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.)

Retrospective 2022

I still don’t know if this kind of post is helpful.  To anyone who hasn’t many/any visible outputs, reading someone else’s list of what they achieved is probably the very last thing they need to brighten their day – and I apologise.  You’ve probably achieved other, equally or even more important things, which didn’t take the form of words on a page!

From my vantage point, as a researcher who sentenced herself to a career in librarianship, not necessarily as a first choice but what seemed at the time to be a reasonable one, I look at other academics’ lists of achievements and struggle not to compare myself – although realistically I cannot achieve as much research in 1.5 designated days a week as the average full-time academic. My research line-manager is more than content, so maybe I should remind myself of that more often.

So, what have I achieved?

As a librarian, I have spoken at two conferences, a panel discussion and as staff training for another library, about EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) in our own library.  I have a paper being published in an academic journal next year, on the topic of women composers in libraries; but my proudest achievement was actually in sharing a song by a Victorian woman teacher in the junior department of the Athenaeum, that I had discovered in a research capacity, and which a singing student eagerly learned and presented as one of their competition entries in a recent singing competition at RCS.  Discovering something, having someone else declare it lovely, and hearing them perform it beautifully, is a very special privilege.

Still hatching

As a researcher, I have another paper forthcoming in an essay collection, though I can hardly list details here before it has even gone through the editorial process.  And another magazine article which has been accepted for 2024.  Can’t include that either.  Nor can I yet include the monograph I’m halfway through writing.  I’ve done a ton of work in that respect, but it doesn’t count in a retrospective list of successes!

I’ve also applied for a grant which I didn’t get, and a fellowship for which the deadline is just today, so no news on that front for a little while.

That leaves this little list, the last item of which appeared through my letterbox at the turn of last year, so I’ve cheekily included it here again.


  • ‘Representation of Women Composers in the Whittaker Library’, Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice. Arises from a paper given at the International Women’s Day Conference hosted by the University of the Highlands and Islands, 2022.  Peer-reviewed and pending publication.


  • ‘Alexander Campbell’s Song Collecting Tour: ‘The Classic Ground of our Celtic Homer’, in Thirsty Work and Other Heritages of Folk Song (Ballad Partners, 2022), 180-192
  • ‘An Extensive Musical Library’: Mrs Clarinda Webster, LRAM, Brio vol.59 no.1, 29-42
  • ‘Burns and Song: Four New Publications’, Eighteenth Century Scotland, no. 36 (June 2022),12-15.
  • ‘Strathspeys, Reels and Instrumental Airs: a National Product’, in Music by Subscription: Composers and their Networks in the British Music Publishing Trade, 1676–1820, ed. Simon D. I Fleming & Martin Perkins. (Routledge, 2022), 177-197

Meanwhile, as an organist, I’ve completed my first year in Neilston Parish Church, which has been a very healing experience.  I love it there!  This Christmas has seen three of my own unpublished carols being performed, one in Neilston and two in Barrhead; and earlier in the autumn I contributed a local-history kind of article to the Glasgow Diapason, the newsletter published by the Glasgow Society of Organists.  Another publication! Might as well add it to the list:-

  • ‘Trains, Trossachs, Choirs and the Council: Neilston Parish Church’s First Organist’, in The Glasgow Diapason Newsletter

Confession time. Sewing is my relaxation of choice, often influenced by something I’m researching. This year’s project, a Festival of Britain canvas-printed linen piece, relates to the aforementioned chapter that I’ve contributed to someone’s book.

I know I would get more research writing done if I didn’t sew in my leisure time, but I need that for my mental health. Swings and roundabouts…

Band of Hope – My Research takes an Unexpected Direction

Yes, I’m a musicologist. No, there’s no music inside this wee publication, just Tonic Sol-Fa. (And no, I have not turned teetotal. Everything in moderation, that’s my motto!) In library-land, this would be termed ‘grey literature’, just an ephemeral little pamphlet – not the kind of thing that generally ends up in library catalogues.

Band of Hope Sol-Fa booklet of songs

I bought this on EBay a few days ago, because I’ve been following a possible link between some Glasgow publishers and the Victorian Temperance movement. You won’t find “my” publishers here, not even amongst the advertisements. It’s just because it’s a Glaswegian publication and I was curious to see if I might spot any unexpected connections. (Spoiler alert: I don’t think there’s any obvious link! But it’s still a nice curio to have, and there’s one slight hint of a thread that might yet be fruitful!)

My conscious mind was tempted to protest that this isn’t actually notated music, so why would I find it interesting? And yet, and yet …

Finally it dawned on my why I I should be interested. I’m writing a book which foregrounds amateur music-making. Sol-fa democratised music-making by removing the necessity to learn to read staff music notation. We musicians certainly acknowledge Sol-Fa’s limitations for notating complex modern music, and I am not turning into an apologist for Tonic Sol-Fa. However, it made music-making accessible to a lot of people who would not otherwise have even tried to read music.

Yes, this booklet is important. And that’s before you start thinking of music’s role in the temperance movement. But that’s another conversation for another day.

Has Anyone Got This Music?!

It’s just a wee song written by a 1950s Scottish comedian – ‘Let Scotland Flourish’, by Alec Finlay. Yes, published by Mozart Allan (who else?!)

I found a picture of the cover – oh, yes! But I really would like to see inside, and also the back of it! There’s every probability it’s just a “variety theatre” kind of song – it may have a Scottish flavour. But I’d still like to see for myself …

Mirth and Music with the Young Folks

Published by David Swan in Glasgow, and Weekes in London
Mozart Allan’s stamp

I’m only able to share this with you thanks to the kindness of the Victoria and Albert Museum, who snatched some scans for me. When David Swan ceased his publishing activities, Mozart Allan added this collection to his own catalogue. Interestingly, Swan used an Edinburgh printer rather than Glasgow’s own Aird and Coghill, but then again, Swan did come from Edinburgh originally.

Another interesting feature is the wee poem that he has quoted on the front cover – it is by a female poet, and appeared in periodicals in the mid-19th century. Not that it’s a particularly noteworthy piece, but it’s nice to think that Swan thought it worth quoting, some three decades after it first appeared. (It would have been civil had he attributed it to the lady, though!) I haven’t yet found out anything about her apart from her name, but give me time ….

The Glasgow and West of Scotland Conservatoire of Music

It was a lovely sunny afternoon, and we felt like going out.

Let me show you the Glasgow & West of Scotland Conservatoire of Music (1889-1892). Musician Julius Seligmann had been running a girls’ school in the premises for some years. Aged 72, he reinvented it as the Glasgow & West of Sotland Conservatoire of Music! It only survived three years – it has absolutely no connection with today’s Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

After that he went on teaching not only from his home (not far away) but he and his son also taught in the new Athenaeum School of Music. That institution did survive, eventually becoming the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland where I work today.

And does Mr Seligmann have anything to do with Glasgow music publishers? Not a lot, to be honest. But he did write a review for James S. Kerr’s Pianoforte Tutor.

Dance Instruction and Dance Etiquette

Pocket-size instructions, a dance-card, and a mouse – just for size comparison!

Mind you, the Society had a very traditional programme of dances, didn’t it? Mozart Allan would’ve known at least half the dances listed!

(Featured top image: No spitting on the carpet, please, gents – it’s a sure sign of low breeding!)

Poussette, Promenade … and Paratext (again)

I’ve been looking at some of the dance music published by James Kerr and Mozart Allan, to see how much instruction they gave either to the musician, or to the dancers.

Having diligently tabulated my findings onto a spreadsheet – after all, that’s just what I do! – it dawned on me that I’ve been at it again – ignoring the tunes, I’ve homed in on the paratext. In a sense, they were still obsessing about ‘getting it right’ and authenticity, just the same as the song and tune collectors a century earlier.

Just think how much fun I’ll have when I get Mozart Allan’s actual published dancing manual. It’s on its way from the USA at the moment.

A Gift for a Musical Friend? Or a Disappointment!


My lovely new book sits on the piano looking, frankly, grand. Diagonal tartan paper on top of cloth-bound covers, the red cloth spine and corners peeping out tantalisingly, and a gold-embossed title. It does indeed look like the advertisement’s promise of being a great gift for a music-loving friend.

I have my own set of questions that I always ask when I open a new book of Scottish songs, and I’ll apply the same tests to “Morven” as I would any other book. But first, I played a couple of tunes from “Morven” this evening. My heart sank. Then Himself called through to me, “What on earth’s THAT you’re playing?” And with reason! The arrangements aren’t bad, technically, but they’re unbelievably prosaic. To be fair, they aren’t too demanding, so they’re accessible at least.

Listen to the introduction of Oh for the bloom of my own native heather, and you’ll see what I mean:-…/oh-for-the-bloom-of-my-own

My next step is to see how long Mozart Allan went on advertising it! It was first published in the 1890s, and my advertising leaflet with ‘An ideal gift for your musical friend’ is from the mid 1920s – but it would appear my copy of the vocal score was owned by someone in 1951. It’s in good condition, so perhaps it WAS still being sold then. (The address could place it anywhere between the late 1920s and the mid 1960s.)

I’m just a little bit sorry for all those countless musical friends who, nearly a century ago, eagerly opened their new book of Scottish songs, and found a batch of well-known songs in plain, unimaginative settings! You know that feeling?