The Archivist’s Nook: John Webber’s Born-Digital Music Collection

Our guest blogger is Elyse Ridder, a graduate student in the joint program for Musicology (MA) and Library & Information Science (MLIS) at the Catholic University of America, and a student employee in the Catholic University Special Collections.

John Webber, courtesy of WebberMusic.

One of the biggest projects I have been privileged to work on as a student employee at the Catholic University Special Collections is the John Webber Music Collection. John Webber initially donated his collection to our archives in Spring 2021, with a variety of compositions written throughout his life. However, this collection is very different from a majority of the materials we possess in the archives. This is a born-digital collection, where Webber’s works are entirely contained through digital storage. There is no physical paper trail at all. As Webber is still composing today, we regularly receive updates from him with new compositions to add to his collection.

John C. Webber (1949- ) served in the Royal Marines Band Service for the UK Ministry of Defense from 1963-1972. Webber received an undergraduate degree from Rheinische Musikschule in flute performance (1974). Before traveling to the United States, Webber received FTCL and LTCL (post-graduate performance diplomas) diplomas in music theory and composition, and flute teaching, respectively. Once in the United States, he received his M.A. in music theory and composition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (1976) and his DMA in music composition from The Catholic University of America (1979). With experience from graduate assistantships and fellowships, he proceeded to teach music theory, piano, and composition at a number of universities in the United States and United Kingdom. Webber has founded and conducted various orchestras, and his music has been performed on both radio and television in Europe and the United States. His music is published by Arsis Press, Anglo-American Music Publishers, and his own Webber Music.

External storage devices that contains Webber’s compositions.

Webber’s original donation consisted of one external storage device with over 100GB of used storage. It amounted to around 50,000 files and over 300 different compositions. To say it was a daunting task is an understatement, and there was so much to do. With 43 years of music in front of me, I wanted to ensure that all of Webber’s compositions were given equal attention and nothing was overlooked. My task involved processing/inventorying all of the music, categorizing each work, writing a finding aid using EAD, and then ensuring that it was uploaded and accessible online for the public to view.

During my initial inventory, I scrolled and opened hundreds of files while brainstorming on how to cohesively organize Webber’s music so it was easy to find items. After about six months of processing, I had managed to categorically list all of Webber’s 369 compositions by musical subject using a system similar to the Library of Congress’ musical subject classification. Webber’s musical collection contains two series: series one includes compositions written by himself, and series two is a collaboration between him and John Gehl. Series one has seventeen subseries, consisting of orchestral symphonies and solo instrumental music to opera and teaching methods. Series two only has one subseries: opera/musical theater. However, that was only one piece of the puzzle completed.

One of Webber’s latest compositions for chorus and orchestra, 2022.

The next step was creating a finding aid for this voluminous collection. Our finding aids were built around listing paper material collections, so we did not possess EAD that could accommodate born-digital items. Because of this, an entirely new finding aid had to be composed for Webber’s collection. For example, I had to measure the extent of the collection by gigabytes and file numbers instead of linear feet. Webber classified each of his compositions by a six digit file number, and each file can contain cover images, scores, instrument parts, finale files, relevant text, etc. So to organize it cohesively, I used Webber’s file numbers and grouped relevant materials with each file.

John Webber has committed his entire life to music and has spent over 40 years sharing his compositions with performers, listeners, and fellow music professionals. My goal for this project (and still ongoing today) has been to ensure that Webber’s music is labeled, categorized, and easily accessible for anyone who wishes to perform, view, research, or listen to his works.

The John C. Webber Music Collection finding aid may be found here:


“WebberMusic.” WebberMusic.

Webber, John. “Category: Webber, John.” IMSLP.,_John.

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