How to End a Book

This is not a spoiler alert! I haven’t finished yet; I’m just about at the end of Chapter 5, with two further chapters to go. I’m not about to reveal how it ends, either, because (a) I don’t want to spoil it for you and (b) what if the closing chapters end up in a different overall order?

Two cartoon characters hold jigsaw pieces which will complete the puzzle.
Image by Alexa from Pixabay

I’m thinking about structure, really. When you’re writing about a subject that had a rise, a heyday and a decline, it’s going to be hard to end on a high. I’ve been pondering about which order to place the last three chapters in the book, and it came down to this:-

Option 1: Up-Down-Up (and Down)

  • Antepenultimate chapter: Hey look, they also did this!
  • Penultimate chapter: But they missed a trick here.
  • Ultimate chapter: Even though they also did THIS (and I find it so exciting), their heyday was over.

Option 2: Up-Up still Higher but Peaking – Down

  • Antepenultimate chapter: Hey look, they also did this!
  • Penultimate chapter: AND they engaged with this! It’s really exciting, but perhaps the writing was on the wall.
  • Ultimate chapter: And they didn’t do this. Would it have made a difference? Possibly not, in view of the wider context.

My instinctive feeling is that the Rise-Fall curve of the second option is going to be more satisfying for the reader. Indeed, as I was writing this post, I stumbled across a website about ‘story arcs’, with six different arc shapes being outlined. Admittedly, we’re only talking about my last three chapters, and I’m writing non-fiction, not a story with a plot. (In a previous existence, I wrote and published over thirty short stories, so I do have an interest in the genre, in a retrospective kind of way. But that’s irrelevant today.) Nonetheless, if we’re thinking about arcs, then …

My first option isn’t even described, so it can’t be a recommended option! Let’s call it the Tennis Ball Bounce. On the other hand, my second option is a classic ‘Icarus / Freytag’s Pyramid (rise then fall)’ arc. (Joe Bunting, ‘Story Arcs: Definitions and Examples of the 6 Shapes of Stories’

I think I’ve convinced myself. Option 2 it is! Watch this space.

Do You Own This Songbook?

Song Gems (Scots) front cover
Song Gems (Scots) whole cover

If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll know I’m writing a history book about Scottish music publishers. (58,000 words and rising!) But I’ve reached a point where I’m writing about a book COMPILED by Scots, PUBLISHED in England, but also DISTRIBUTED from Edinburgh and Boston, Massachusetts.

I know a lot about the anthology (as I should – I’m writing about it!), but I’m curious about its life in the Scottish diaspora – in other words, anywhere else in the world where Scots emigrated.

The Boston agent of the book was Thomas J. Donlan. His address was Room 831, Colonial Building, 100 Boylston Street, Boston. He moved to New York some time between 1910-1915.

Song gems (Scots) : the Dunedin collection

Authors: James WoodLearmont Drydsdale

Print Book, English, 

Publisher: Vincent Music Co, London, 1908

WorldCat bibliographical details

Now, I know from WorldCat and Jisc Library Hub Discover, that there aren’t many copies in libraries. My interest is more to see if there are many copies out ‘in the wild’ in people’s homes, and obviously it would be nice to discover that Mr Donlan imported and distributed lots of them. It was more of an ‘art music’ book than a book of simple folk melodies. The repertoire is non-standard. You’d probably have owned a piano, and been quite a good pianist – or had a good pianist to accompany your singing.

I’m not looking to buy copies – my own came from a dealer under 40 miles from Boston, and I don’t need another! I’m not a bookseller. I am literally just curious to find out if there are many survivors hiding in piano stools and under-stair cupboards. If you’ve got a copy, I’d love to hear from you!

Maybe you haven’t got this book, but you know more about Donlan the agent? If you are aware of archival data, please do let me know. My book is about Scottish publishing, but there’s room for a paragraph or two about the American distributor, if more information came to light. (I’ve already discovered that Colonial Building also housed the Colonial Theatre, and that there were a lot of music shops along the street – indeed, I know which organisation occupied room 831 after Donlan, and that’s another fascinating story, but really I can’t pursue that – it has nothing to do with Scottish music publishing!)

Haunted by Alexander Campbell!

I wrote extensively about Scottish song-collector Alexander Campbell and his early 19th century Albyn’s Anthology collections, in my PhD. And my subsequent monograph. I’ve talked about him (a lot), and during the pandemic, I contributed a chapter to Steve Roud and David Atkinson’s essay collection, Thirsty Work and other Legacies of Folk Song (London: The Ballad Partners, 2022). So it’s gratifying to read a nice review of the essay collection in the April-May 2023 issue (no.324) of London Folk.

Campbell feels like a distinct ‘blast from the past’, after I’ve spent the past three or four years mainly thinking about more recent song collections. But I’m very pleased that other people seem to share my interest in this fascinating man!

GLAM – that’s me

Just an aside. I didn’t finish my first attempt at a PhD. Opting for a career in librarianship (yes, I know, maybe I should have been braver in my scholarly aspirations), I got taken over by professional training, and couldn’t fit in the completion of a thesis simultaneously. As anyone who knows me will already know, I returned to doctoral studies more than two decades later, but continued working in music librarianship. Part of my time has been seconded to postdoctoral research since 2012.

However, librarianship isn’t the trendiest metier in which to work. We get sick of comments about ‘enjoying a quiet life’, or ‘all that time reading books’, or disparaging remarks about library rules and regulations.

Enter “GLAM”. It stands for the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums sector. Suddenly I feel much better about combining librarianship and musicology, because I can officially call myself, the GLAM musicologist.

Extinction Calypso: my Composition for Climate Change

Composer Chris Hutchings established an organisation called Choirs For Climate, using choral music to raise awareness of environmental issues arising from climate change. After an initial workshop last autumn, a choral concert of 55 voices took place in Edinburgh’s Greyfriar’s Kirk on Sunday 5 March. It was funded by Creative Scotland, and attracted about 150 in the audience raising several hundred pounds for Greenpeace.

I was delighted that my own Extinction Calypso was included. Although I wasn’t able to attend last week, Chris has shared the video with me, and I have his permission to share it here. The video is the work of Andy Henderson of Video of the entire concert will appear on Choirs for Climate in due course.

Video of Extinction Calypso

(Image of Greyfriars Bobby, from Pixabay)

There – that Gap right there! J. S. Kerr’s Music Shop

A quick snap from my bus-ride home. This is Glasgow’s former Kingston branch library by the river Clyde, enjoying its retirement in the evening sunshine. Today, the former library still serves the people of Glasgow – it offers homeless accommodation through the Talbot Association.

See the gap to the right of the library? Down a close, you would have found James S. Kerr’s music shop in its first premises, before they moved north of the river. He started off selling pianos, and there was also a dance hall in the block, so there would have been plenty of music around, and probably a good bit of noise from the riverside when you stepped outside.

(My research is into Scottish music 🎶 publishers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.)

One Twitter account: @Karenmca

Just a quick explanation: I’m @Karenmca on Twitter, but since I had the AHRC networking grant for ‘Claimed from Stationers’ Hall’, I have also had a ‘Claimed from Stationers’ Hall’ Twitter account.

No more! I’ve decided to focus on the main @Karenmca Twitter account. There’s only one of me – I am who I am. So, if you have followed the ‘Claimed from Stationers’ Hall ‘ account, then I thank you for your support, and I ask, please could you now follow @Karenmca? Thank you.

Oh, and the image above? One of the magnificent carpets at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library. I spent the morning doing research there today.

(Let me out of my own library, and what do I do? Library history research in another one!)

‘Our Heroine is Dead’: Miss Margaret Wallace Thomson, Paisley Organist (1853-1896) – reproduced from The Glasgow Diapason, March 2023

Picture of St George's Church, Paisley, now converted into flats

This is an article that I wrote whilst on vacation at the New Year, for the Glasgow Society of Organists’ newsletter, The Glasgow Diapason. I’m reproducing it here, because it may become hard to find copies of a newsletter with a comparatively small circulation, in years to come. The image above is (was) St George’s Church in Paisley – it has now been converted into flats.

The citation details of my article are as follows:-

Karen E McAulay, ‘‘Our Heroine is Dead’: Miss Margaret Wallace Thomson, Paisley Organist (1853-1896)’, The Glasgow Diapason, March 2023, 10-15.

I’m currently writing a book about Scottish music publishers and amateur music-making.  Thinking to do a little light research over Christmas, I borrowed J & R Parlane’s The National Choir, a collection of part-songs published first in separate numbers from 1887, and subsequently in two volumes by ca. 1895.  This Paisley firm was a significant producer of all kinds of books, including educational music in staff and Tonic Sol-Fa notation.  The collection met the need for straightforward choral material for a growing number of amateur choirs; with over 100 contributors, it bore out the editor’s boast that it afforded opportunities for many local professionals and amateur composers and arrangers to make contributions.  Containing predominantly Scottish song settings, the second volume also set out to broaden the scope a little further by including national songs from elsewhere in Britain, amongst other items.

Let us now praise famous men … (Ecclesiasticus XLIV)

Only a musicologist would sit down and tabulate every single contributor in 768 pages of music, and only a musicologist with an interest in women composers would count the number of female contributors.  Margaret Wallace Thomson of Paisley was one of only two women represented, with an arrangement of Burns’s ‘The smiling spring’ and a song of her own, ‘The weary day’. (The other lady was Mrs R. Broom, a songwriter who had contributed the melody for one song, ‘Over the sea’.)   Both ladies appeared in the first volume, the prefatory notes informing us that Miss Thomson was a Paisley pianist and organist, whilst Mrs Broom had written several popular songs.  The latter remained an enigma, but there were numerous mentions of Miss Margaret (or Maggie) Thomson in the local press; she had a good reputation as an organist, piano accompanist and music teacher.  Indeed, accompanying the Paisley Choral Union for some two decades, she received a gift of a gold watch and chain after her first three years with them, and generous tributes upon her untimely death at the age of 42.

I was particularly curious about her, since I was once a Paisley organist myself.  Once I started looking, I found out more and more – another musical woman who had been forgotten through time, her lack of publications probably partly to blame.

Margaret’s father Alexander was an Irishman, who had seemingly come to Scotland before he met Susan Wallace, a Paisley girl.  They both worked in the weaving trade as pattern setters.  Susan still did this in 1851, when they had started their family, but seems not to have been doing it by 1861.  Later, Alexander was a flower lasher, carrying out an intricate weaving process for Paisley shawls.  Three sons and a daughter came along before Margaret’s birth, although her nearest brother died when she was only three.  Alexander, the firstborn, became a manufacturer by trade; a violinist, he conducted the Paisley Musical Association orchestra in his spare time.  Her sister Isobella became a qualified teacher, and was the first woman teacher at Paisley Grammar School before she left to marry.  Margaret herself would attend that school.  They had a younger brother, James Paterson Thomson, who also became an organist, violinist and music teacher.

By the time she was 20, in 1873, Margaret was advertising her services as a music teacher, working from home.  She continued to advertise as a music teacher until 1895, the year before she died.  Appointed organist at St George’s Parish Church in Paisley in 1876, she had already acquired experience at Paisley’s Trinity Episcopal Church.  James was organist at North Church from 1884.  Margaret’s adverts always identified her as ‘organist of St George’s’, but James’s1895 teaching advert did not allude to his being an organist that year.  When he died of alcoholic poisoning in 1897, the records say that he was a violinist; maybe he had stopped playing in church.

The many press notices of Margaret’s appearances bear witness to a number of regular activities.  In her capacity as organist, she gave annual concerts with St George’s choir.  As accompanist to the Paisley Choral Union, she accompanied a number of the Saturday Afternoon Concert series taking place in the George A. Clark Town Hall.  She was also involved with the massive annual summer outdoor concerts commemorating Tannahill at “The Glen” on the Gleniffer Braes, contributing arrangements of Scottish songs for choir and band, for performance under the direction of Mr J. Roy Fraser, a Paisley music-seller.  Proceeds were being saved towards a statue for Robert Burns’s impending centenary in 1896.  (As an indication both of the popularity of these concerts, and the enthusiasm for choral singing, it is worth noting that on a rainy summer’s day in 1889, it was regretted that the audience was uncharacteristically probably under 10,000, and that the choir sadly numbered under 200 singers!) 

She provided music for other entertainments and talks; including accompanying children in music exams; accompanying the Wallneuk Mission Choir; and, ironically, participating in a concert for inmates at Riccartsbar Asylum, where she herself would later die.  She seems to have played piano, harmonium or organ depending on the engagement, but is never recorded as having conducted a choir; this was probably considered unseemly for a genteel woman of the time.

The choral repertoire that she was accompanying was is a mixture of established ‘greats’ still performed today, and other works now long forgotten:-

William Bradbury (1816-1868)Esther: cantata
Alfred R Gaul (1837-1913)Ruth: cantata
GounodJesus, Word of God
Handel –Judas Maccabaeus: oratorio (excerpts)
HandelThe Messiah
HandelSamson (excerpt)
Henry Lahee (1826-1912)The building of the ship: cantata
MendelssohnElijah: oratorio (excerpts)
MendelssohnSt Paul (excerpts)
Mozart12th Mass (excerpts)
John Owen (1821-1883)Jeremiah: oratorio
T Mee Pattison (1845–1936)The Mother of Jesus: cantata
Scotch Selections(piano contribution)
SullivanOh, love the Lord
SutcliffeThe voice of Jesus

Table 1: Repertoire

Such as found out musical tunes

Maggie probably falls into the category of amateur contributors to The National Choir.  Her musical arrangements and occasional compositions are very slight.  She provided an arrangement of a Burns song, and one original piece; each occupy only one side, and are competent, but not outstandingly original.  The titles of a few more of her Scottish song settings can be gleaned from press reports of the Tannahill concerts, and the only other extant musical item is a setting of Tennyson’s ‘Break, break, break!’, which was a collaboration with Alexander Wallace Waterston – another Paisley musician, who could conceivably have been a relative.  Her own song, ‘The voice of the deep’, remains untraced.

Break, break, break!, by Wallace Waterston, piano accompt by MWT (1894, published Paterson’s)
Gala Water, arr. MWT [choir & band?] (1884)
The garb of the Gaul, arr. MWT for choir & band (1883)
The lass o’ Ballochmyle, arr. MWT for choir and band (1885)
The lassie wi’ the lint-white locks, arr. MWT for choir and band (1885)
She’s fair and fause, arr. MWT for choir and band (1895)
The Maid of Islay, arr. MWT for choir and band (1895)
The smiling spring, words by Burns, arr. by MWT for The National Choir
The voice of the deep (1883), bass song, written and composed by MWT
The Weary day, original words and music, by MWT for The National Choir

Table 2: Compositions and Arrangements

And recited verses in writing

Ca.1889, Maggie’s name was included in a book, Robert Brown’s Paisley poets: with brief memoirs of them, and selections from their poetry, revealing another facet of this seemingly very modest but quite talented young woman.  Five of her poems are included, two of which are on musical subjects: ‘Alone with the organ’, and ‘Verses suggested by a happy musical evening.’   Her poems were noteworthy enough to feature in A History of Scottish Women’s Writing (Douglas Gifford, Dorothy McMillan, 1997).  Furthermore, she is on record as having exhibited amateur watercolours in Paisley, although there are no further details of what she painted.

And some there be which have no memorial?

As a spinster, Maggie would probably have been the main carer for her elderly mother; her married sister lived in Bonnybridge, a distance away.  Her mother died of senile debility on 20 February 1896 aged 77.  Grief-stricken, Maggie died on 12 April the same year, of exhaustion, nervous debility and ‘mania’, having fallen out of her bed in Riccartsbar Asylum.  A lengthy, and adulatory obituary appeared in the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette.  To quote but a fraction of it,

Her well-known musical talents suffered from the wise old proverb, “a prophet”, she was held in high respect by the whole community, and yet it is no less true that in any other community than her native one, she would have commanded higher financial rewards.  [She] was very successful as a teacher, and though a stranger would probably have asked and received higher fees, she always commanded a fair share of patronage.

A week later, the same newspaper published the eulogy delivered by the Revd. John Fraser at St George’s Church (‘We make no moan, we utter no cry; we say our heroine is dead’), echoing praise of her many musical talents, and applauding a modest and Christian life well-lived.

Woodside Cemetery has two lairs belonging to the family, bought by Maggie’s father Alexander Thomson.  Today’s online database tells us who lies where, but there is no gravestone erected by the family.  However, Maggie’s passing did not go unnoticed.  The Paisley Choral Union subscribed to erect an imposing marble tombstone, topped with a nine-foot obelisk.  (This has sadly fallen off, and lies in two pieces behind the gravestone, on the hillside behind Woodside Crematorium.)

Margaret W Thomson

Died April 12th 1896.

Erected by present and former members of the Paisley Choral Union, as a mark of their esteem and appreciation of her musical services. 

(Margaret Thomson’s Gravestone)

To have been commemorated in such generous style gives us some indication of the affection in which Maggie was held, and the talent which she clearly displayed.  On a damp, January morning, I paused silently for a few minutes, as squirrels scampered past me, and water gently leaked into my trainers.  There was no-one in earshot as I murmured, ‘Maggie, you are not forgotten.’

Saturday dawned, and a research question was bothering me …

Old music card catalogue at Mitchell Library, Glasgow

So I decided to spend the afternoon at the Mitchell Library. Glasgow is so fortunate to have this wonderful collection!

I saw the two publications I had in mind. I took notes. I even had time to look at the card catalogue. (Catalogues are great research tools, even though I am personally sick of actually cataloguing.)

And then I went home. It was only when I went over my notes that I realised I had missed at least one item in the bibliography of one book, which I thought I had been looking out for. I spent the next 24 hours kicking myself, determined to go back to find that elusive reference if it killed me.

And then my librarian self remembered the advice I often give students. If you have copied out a useful snippet, put it into Google Books, in speech marks. Like this:-

“Reader, I married him”

(Try for yourself – it’s a quote from Charlotte Bronte.)

Often enough, Google Books will retrieve 2-3 lines including the words you copied, telling you the book where it found the text – and the page number.

I searched on the book abbreviation for the missing reference, and found I’d missed three! However, I have now traced them, and all is well. All for research into a publisher who only caught my interest two weeks ago.

Representation of Women Composers in the Whittaker Library

I’m delighted to see my article, Representation of Women Composers in the Whittaker Library, published in the Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice (pp.21-26) this week!

Vol. 11 No. 1 (2023): Special Issue on Breaking the Gender Bias in Academia and Academic Practice

Special Issue of JPAAP exploring and addressing issues, dimensions and initiatives related to ensuring a greater gender parity and representation within academic institutions, academic and academic-related work, and related professional practices. Guest edited by Alexandra Walker and Keith Smyth. (Published: 2023-02-22)

Direct link to entire issue:-