This week, we composed a tribute to WikiProject Composers. The project was created during the final hours of 2004 and finalized in early January 2005. It has grown to encompass over 8,000 pages, including 26 Featured Articles and 23 Good Articles. WikiProject Composers faces a difficult workload, with a relative WikiWork rating of 5.45. The project maintains a variety of guidelines, templates and tools to help editors expand Wikipedia's coverage of composers. We interviewed Smerus, Kleinzach, Opus33, and Toccata quarta.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Composers? Do you specialize in composers of a particular genre, time period, or nationality? Have you participated in any other music-related WikiProjects?
Smerus: Music is one of my great passions, particualrly Western music from the 17th century onwards, which is the area I feel competent to comment on. I am a sort of part-time musical historian in real life.
Kleinzach:Smerus is being modest. Speaking for myself, I joined around 2005 when few articles were properly developed. The challenge was to get them up to the standard of the rest of the encyclopaedia. I think we have succeeded, though there is still a lot of room for further improvement. I've participated in most of the other music-related projects.
Opus33: I've particularly enjoyed WP participation in this area because it's given me a chance to read more widely about classical music. There are a lot of great books out there, and I've seen my main role as trying to channel their content into coherent WP articles.
Are the composers of some genres, time periods, or nationalities better covered than others? What can be done to fill these gaps in Wikipedia's coverage?
Smerus: I am sure there are great gaps but like many I tend to keep to my comfort zones in editing. When I find a topic that interests me that is not covered (or has a poor quality article) I quite often put something up or rewrite.
Kleinzach: Obviously some composers are better served than others, but I don't think we have any gaps as such any longer. One reason for that is that we have looked at the main music encyclopedias from time to time and got ideas from them, and also we have attracted editors with special interests.
Toccata quarta: It seems to me that the best articles about composers tend to be those about composers from the Romantic era. This is unsurprising, as Romantic composers have the widest appeal. The weakest articles about composers are those about Renaissance and 20th-/21st-century composers, since their music usually attracts the types of people who are likely to dismiss the very concept of Wikipedia.
Do sourcing and notability concerns hinder the creation of many composer articles? Does this tend to affect dead and living composers equally? What steps can an editor take when creating a new article about a composer that will improve the article's chances of being kept?
Smerus: It hasn't hindered me but I have the advantage of a good home library and access to subscriber-only sources such as Oxford Music Online and JSTOR through my university connections. In my experience, new articles about composers are only "not kept" when they are non-notable; for otherwise weak articles, other editors tend to step in and improve.
Kleinzach: We have no problems establishing notability for historical composers. There are authoritative sources such as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. When it comes to present-day composers we do indeed have difficulty establishing notability, but I think that's the same as in any other arts field.
Toccata quarta: From the deletion discussions that I have seen, there are always editors who make an effort to find evidence of notability. I don't think there is unfair treatment of young articles about composers going on.
How difficult has it been to acquire images and audio samples for articles about composers? Are there any library or museum collections that could be tapped to provide these media files? How can the average editor provide media that would help illustrate the composer articles?
Smerus: I've tended to find almost everything I needed on Wikimedia - or else have added items sourced elsewhere, but out of copyright, to Wikimedia.
Kleinzach: In general I think we've been able to find suitable images for articles. Audio samples are something else. Getting good quality usable audio for articles can be very difficult, but this is more a problem for WikiProject Classical music, as they handle articles about compositions.
Smerus: Pass on Haydn/Mozart. Wagner Project has been a bit dormant of late as some members (not including me) think there's not much more that can be added. Relevant info tends to be shared at both WagnerProject and Composers Project I think.
Kleinzach: Thanks to Smerus and some other specialists the WikiProject Richard Wagner was a spectacular success — so much so that little remains to be done now. The Haydn and Mozart task force on the other hand has never been very active, even though a number of editors have been busy on Haydn and Mozart articles, which are generally of a high standard.
Toccata quarta: It seems to me that such specialised task forces and WikiProjects tend to be highly inactive. Specific issues are usually raised on talk pages of articles or WP:COMPOSERS.
Opus33: We should get rid of that Haydn/Mozart task force -- it just never caught on. Thanks for pointing it out.
The use of infoboxes has been a topic of heated discussion for this project on numerous occasions dating back to 2007 and culminating in a particularly acrimonious debate in 2010. What was the outcome of these deliberations? How well has the project recovered from these divisive experiences?
Smerus: Has been? Still is from time to time, but most agitation on this issue comes not from project members but from editors outside the project,(often those who have a drum to beat - see also WP Opera). The project has expressed itself clearly on its attitude to infoboxes, and I think concentrates on its informational mission.
Toccata quarta: As Smerus said, most of the infobox noise comes from outside the project. Some of the treatment we have received over that issue is highly unpleasant.
Kleinzach: Sadly many contributing editors were driven away by the attempt to discipline what was regarded by some wider community editors as an "uppity" project that had the temerity to have a view on the effectiveness of a Wikipedia-wide publishing device. The project still hasn't recovered the vitality it had before. Judging by the discussions in the archives, activity In 2012 was down to only one-sixth of what it had been in 2009. So the project is now only a shadow of what it once was. Incidentally, we should clarify that the issue was specifically about biographical infoboxes, not infoboxes in general. Boxes for quantitative data have never been any kind of problem.
Opus33: I'm hoping that, sooner or later, the problems with infoboxes will be taken up by other editorial communities as well (for example, editors covering history or literature) and we'll eventually see a retreat of infoboxes across the whole WP.
Does WikiProject Composers collaborate with any other WikiProjects? Are there some ways the music projects can better support each other?
Smerus: There is some community of editors between WP Composers and other musical WPs (e.g. opera, classical music) which it seems to me keeps them generally aligned.
Kleinzach: The parent project is Wikipedia:WikiProject Classical music. The editors there are almost the same as here. Project guidelines, approach etc are almost identical. Classical music is a bit more active than Composers (45 archives compared to 35).
Toccata quarta: Mostly with related projects (i.e., those that have to do with classical music).
What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new contributor help today?
Smerus: Many older articles (e.g. Antonin Dvorak, Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinstein) are poorly organised and sourced; their diffuseness makes them confusing and unhelpful for readers. They need complete rewriting. This seems to me more urgent than the creation of new articles, as very few composers of consensus significance are completely lacking an entry.
Kleinzach: The most urgent need is enthusiasm. Any participating editor will be welcome. It doesn't matter so much where his or her personal interests lie. We need to get the project active again.
Toccata quarta: More text and more references. Very few (see ) articles are of substantial length, and many are extremely short (see ). Perhaps the most common problem with articles about composers is the lack of negative recent criticism. Articles such Gustav Mahler, Olivier Messiaen and Karlheinz Stockhausen (2 FAs and 1 GA) are among the most glaring examples of this.