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History of the Digital Tradition

25 Jan 98 - 06:05 PM (#19904)
Subject: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Joe Offer

Over the last year and some, I've seen a few messages that refer to the early history of the Digital Tradition, back in the days when it was 219 digitized songs, maintained on punch cards - or something like that. If I recall correctly, Susan of DT was one of the founders, and Dick came on the scene a little later; and Max came in 1996. Susan and Dick, how about telling us the story of the database, its development, and the people involved? Are any others of the founders still here with us? How long has the database been around?
-Joe Offer-

25 Jan 98 - 10:08 PM (#19913)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: RS

My two cents worth ... we first found the site shortly after we got access to the internet, & spent hours reading the annotations to American Pie, looking up Puff the Magic Dragon, etc., etc. Then the site disappeared! "due to copyright concerns", and I told myself *I should have printed all that stuff when I still could*, & not simply trusted that it would always be out on the web whenever I wanted to look at it. I could figure out, from my bookmarks, when we discovered that it was back on the air again. We have enjoyed watching it grow ever since.

Guess my theme is that there is a "grassroots history" as well as the official version ... facts & figures are interesting, but so is the personal impact on those of us who gather here from time to time.

25 Jan 98 - 10:57 PM (#19915)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Susan of DT

Those of you who have the DT on disks have seen the "blurb" that is included. I just did a cut and paste of most of it, below. I hope the format comes over ok.

I had been writing down or photocopying songs since 1968 when I was a senior in college and realized that I would not be singing with that group much longer. By 1988, I had spiral notebooks that had lost covers and loose leaf books with reinforcements on the holes and was wondering how to preserve the collection. Only a few of my songs were on the computer, since I photocopied where possible.

I went to one of the Greater Washington Folk Music Society singing weekends in the woods with Dick. Since we are a distance from DC, we only go to these two events a year. There are wonderful singers in that group and a few are part of this forum. As Dick says below, I had my notebook and Dennis Cook had his. I asked to see his book and saw that all of his songs were computer generated and realized I had found the solution to my problem of preserving mine.

Dick suggested that Dennis and I merge our collections and the DT was born. If Dick had not gotten involved with the conception of the project and the programming details, the DT would have ended with the merger of two collections.

At the time, we were using Osborne computers and it was a while before the individual files were put into askSam. We had disks with hundreds of individual files on them. We kept finding a little known limitation of floppy disks - besides a limit of size, there is also a limit of how many files can be in the disk's directory... We do still distribute it on disks in several formats, but most use the web. I imagine we will be making CD ROMs before much longer.

The 'oficial' blurb follows, without the "thanks to" section in case people don't want their names on the net.


In the beginning....

Back in the Spring of 1988, two folk music enthusiasts, each clutching a weighty notebook, met and compared (what else?) notes. Since the two, Dennis Cook and Susan Friedman, were both using home computers as word processors to produce new notebook pages, a decision to pool resources was an obvious one. The Digital Tradition was born.

It soon became apparent that word processor files had severe limitations as a storage format for the words to a large number of songs --- even with the 400 or so songs that we started out with, the collection was space-consuming. Worse, it was almost impossible to find what you were looking for. Duplications kept popping up, and cataloging was a nightmare.

After a good deal of experimentation and researching --- we first tried archiving the songs to save space, but this didn't help us with any of the other problems --- we encountered a very fast, very powerful full-text search program called askSam that was the answer to our prayers. To make things even better, askSam's publisher (askSam Systems, Perry Florida) was interested in what we were doing, and graciously allowed us to distribute a read-only sub-set of their program at no charge. As a result, it's a simple matter to sift through our ever-growing collection (6000+ songs as of October 1996) and extract any song with, say, the name Mary in it. Or all (or any) of the more than 370 Child ballads we have. Or songs by your favorite composer. Or, for that matter, any bawdy Scots parodies dealing with computers --- yes, we even have one of those.

The next major step was to find a way to share the melodies of the songs. We found an effective answer in a music-processing program called SongWright (Songwright, Leesburg VA). This program allowed us to enter songs in a reasonably compact format (so that they don't occupy an unreasonably large number of disks), and, among other things, allows them to be played on the computer's built-in beeper. The good folks at SongWright have also been gracious enough to allow us to distribute the play-only version of their program at no charge. Frankly, we're overwhelmed by the helpful attitudes of the people at both askSam and SongWright --- we hope that you'll be sufficiently impressed by what you see of their fine products to purchase your own copies of the complete systems. If you do buy SongWright, for example, you'll be able to print out the tunes to over 3300 of the songs --- in any key, yet --- as well as edit them and play them through a MIDI interface on a wide variety of electronic instruments.

25 Jan 98 - 10:59 PM (#19916)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Bill D

Joe...if you compulsively push every little bit of blue type on the first page, you will eventually get to this page where a bit of the history is mentioned. Most of it happened right under my nose, since Susan of DT and Dennis Cook were carrying those notebooks around the FSGW Getaway and such. We are still fortunate that Dick G. and Susan (and several others who did a lot on the DT) still come down to th Wash DC area once or twice a year. We stay up till all hours, gossiping, cracking wise, and...oh, yeah...singing till 2 or 3 AM. A lot of the early DT was literally handed out at those events by Dick, Susan, Dennis..etc. to interested people who had computers. Dennis Cook still does the FSGW WEB page and he and his wife, Judy are very involved with traditional music on the east coast and, recently, in England & Scotland.

You may have noticed that 6 or 7 fairly regular posters here all live within shouting distance of one another....and we have a few others who just don't use computers, I guess that the whole east coast folk scene gets part of the credit for getting this all rolling, and people all over the world were soon involved. Me, I just watched and sang mostly,( I have one credit in the database...Dick taped me singing a parody and put it in..) And now, the Joe Offers and Alan of Oz's, etc....with Max's creative programming, have got the whole enterprise flying high....this is REALLY gonna be something in 10 years!!!

25 Jan 98 - 11:03 PM (#19917)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Bill D

*grin*...I see Susan pushed her submit button 2 minutes earlier than I did......I gotta spend that money for typing lessons one of these years..!

26 Jan 98 - 12:22 AM (#19919)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Joe Offer

I KNEW I'd seen that blurb somewhere. I went looking for it this afternoon and couldn't find it. I'm glad I asked -Susan and Bill, thanks for your stories. It adds a lot to know the personal stories behind this work of love.
-Joe Offer-

26 Jan 98 - 09:15 PM (#19974)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Max

I went looking for a song one day, maybe Frankie and Albert. I was runnin a mainly blues site at the time. Found the song, but they wouldn't let me to it with copyright stuff all over the place. I had the server and no boss to worry about being sued so I took it in. Soon added the forum, later some other things, and here we are.

I feel like we are doing something truly great here. I have great pride in being a part of it.

26 Jan 98 - 10:00 PM (#19980)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: BK

You folks! This thread makes me recall fondly the incredible exitement I felt when I got an early copy of the DT, on a bunch of 5.25" floppies for my old 8088!! I lived in Maryland then. I thought I'd gone to heaven without having to die first! wow!

All I can do is offer my heartfelt thanks, folks. This is incredibly special. - BK

27 Jan 98 - 11:45 PM (#20068)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Bill D

BK...did you come to FSGW events?? Concerts at the Ethical Society....the festival at Glen Echo etc?? And how far away did you move? (The Mini-Festival is this weekend!!)

02 Nov 02 - 11:13 AM (#816832)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition


02 Nov 02 - 11:19 AM (#816834)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: wysiwyg

Thread needs an ORIGINS prefix. *G*


02 Nov 02 - 11:25 AM (#816840)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Joe Offer

Try About the Digital Tradition in the Quicklinks dropdown menu, but please use the thread tags only for their intended purposes..
-Joe Offer-

02 Nov 02 - 11:32 AM (#816849)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Amos

Terrific thread, Joe. Thanks!

This year, 2002, the DT was upgraded and augmented. It downloads fast and runs beautifully on both Mac and Windows machines, and has god-only-known how many songs in it, and it not only provides words it plays tunes.

It is a puredee winner--and to think it has been free to all who desire it all this time -- a dang miracle!

Many many thanks, Susan, Dick and all concerned. Twice over!


02 Nov 02 - 11:37 AM (#816854)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: MMario

Plus over a thousand ADDITIONAL tunes for lyrics in the DT are available on the Mudcat Midi site.

02 Nov 02 - 01:37 PM (#816956)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: wysiwyg

When the Mudcat MIDI page contains a song from a thread, is a link put in the thread letting people know the tune is up? Until today it had been awhile since I last looked at the MIDI page, and I had no idea it's now like a huge holding pen for tunes in mid-harvest... and getting bigger all the time, I would guess, too. How can we promote that even better?


02 Nov 02 - 05:37 PM (#817078)
Subject: Mudcat MIDIs
From: Joe Offer

MMario and I have been working on Mudcat MIDIs since Pene Azul whipped it up for us. There are over a thousand MIDIs, and MMario is responsible for the majority of them. We can link MIDIs to one thread and one DT song each, so people should discover the MIDIs when they look for the lyrics. Look at this DT file and this thread for examples. In the process, we're also cleaning up thread names and cross-linking threads and DT songs.
What's really nice is that this is an ongoing thing that will constantly improve - and we don't need to come out with a new version of Mudcat or the DT to do updates.
If you see lyrics that need tunes, send a Noteworthy Composer, ABC, or MIDI file to MMario or me. We prefer Noteworthy files with the lyrics included, so we know which note goes to which word. Please be sure to tell us the source of the tune. The same holds true when you post lyrics - be sure to cite your source.

-Joe Offer (click to e-mail)-

02 Nov 02 - 10:09 PM (#817203)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: wysiwyg

VERY cool. I got lost in there today for awhile!


03 Nov 02 - 12:17 PM (#817461)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: dick greenhaus

I have to add credits to Max, who put the thing on his website and to Mark Heiman, who has graciously converted it to run on Windows and Mac machines through a frustrating series of Operating Sysytem "upgrades" which effectively required re-programming the whole damn thing each time the "upgrade" appears.Also to Pene Azul, Joe Offer and MMario, who are doing yeoman (yeoperson?) work.

One request--if you're submitting tunes to MMario and/or Joe Offer, PLEASE include the words yo at least one verse, or refer to the DT entry you're providing tunes for. Titles can be hopelessly misleading (see thread on Nancy Lee), and the DT synchronizes words and music.

04 Nov 02 - 11:41 AM (#818093)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Dave Bryant

Is there any chance of Mark knocking up a Pocket Windows (Win CE) version of DT ? I already keep all my song lyrics on my HP Jornado, but with a 128meg storage card it could easily handle the DT - I can even play MIDI files on it. Even if the "Play" feature was not available, it would be wonderful to have the lyrics all available on a pocket device.

06 Jan 19 - 11:06 PM (#3970230)
Subject: RE: Tech: Digital Tradition
From: Joe Offer

The most recent edition of the Digital Tradition readily available is from 2002. There were some later editions, but they had technical troubles. So, this is the best we have: Somebody emailed me to ask how to download the DT tunes so he could convert them into another format. There's a separate file in the DT download called TUNE.ZIP. That ZIP file contains all the DT tunes, in SongWright format. I have checked a lot of these tunes for accuracy, and have almost always found them to be accurate. Dick Greenhaus did an exceptionally good job of transcribing these tunes.

07 Jan 19 - 01:51 AM (#3970239)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: GUEST,Little Robyn

RIP Dick Thank you for all your work over the years.

13 Feb 20 - 07:23 AM (#4033977)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Sandra in Sydney

Were you wondering what the Digital Tradition looked like in 1995?

Mudcatter Mark Gregory reviewed it on his 1 year old website Australian Folk Songs, a year or so before Max started hosting it here.


Articles from Mark Gregory's Australian Folk Songs - a selection

13 Feb 20 - 06:04 PM (#4034104)
Subject: RE: History of the Digital Tradition
From: Gervase

Ah, memories!! Samizdat copies on 1.44Mb floppies; Xerox; "can we print it all out?"; happy days!