The Nederlandse Liederenbank (www.liederenbank.nl) is a database that unlocks about 150,000 songs and is used both by scholars and the general public. In this essay the author, who is in charge of the Nederlandse Liederenbank, argues in favour of more Flemish-Dutch cooperation in this field.
During the twenty-year history of the Liederenbank, several projects took place in which southern songs were added. The first project, called ‘Repertorium van het Nederlandse lied tot 1600’ (Repertory of Dutch Songs until 1600) covered the historical period before the political separation of North and South during the Eighty Years War (1568-1648). Being performed in collaboration between the University of Antwerp and the Meertens Institute it was obvious that this project had to include songs from both southern and northern sources. The second project, called ‘Zuid-Nederlandse Liederenbank’, covered seventeenth-century songs only from the Southern Netherlands, which were by then under Spanish rule. The songs were integrated into the descriptions of the many northern songs from this period, i.e. both song texts and melodies were identified and linked with the northern repertoire. This collaboration, again between the University of Antwerp and the Meertens Institute, was less obvious as in the seventeenth century the Northern and Southern Netherlands were two different countries – after all, the documentation and research of songs is loaded with national symbolism.
Yet there are several reasons for cooperation between Flanders and the Netherlands in this respect. First, there seems to be a big overlap in the song repertoires of South and North. (I write ‘seems to be’ because we don’t know exactly how big the overlap is; the best way to investigate this is precisely building a common database.) Secondly, Flemish-Dutch cooperation is important from an international perspective. Research on the joint repertoires is much facilitated by whether one common database or linked databases with a comparable structure – that makes interoperability much more feasible. Lastly, one integrated system for Flemish and Dutch songs would yield a stronger position within European projects.
A problem to deal with is the mechanism of heritage preservation, which tends to be organised along national, regional, or local lines. On top of that, song is a medium par excellence to express, maintain, and articulate group identities, including national identities. It may require good arguments to persuade national, regional or local institutions to cooperate in Flemish-Dutch projects for digitizing and unlocking song repertoires. However, elsewhere in this issue Martine de Bruin described a promising pilot project. It is about connecting field recordings of the Flemish radio reporter Pol Heyns, preserved by the VRT, with recordings by his Dutch colleague Ate Doornbosch, preserved in the Meertens Institute.