One of the scores I am currently working on cataloging is a setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem, “I Shall Not Live In Vain.” The poem is sung by a mezzo-soprano soloist, accompanied by a girls’ chorus, bells, and piano. While the soloist sings about not living in vain, the girls’ chorus primarily sings repetitions of the words “Salve Regina,” which is a liturgical reference. In performance, you would hear the soloist as the main voice.
In cataloging, it doesn’t always work that way. We have a chorus, so it doesn’t count as a song – which changes the fixed field, as well as the subject field and the genre/form field. Without the chorus, the subject heading might be Songs (Medium Voice) with Instrumental Ensemble. With the chorus, it becomes Choruses, Secular (Children’s Voices) with Instrumental Ensemble – although if there were no soloist, it might be Choruses, Sacred (Children’s Voices) with Instrumental Ensemble.
That’s pretty different.
It’s not singular to the single score I have in my hands either. Choruses don’t play well with soloists or symphonies (at least in cataloging). It’s such a continuous issue that Yale has a page on their cataloging website titled, “Those darn chorus subject headings!”
So how do we make it discoverable in a catalog for a user? Well, there’s a field for medium of performance, where we list soloists, ensembles, individual instruments, doubling instruments and more in machine-readable language. There is a catch-all field of content notes that is useful for any details that don’t fit elsewhere. It’s not perfect, but it’s not nothing, either.