Managing and leveraging multiple libraries

backup

Some of the more recent TV boxes (Apple TV, Amazon, Roku, etc.) offer the ability to search across various networks to find the content you want. That’s a pretty compelling feature because I don’t always know which services carry which shows. Sometimes I just want to watch Top Gear without having to know the licensing deals of broadcast media companies.

How does this relate to music ministry? Well… 

At the end of my post about using ratings in your library, I mentioned integrating libraries… and that sounds kind of fancy and maybe even a bit tech-y. It’s really not. In fact, this simple concept offers tremendous benefits when planning and combing through your music looking for that perfect piece. It’s an obvious solution now in my mind to a problem that had developed slowly over the years of using a music library database.

Here’s the problem, and the reason it prompted such an elegant solution: I was using Excel and had a spreadsheet for my own personal music. I also had a separate spreadsheet for my church’s music. When I wanted to search for a particular thing, I had to open up both files and search them both. What’s worse than that, though, is that the columns in these two files did not match, were different, meant different things according to who had input the data, etc.). If I bought a piece of music for the church and then also bought a personal copy, I had to make sure to enter it in both files.

Church file: Documents/Music Library.xls
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(Putting one of these in my own personal list involved re-typing it, because the columns didn’t exactly match)

I got tired of inputting the piece TWICE and decided to make the columns match so I could at least copy/paste the row from one file to another.  And then… an AH-HA moment. What if the libraries weren’t separate files at all? I could just have a “Library” column that told me which library contained the piece:

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(And I can autofilter by Library to see just the titles that belong to that library. Yes!)

This simple step makes searching across multiple libraries a snap, and leverages the Ratings system in the process. Trust me, it’s really handy. My current database contains the records of my own music, three church music libraries that I have working familiarity with, a few records from friends who have presented music from their own collection to be used for the church, and even a library that consists of titles I don’t own, but heard somewhere and wanted to remember them for possible future use.

My options (specific for me) for column: LIBRARY:

  • Andrew Duncan
  • Fountain City UMC
  • First UMC Oak Ridge
  • Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church
  • Hymnals
  • Noted (Not on hand)

Here’s a result of a real-life search using my database. I want to find a Youth Choir piece for the Christmas/Advent season – Advent being preferable because I want it to use it in early December. I would like to see what I have for SAB choir and piano, and would like to see the results sorted by their Rating:

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Looks like Mark Patterson’s “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree” or Mark Miller’s “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” might be worth investigating. And, you’ll notice that “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” is in the library of First UMC Oak Ridge, so it is a title that has seen some use and might possibly be more familiar. I also know where to go to look at these pieces for the next step of planning.

If you like this idea and want to give it a try, here’s the step-by-step plan:

  1. Make a backup of your existing files just in case something goes wrong. Then…
  2. Create a new, “master” spreadsheet.
  3. Decide what columns you want in your new master spreadsheet, and what those column headers mean as well as their order from left to right
  4. Now go to your existing spreadsheet(s) and add/move/rename columns until they match the layout of the master spreadsheet.
  5. Once everything matches, you can simply copy/paste from your existing spreadsheet(s) into the master spreadsheet. (OR use the Save As function to skip this step and step 2). Repeat as necessary for each spreadsheet.
  6. Enjoy your newly integrated view of your already researched musical options.

This is a small investment of time that pays large dividends – and allows me to be a good steward of my church’s resources.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Best music library program – and, what’s an incipit?

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Sure – use Excel if you want to. No shame in that. But AT LEAST turn on the Auto-Filters. You’ll thank me later.

OR…. use an actual database. Right now I am really happy with Google Fusion tables. I basically took my Excel list, exported it as a .csv file, imported it into Fusion Tables and went from there. It’s amazingly powerful and customizable, and much easier to deal with than a raw MySQL database (which is what I was using for a while).

Whatever program you go with, make it more than a list of stuff.

Too often we think of the library file as a way to store stuff and find it later. While that is true it is MUCH more helpful to think of the library as a ministry and planning resource! Come up with the questions you are often trying to answer when planning, and figure out the best way to represent the answers to those questions in your music library data file.

For example – I often can remember the melody line of a hymn before I can think of the name of the text or the tune. So, it is helpful for me to quantify the melody into a searchable term. “Holy, Holy, Holy” (NICAEA) opens with the following incipit: 113355 (do, do, mi, mi, sol, sol), so I entered that numeric code into an “Incipit” column and can now search for that melody. And, a neat side benefit is that as the database grows and you search it for incipits, you will discover similar melodic contours in hymns that you never ever thought of as being related.

This link will take you to the public version of my Google Fusion Tables database – the subset that contains only hymns. Play with that and search by incipit in your browser. It’s pretty cool.

Collaborative care for the choir

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At my church we have a choir of around 60-70 active singers, with another 20 or so listed on the rolls. We also have prospects, folks who are “on leave” as well as dealing with medical issues and travel…

AGGH! How do I keep up with all of the details of each and every member of my choir? And… even if I figure that out, how can we effectively and actively pursue new members? I continually feel behind, and we are going to start doing something about it.

Right now, we are trying out an online database tool called Airtable – what I like about it is that it gives me AND my section leaders a way to communicate specifically about choir members, and to spread the knowledge about what is going on in folk’s lives more effectively amongst our leadership team (we have one section leader per voice section). They also have a surprisingly good app for iPhones. My hope is that by using this tool we can stay in better and more frequent communication with our choir members and reach out quickly to new folks. I’ll try to update as we roll it out and use it in the real world.

Technical info – because this stuff is important: I considered using Google Fusion Tables for this as well, and it IS more powerful, but it is also less user-friendly for my volunteer section leaders. It does, however, give you the option of plotting addresses on a map so that you can get an instant overview of where your choir members live – useful for planning social gatherings or visits!

What fields did I include in our database?
Full name
Status (active, currently inactive, prospect, on leave, etc.)
Phone
Email
Address
Picture
Voice Section
Notes (general notes)
Communication history (when and how was someone last in touch? email, facebook, text, phone?)
All this is a work in progress.. and I would LOVE to know how others handle this! I want to be the most effective choir director possible – and that as always means so much more than teaching notes and rhythms. It is truly building relationships with others in the name of Jesus Christ.

Soli Deo gloria.