Keeping track of my music collection became a real challenge at some point: it is a matter of time and number. I naturally remember my most recent acquisitions best. What about those I got 20 years ago?
The accepted schema for organization of music collections involves several variables:
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- The performer
- The title
- The genre
- The composer
- The recording release date
I have focused on two of these, in particular: the genre and composer. I have had the freedom to define my own genres, and that says a lot about how I experience music: I tend to think in terms of the musical sound and texture. The majority of my music collection was primarily solo instrumental, although that has changed. So, it should not come as a surprise that I have genres like “Clavichord,” “Harpsichord,” and “Piano.” Indeed, I have sometimes refined within a genre: to me there is a big difference between “French Harpsichord” and “German Harpsichord.”
This schema has evolved over the years. I used to have “Early Piano” and “Piano” as separate entities. A couple of years ago I consolidated them. In fact, I really should have more genres, but that becomes unwieldy. I have a single “Chamber Music” genre that covers a lot of ground, as does “Symphonic.” Recently I have tried to get my arms around my large collection so that I can identify “orphans”: albums that have fallen of my radar. For this I have turned to a class of software called “mind mapping.” Wikipedia defines a mind map as 'a diagram used to visually outline information.’
One could view a mind map as essentially a visual outline. In fact, most software will convert one to the other. Fancy mind mapping software lets you embed things that break that one-to-one mapping with entities like graphics, links to other mind maps, and even arbitrary files, like sound files. One particularly powerful tool is XMind. In trying to lay out my collection as a mind map I have come to a better understanding how I cognitively view music. As I said earlier, I tend to think in terms of the instrument. From there, do I partition by historical period or by location? Periods are difficult to nail down: there are too few and they are too imprecise. Various sources converge on something like the following:
Does one classify a composer based on the birth date or death date, or does one classify a specific piece by composition date? Are both Emanuel Bach and Beethoven “Classical?” Is early Debussy “Romantic” and late Debussy as “Modern?”
I find that I generally lump all of one composer’s works together. So, I have come to the conclusion that sometimes it makes sense to organize by nationality. Even that has challenges: is Stravinsky really “Russian,” or “French?” Where do we put Chopin?
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This is an ongoing project, but one that is already yielding benefits. It gives me a feel for how well spread out my collection is. And, ultimately when I drill down to the lowest level, I can get a feel for the composers I have chosen to focus on. This is a big project. Ultimately, I hope this will help me identify music in collection that I am overlooking and music that I have missed and should be in the collection.