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The Hymn Tune Index

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The Hymn Tune Index (HTI) project began in the 1970s at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). It arose out of Nicholas Temperley's research towards his 1979 book, The Music of the English Parish Church. In 1982 Temperley won a three-year research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, supplemented and continued in later years by funding from the UIUC Research Board.

The original plan was to cover all extant sources of hymn tunes associated with English-language texts up to 1900. Two types of source, however (manuscripts and barrel-organs) had to be given up as impracticable, and a terminal date of 1820 was decided on. Efforts were made to assemble all printed sources at the HTI office in Urbana. Many were already available in the UIUC liubrary system. Others were ordered in photocopy or microfilm. If a copy of a source could not be obtained, HTI staff members would travel to a library or individual owner to index it on the spot.

The database management system originally used for the Hymn Tune Index project was written and compiled by George Chaltas between 1982 and 1985. It was written in FORTRAN 77, and run on a Control Data Corporation Cyber 175 computer under the NOS operating system. Although FORTRAN was not the ideal choice for manipulating textual data, its ability to handle random disk access files, essential to managing a database of any size, made it the only feasible choice at the time. In the interest of portability, the ANSI standard for FORTRAN 77 was adhered to wherever possible.

The software constituted a primitive interactive database manager, loosely based on the network model. It was tailored to the specific needs of the project, and thus was not a duplication of an off-the-shelf database manager. Certain compromises had to be made in the database design because of the limitations in the computing resources available to the project in 1982. In particular, tune citations were limited to 80 characters, which had to include source code, tune incipit, text code, tune name, attribution, voice setting, and key/mode. Accordingly, the space allotted for tune name and attribution was limited to fifteen characters each, which resulted in a regrettable loss of information that has never been remedied. Source codes were limited to ten characters, including spaces. Durational information (rhythm) and accidentals were excluded for a different reason: it was found that these elements were so unstable in early psalm and hymn tunes that to include them would have produced too many variants of each tune for convenient organization.

The Cyber 175 was removed from service at Illinois in 1988, and the database was transferred to a Sequent Symmetry S81 running the Unix operating system. A commercial relational database management system called Ingres was chosen for the database, and Milton Cloud of the university's Computing Services Office installed the database and designed related programs. Further programming was done by Eric Loeb, Jehng-Jung Kao, and Joseph Herl.

By 1993 the capabilities of personal computer software had for our purposes exceeded what was available on the university's mainframes, so the database was transferred once again, this time to Paradox, running first under Microsoft Windows 3.1, then under Windows NT. The new database was designed by Herl, who also formatted and printed most of the HTI with a desktop publishing program on a high-resolution printer.

The Printed Index was published in 1998 by Oxford University Press in four volumes. Since that time, there has been no interruption in the discovery of additional pre-1821 sources.

The Online Index Interface was designed in 2000 by Joseph Herl and the software produced by Ali Banihashem of Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services (CITES, formerly CCSO) at the University of Illinois, with some further work by David Zeiders.

On June 30, 2007, the management of the interface was transferred to the University of Illinois Library; this change is reflected in the current internet address. Plans were developed for the extension of the Index beyond the existing cutoff date of 1820.