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Subject headings and call numbers for basic sacred music research, both choral and instrumental


In some cases, these headings are quite general, as in the case of "organ music" or "piano music". Instrumental music can be construed as sacred or secular according to the type of religous body being served, thus the inclusion of the more general headings here. Vocal music is usually more specific, hence the greater number of specific headings cited below. General call number ranges are given for the major headings. The subject headings will find both scores and recordings, although there are some format-specific subdivisions such as Oratorios--Vocal scores that don't apply to recordings.

Organ music     M6-M14.8

Chorale preludes   [may be anywhere within general organ call number]

Sonatas (Organ)    [mostly in M8]

Symphonies (Organ)    [mostly in M8.5]

 Piano music M20-M39

Sonatas (Piano) M 23


Spirituals (Songs)

Revival hymns

Gospel music


Gregorian chants

Oratorios      M2000 [full score]; M2003 [vocal score/keyboard acc.]

Masses   M2010 [full score]; M2013 [vocal score]

Choruses, Sacred  M2020 [full score]; M2023 [vocal score]

Cantatas, Sacred

Sacred songs (High voice)   [(Medium voice); (Low voice); accompaniment specified]

Solo cantatas, Sacred   [most modified by (High voice), (Medium voice), (Low voice)

Book about organ, sacred choral music

Books about organ, choral music and related topics:

Many books on these topics use the basic subject headings listed above, with a subdivision such as “Indexes” or “History and criticism”.  Books about some topics will use the singular form of the heading while the music (scores and recordings) will use plural form: Oratorio; Oratorios.

Arnold, Corliss.  Organ literature : a comprehensive survey.  ML 600.A76 [latest edition in Music Reference, others in circulating collection]

Wasson, D. DeWitt. Hymntune index and related hymn materials [3 volumes]  ML3186.W2 1998 [Music Reference]

 Abromeit, Kathleen A.  An index to African-American spirituals for the solo voice.  ML 128.S4 A27 1999 [Music Reference]

 Laster, James.  Catalogue of choral music in Biblical order. ML128.C54 L4 [1996 and supplement in Music Ref, older ed in circulating collection]

Laster, James.  Catalogue of music for organ and instruments. ML128.O6 L34 2005 [Music Ref]

Laster, James. Catalogue of vocal solos and duets arranged in Biblical order.  ML 128.V7 L28 [2003 in Music Ref, 1984 in circulating collection]

Examples of subject headings for books about organs, choral music, etc.; headings in () are

Organ (Musical instruments)


Choral music

[Each of these may have further subdivisions by time period and/or place, topics such as “History and criticism” or “Bibliographies”m with ample possibilities for browsing]

MSU has an extensive collection of complete works, sets and monuments, many of which contain organ and/or choral music.  These will have call numbers beginning M2 [sets and monuments] and M3 [complete works of individual composers]  These may require some assistance to find exactly what is needed, as there generally are not complete contents notes for each title.

Biographies of composers are found under ML410[+alphabetic designator for individual’s name, eg ML410.A29=Jehan Alain]  Biographies of performers are found in the following categories; an individual who was both a performer and a composer will usually be in ML410.  Examples:

ML416 Individual organists

ML417 Individual pianists

ML420 Singers

Other sacred music traditions

For music of other traditions, the call number patterns for performers, authors, composers, etc., will remain the same. Subject headings for music and recordings will vary. Follow these patterns for similar materials of various faiths and cultures.

Buddhist chants

Buddhist music

Islamic music


Jewish chants


Voodoo music

Hindu hymns

Hindu chants

Many of these have ‘see also’ references to related headings.   


Online resources

There are numerous databases pertaining to sacred music, ranging from composers' complete works to highly specialized titles. Here are examples:

Book of Kells online:   Although not specifically music, the Book of Kells has provided inspiration for many compositions.  It consists of the historiated Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) displayed at Trinity College, Dublin.

Digital Image Archive of Medieval Music:   A collection of digitized, primarily polyphonic music, much of which is sacred, from European and British  institutions and collections.

Mozart Neue Ausgabe:    This link leads to the Mozart complete works edition which, with a few exceptions, allows study of the printed scholarly edition of works and critical apparatus.  This material can also be found in the print music collection:  M 3.M896.

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