief that the original page had it right.

The reason I bring all this up now is that something I included in yesterday’s posting has actually shocked me so much that it’s distracted me from my planned topic and brought back all the lingering doubts I’ve been suppressing about ‘democratic’ involvement in contexts where technical matters are widely uncomprehended. If you saw that last posting, you’ll recall that I was talking about the famous dissonance towards the end of Strauss’s Salome…

…and chose to illustrate it with a written music example lifted from the opera’s Wikipedia entry that happened to have two wrong notes in it:Salome_chord

I’ve now made a corrected version of this example, using a graphics program (it only took a few minutes at coffee-time) — and, yes, I’ve also taken out the second bar’s last two sharp signs, as strictly speaking they are illiterate. So finally we can see the example as it ought to look:Salome_chord

The two things here that have rather sapped my will to live are as follows. First, the original example was apparently created using the ‘Sibelius’ program — which means that whoever put it together didn’t even notice in playback that they had notated a first bar whose C sharp major harmony was assailed by spurious pitches in the form of a major seventh and then an added major sixth. Secondly, the fact that the example has been on the site since October 2011 without being corrected is a pretty clear indication that all the people who could have done something about these mistakes either didn’t notice them or didn’t give a damn about them. I trust I don’t need to labour the point that there’s absolutely no sense at all in having a music example illustrating a surprising combination of notes if further surprising combinations of notes have been introduced by whoever copied it out.

So what are we going to do about the classical music entries on Wikipedia? A few years ago I wrote something that I hoped would encourage knowledgeable folks to take a productive interest in the project; but I can’t say that I ever heard of anyone responding. And looking at the Salome entry just now, I suddenly see that no-one has even thought fit to tell the reader when it was that Strauss composed it (1903-5). Am I supposed to go and add that myself, now I’ve noticed? Do I then try and get my corrected music example accepted in place of the pig’s ear that’s there currently? You know, somehow I just can’t be bothered

Here’s that old article, anyhow, in case anyone wants to see what I sounded like back in the days when I still believed Wikipedia could be a positive force for musical education…

!MM4JanFeb2010[click on the image to see a larger version]


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4 thoughts on “Heading Off… (2)

  1. Thanks for the correction Mark which I have now incorporated (refresh your screen in case the old one appears). One thing you don’t acknowledge in your post is that there are literally thousands of articles on classical music and opera in Wikipedia (I know Wikipedia has more articles on operas than any other source, well above New Grove). But there are only about 20-30 people (and of those, maybe about half who are very active) who are watching these articles on any kind of regular basis, all voluntary because, like you, we all have other jobs and lives to live (and frankly I’d rather create new articles than proofread existing ones, unless I have a reason to go to them). I’ve known the opera Salome for over 40 years and I’ve never bothered to look at the article because I didn’t need to. The only reason I looked at the article on Aida is because I was able to contribute a photograph of custom-made “Aida trumpets.”

    Just as a crowd-sourced encyclopedia is going to have different coverage from a print encyclopedia, conversely, the editorial behavior of a crowd-sourced encyclopedia must necessarily be different from a traditional print one. Additional (as I am fond of saying), Wikipedia is different in that it is a social encyclopedia – you generally need to have conversations with the editors and not just make changes without coming to a consensus on what you’re trying to achieve.

    I hope incidents such as this do not dissuade you from engaging with Wikipedia.


  2. HI again Mark – just an additional observation. In many disciplines (for example, medicine, science, ornithology, military history) people of different background are enthusiastic about collaborating on Wikipedia. That is very atypical of the academic world and especially of the music world. I think there’s something about music academics–perhaps the solitary nature of training on an instrument–which makes those involved with music believe that working by oneself is preferable to collaborating with others (as a librarian, I’ve noticed this long before Wikipedia). On email lists I and a few others have tried to encourage academics in music to be involved with Wikipedia but the response is far less than it is with many other fields of knowledge. I do believe it says something (not very positive) about the field and its future.


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