Monday, February 25, 2013

More Design: Creating the Homepage and Song Display

Now that the sneak-peek reveal of Songs of the Victorians is two weeks from today (which I discussed in last week's post), I'm focusing on designing the homepage and the song display page.  I received lots of positive feedback from the "Coming Soon" page (check out this post to see how and why I made it) , and I knew I wanted it to somehow be a permanent part of the site.  I finally found a way! I've put the navbar through the center of the image so users can see how to navigate to other pages but also still read the imitation sheet music cover and understand its thematic purpose:

I'll replace the "coming soon" text with "Available Now" or something like it.  Victorian sheet music often put the location of the first performance in that spot, so if anyone has suggestions on what would be better suited to this spot once the site is live, I'd love to hear from you!

I've spent about a month wrestling with how best to display the songs.  I needed a design that would allow me to easily add more songs in the future without ruining the look, and I needed to include the song's title and composer as well as the title and author of the poem it uses as lyrics.  I also needed a space to include links to the archive and analysis pages for each song, since those pages are the central focus of the project.  This is the design I've decided to use:

As you can see, the logo portion of the homepage still appears at the top of the page to tie the site together.  Each song entry is clearly separated from the others by a dotted line, but the side-by-side set up groups them together.  Each entry also contains all the information I mentioned earlier, and the entry for Caroline Norton's "Juanita," which will be live on March 11th, includes links to the archive and analysis pages.  I'm still trying to figure out how to style those links:  should they be in a different color? Should each one be a button? Should they be underlined?  I'd appreciate any suggestions you might have!

For next week, I need to decide on whether the archive and analysis pages should include the large logo like the image up above, or if it should change and use the smaller logo with the tagline (see this post for the other design option), and then create the page accordingly.  I'll also be writing the text of the analysis page in TEI.  Stay tuned for these updates!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Sneak-Peek Release Date for Songs of the Victorians!

This week's updates are fairly slim, since I've been working on polishing the essay on Caroline Norton's song "Juanita" that I described in last week's post.  This essay will be the first published text in Songs of the Victorians and is also my paper for INCS.

In addition to my writing, I also made some small adjustments to Songs of the Victorians.  As you can see if you visit the site, I've included the Victorian wallpaper background image I revealed in my post on the redesign so now it almost has the complete look.  I also added google analytics to my site so I can learn a bit more about my audience.  It's a fascinating tool: it tells you how many people visit your site and what countries they live in.  I can imagine it would be easy to get addicted to updates of this sort of data, but I plan to use it sparingly, mainly to get a sense of how to better advertise my site.

The most important update is that I now have a date for the sneak-peek release of Songs of the Victorians: it will be Monday, March 11th! I wanted the release to be in conjunction with INCS, but I need it to go live a few days before the conference itself (March 14-17) to give participants a chance to read my paper online where they can hear the audio file and see the score highlighted in time with the music to help guide them through my musical analysis.  I plan on publicizing Songs of the Victorians on twitter (@annieswafford), Facebook, google+, the VICTORIA listserv, and by word of mouth, but I'd love any advice anyone might have on the best ways to publicize such projects:  should I also publicize it through my accounts on or LinkedIn? What hash tag should I use for twitter publicizing? Should I advertise the day before and the day of the release? Or should I just wait until it has gone live and then alert everyone?

Thanks in advance for your feedback!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Note on Content: Caroline Norton's "Juanita" and Feminism

My posts so far have all focused on the programming and design decisions I've made for Songs of the Victorians and Augmented Notes, and while these subjects will certainly comprise the vast majority of the content on my blog, this post will actually address the content of my site.  

I mentioned a few weeks ago in my post introducing my projects that Songs of the Victorians would focus on four songs for its first incarnation: two versions of  "Come into the Garden, Maud" (one by Michael William Balfe, the other by Sir Arthur Somervell), "The Lost Chord" by Sir Arthur Sullivan, and "Juanita" by Caroline Norton.  Since my sneak-peek release in a few weeks will contain my argument on "Juanita," this blog is the perfect forum to provide an introduction to the song and to my claims about it.

Caroline Norton’s song “Juanita” (1853), designed for performance in Victorian middle-class parlors, tells a simple tale of unrequited love for a young woman, and its catchy, easily sung melody that imitates a traditional Spanish air contributed to its popularity.  Derek Scott argues that writing such “foreign airs” enabled women composers to avoid accusations of impropriety for pursuing the supposedly masculine enterprise of composing music.  Building from Scott’s work, I examine the surprisingly transgressive subject matter that the song’s conventional characteristics cloak: since “Juanita” is written in a soprano’s range, this song allowed women to sing of their desire for other women and to adopt the role of the pursuer instead of the passively pursued.  The song’s melody also critiques traditional gender roles and the Victorian institution of marriage through an allusion to the aria “Lascia ch'io pianga” from Handel’s Rinaldo, converting this song of love to a song of imprisonment and pain. This song’s historical importance also casts it as a vital force for feminism:  the royalties from sales of “Juanita” would have made Norton extremely wealthy had laws not prohibited women from owning money or property after marriage.  When her estranged husband sued her in the year of “Juanita’s” publication, Norton began her activism that ultimately led to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 and the Married Women's Property Act of 1870.

By examining this seemingly simple tune that middle class women played extensively during their leisure hours, we can better understand the song, the complex interweaving of the sentimental and socially acceptable with the transgressive, and its connections with a women’s rights movement that led to fundamental changes in the British legal system.

You can see this argument in full both in the upcoming sneak-peek release and at my presentation for INCS in mid-March.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Songs of the Victorians Redesigned!

As promised in my previous post, I'm unveiling my new design for Songs of the Victorians!

First, a side by side comparison:

Old Version
New Version
When I first built my design for the site about two years ago, I was most influenced by the design for the Rossetti Archive.  I loved the Victorian look and the effect of having the text on a light background over an image, and you can see how my original version echoed that style.  While I still greatly admire that look, I wanted my site to still have a Victorian feel while also having a more contemporary feel; after all, my site wouldn't exist without modern audio capabilities.  I also wanted a more simple design to emphasize the text on the page, so I made the text block centered and eliminated the background image.  I decided that although the painting on the original site nicely brought together ideas of women, music, and the parlor--all themes that reappear throughout my discussion of these songs--it didn't emphasize the sheet music itself.  In fact, the woman playing piano doesn't have sheet music in front of her.  For the redesign, I wanted to emphasize the materiality of Victorian sheet music and of the parlor, since that was the space in which these songs would be performed.

Once I'd eliminated the image, I had to find a way to create this Victorian parlor aesthetic.  I liked the color scheme and the William Morris-inspired background Dino Felluga used in NAVSA'a blog "Of Victorian Interest", so I kept that in mind as I built my new version.  Once I made the parchment-style background behind the text in my site, I used the tool "Color Scheme Designer" to find recommended brown accent colors for the background.  I spent some time looking for an appropriate background design, before finally finding the perfect free background (shown below) I could legally use.

Designed by Inferlogic 
With the help of Inkscape, I was able to invert and change the colors to match the palette I had in mind.

The final touch was the page's header.  I liked the design we used for Prism  last year, in which the logo appeared on the left-hand side with a concise summary of the tool on the right-hand side.  To replicate this design for my project, I eliminated the extra swirl on top of "Songs of the Victorians" logo and then centered my synopsis in the right hand pane.

As always, I'd love to hear any comments or suggestions you have on this new design. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

The "Coming Soon" Page Has Arrived!

Hi all,
Yesterday, I made the suggested revisions to my Songs of the Victorians "coming soon" page (thanks for the feedback, Matt!) and put it online!  Now, when you visit, you'll see the new, improved page instead of my Scholars' Lab blog post about the project!

Currently, the site is hosted through the google app engine.  Setting this up was pretty simple.  I just created an account, followed the instructions, and changed the configurations on my domain name, and within a few hours, my new site was live!  

You might see the background of the image change in a few days, since I'm currently searching for some nice, free Victorian textures I can use for the "coming soon" page and for Songs of the Victorians as a whole.  I'm currently redesigning the look of the entire site to reflect the new aesthetic of the "coming soon" page, so I'm making this post shorter so I can write one later in the week when I have the new design.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the new look!