by Sarah Funke Donovan, Boston Symphony Orchestra Digital Project Archivist


The Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives is pleased to announce the arrival of HENRY. But just who is HENRY? The first Henry, Henry Lee Higginson, founded the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1881. The second HENRY, born in 2013 as the result of a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, is the BSO’s online performance history search engine, and can be accessed at The search engine is also connected to the archives’ digital program book collection, to enable users to view original programs in addition to interacting with concert details.

Boston Symphony Orchestra Performance History Search Engine

Why the need for HENRY?

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s rich performance history is documented within its 7,500 program books and an internal performance history database, which together represent over 17,000 concerts performed since 1881. Since most reference requests rely heavily on these two resources, making the program books and database available online was a key strategy for increasing access to the Archives’ collections.

Project Details

The project had a two-fold objective: to digitize the program book collection and to build an online interface for the performance history database. In May 2012, initial funding was secured, partnerships finalized, and project staff hired. The BSO outsourced the scanning portion of the project to the Internet Archive. Bound volumes of program books were packed, shipped to the Internet Archive scanning facility, and scanned/uploaded to the Internet Archive website. Project staff at the BSO then downloaded the PDFs of these volumes (which represented entire seasons of concerts), parsed them into individual concert PDFs, and uploaded the smaller PDFs to the BSO’s instance of CONTENTdm, viewable at

Concert program details and performance history are managed in-house using an OPAS database, a product of Fine Arts Software. The web interface for the performance history was built by the web development group Adage. Concert records can be exported from the local OPAS database and uploaded to HENRY on a regular basis to ensure up-to-date information, including details on the current season.

Once digitized concert books are uploaded to, a unique ID number is generated for each item. These ID numbers are added to the performance history record in the OPAS database and are included in the general export to HENRY. When users search HENRY for a particular concert, a red PDF icon indicates that there is a digital program book associated with the concert.

Clicking on the icon sends users to, where they can view a digital image of the original concert program book. Users can also perform full text searches of each program.

Search Scenarios on HENRY

In order to accommodate different types of performance history reference requests, search results in HENRY are formatted in a few different ways. The default “Performance Search” enables users to search by composer, work, conductor, orchestra/ensemble, soloist, and/or date range. The results are then organized by date, which each result representing a unique concert. Users can also narrow their search using filter features.

However, for those interested in viewing various works performed by the BSO over a period of time, HENRY offers a “Repertoire Search.” Users can search by composer, work, commission, and/or date range. Results display a list of works, sorted by composer, with an indication of the number of times a particular work has been performed. Clicking on these hyperlinked numbers runs a “Performance Search” on the particular work selected.

Finally, users can also conduct an “Artist Search”, in order to view similar information regarding the various artists who have performed with the BSO over the years.


Though HENRY went live in the fall of 2013, the BSO is still debugging glitches, gathering feedback from users, and making continual improvements. Also, to encourage replication at other organizations, the source code for HENRY was built using open source tools and will be released shortly on GitHub. The Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives values the input of its users as we strive to refine the quality of our digital collections. Please forward any comments, suggestions, and/or questions to

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