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Professor’s Donation Strikes Right Note

In Nicholas Temperley’s life, passion twinned with professional fulfillment.

As a British lad with perfect pitch, he realized his life course early. “There was never any doubt,” he observed to Friendscript in March, “that I was going to be a musician.”

At compulsory chapel at Eton, a young Temperley fell in love with hymns, sparking him, in later years, to develop the massive Hymn Tune Index.

As a lifelong caroling enthusiast, he marked the 50th year of the Temperley Singers, his informal group of holiday well-wishers, by publishing “Christmas Is Coming,” a collection of carol compositions.

Nicholas Temperley, left, and members of the Temperley Singers caroling group in 2009, the year his book, “Christmas Is Coming,” helped mark the 50th year of the group’s existence. From left, Temperley; his wife, Mary Sleator Temperley; and UI colleagues Chester L. Alwes, Marlys Scarbrough, Larry Knox, and Laurie Mattheson.
Photo by L. Brian Stauffer


And most recently, the professor emeritus of musicology, who passed away April 8, made certain his love of music and scholarship endures for others: His personal donation will help keep the Hymn Tune Index technologically current and sustainable.

“We are so grateful to Nicholas for providing the gift to update this important research tool,” said Kathryn Heise, senior director of advancement operations at the University Library. “His generosity will ensure that this unique resource is available to scholars and students for years to come.”

According to Kate Lambaria, a librarian in the UI Music and Performing Arts Library, the gift may offer ways to gather data and develop technologies to enhance the index’s usability. “It’s exciting,” she said, “to have the opportunity to move to a new platform with more functionality” and to better understand —through analyzing its usage—the role the index plays in scholarship.

Temperley first arrived at the University of Illinois in 1959; having completed his studies at Cambridge, he looked for work in the U.S. After mistakenly sending an inquiry to Bloomington, Illinois (rather than Bloomington, Indiana), Temperley took the erroneously contacted school’s advice and reached out to the Urbana-Champaign campus. “I came here, and I’ve never regretted it,” he said. “They were very keen on getting European-trained scholars here, and everything worked out very well.”

Very well, indeed. Right off the bat, the postdoc Temperley met his future wife, Mary, at a new faculty reception and later invited her to join him in caroling. The two were married within a year.

At Illinois, Temperley deepened his reputation as a historical musicologist, specializing in the Classic and Romantic periods as well as opening up the fields of 19th century British music and English popular church music. A pianist, harpsichordist, and composer, he was well known for his prolific writing, ranging from “The Music of the English Parish Church” to scholarship on Haydn and the Romantic Age.

The Hymn Tune Index project, begun in the 1970s, was boosted by a three-year National Endowment for the Humanities grant in the early 1980s and later supplemented by the UIUC Research Board. Searchable by tune, text, source, or composer, the extraordinary document—considered a preeminent resource for hymnological research—covers more than 130,000 English-language hymn tunes and texts found in sources printed in or before 1820. Published in four volumes in 1998, it also has an online version managed by the UI Library ( According to Temperley, the index, when last surveyed, counted hundreds of users per week.

The online version of Temperley’s Hymn Tune Index allows users to virtually search all hymns printed anywhere in the world with English-language texts up to 1820.


A permanent School of Music faculty member from 1967 to 1996, Temperley launched the Hymn Tune Index project decades ago as a way to preserve and locate these compositions. Now his gift assures that such heavenly-energized music remains available, accessible, and inspirational well into the future.

His generosity will ensure that this unique resource is available to scholars and students for years to come.” ~Kathryn R. Heise, Senior Director of Advancement Operations