Cello Expressions has existed in its current form for nearly six years. After briefly serving as the website for my high school cello quartet, it has been the home of my various digital projects for most of its existence. As this site and its content reach a level of relative digital maturity, it’s time to update the status if its various projects. This post serves a similar purpose to a roadmap combined with an “annual report,” interpreted loosely and without any expectation of becoming annual (I’m in no rush to duplicate the effort that went into the last annual report that I prepared). Read on for insights into the recent work, current status, and future goals for this site and the projects that it hosts (including my WordPress themes and plugins).
The Cello Expressions Sheet Music Library has seen significant growth since migrating to WordPress three years ago. The Sheet Music Library WordPress plugin offers significantly improved content structure, easing navigation and offering better access to audio, video, and imagery for each piece. With the navigational and SEO improvements from the redesign, the sheet music library remains the highest-trafficked portion of Cello Expressions by a large margin (averaging roughly 3,000 visitors monthly).
There are now over 100 compositions and arrangements in the library. I intend to continue including original work only here, with the sheet music library plugin offering a venue for other composers to similarly share their work. A number of pieces are no longer directly available due to copyright requirements. I do not want to spend time handling copyrights, as the free sheet music format is not easily compatible with requirements that various publishers have. Moving forward, I will generally only arrange pieces that are in the public domain. I will still provide (for free) sheet music for copyrighted pieces on a per-request basis, for groups that acquire the appropriate rights for their usage directly with publishers (by paying them and filling out their required paperwork).
Given the volume of traffic (and demand) for sheet music in the cello ensemble niche, I have considered the possibility of selling some music. This is not an immediate goal; however, building an integration between the sheet music library plugin and an ecommerce plugin (such as WooCommerce) would be beneficial to many, many self-publishing composers. As the plugin FAQ notes, the plugin is designed so that interested individuals or developers could build this integration without my involvement. If that still hasn’t happened in the next couple of years, and I decide to begin charging for some of my (new) sheet music, I may create this integration myself. Given the purpose, this would likely be as a commercial WordPress plugin.
In the near future, I plan to continue publishing new compositions or arrangements every six months or so. My focus will be on quality over quantity. In addition to reasonable and well-assessed difficulty levels, I want new additions to the library to be particularly well-suited for the medium of cello ensembles. Where possible, new arrangements will have at least a rough recording to accompany the sheet music. I don’t have many technical improvements planned for the library. However, I recently added an “Audio on This Page” feature to the sidebar. Borrowing behavior from the Featured Audio WordPress plugin, this widget automatically assembles an audio playlist of all of the sheet music (with audio) shown in a given view (by composer, genre, instrumentation, etc.).
I launched my Photography site in 2015 to explore my interests in architecture, construction, landscapes, and landscape architecture. Part photo-blog, part art-project, the site is driven by the immersive experience offered by the Lucidus WordPress theme.
The content has evolved somewhat over time. Most of the content for the first two years became a detailed (and fully-captioned) visual account of the construction progress at USC Village. A few other pieces of content are scattered in with those posts, and have taken greater focus since I graduated from USC (and left Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction) in December 2016. The USC Village series accumulated a substantial following, as it should have, given that it was one of the only public sources of information for the project’s progress. The level of reader engagement through the open comments was encouraging. I’m hoping to continue encouraging viewership by becoming more regular in timing my posts; however, the format of the site does lend itself to, perhaps annual, perusal with an occasional deep dive.
Moving forward, I hope to share more of my work with KPFF through this site. As all of my current projects are under construction, certain particularly-interesting images, and a few more-detailed galleries, will make the cut, along with other relevant content. However, I do not anticipate curating regular, detailed progress posts on any particular projects in the future, similar to the USC Village series. Rather, the primary focus will be on interesting imagery of architecture and structures that I’m involved in, and that I encounter. The theme continues to be quality over quantity–only a small percentage of the photographs that I take make their way to the site, and I will attempt to balance the subject matter between the stated categories where possible.
Ultimately, my objective with Cello Expressions Photography is to provide a collection of visually-stimulating imagery regarding architecture, construction, landscapes, nature, textures, and more; as a stream of content with the ability for viewers to dig into any particularly-interesting elements. I am generally satisfied with the presentation of the content and technical process for managing it. Eventually, I want to build a “full-page galleries” WordPress plugin that provides a more immersive gallery-viewing experience, with some similarities to the Jetpack plugin’s Carousel feature. Otherwise, my focus will be on creating and curating the content (as it should be).
This blog acts as a catchall for text-heavy content related to my various digital projects. Much of the content has historically been related to WordPress. I do not write nearly often enough to warrant distinct blogs on each of the Cello Expressions sub-sites; hence the mixed subject matter. Hopefully, if you’re reading this, you care enough to skim or skip past any content that isn’t relevant to why you ended up here, and you may even find value in contextualizing the unique perspectives that my diverse interests provide.
I have made an effort to document most of my major projects here, including a few links to substantial external work. This blog has accumulated a relatively large amount of content. I made the decision, years ago now, to remove some of the oldest, lowest-quality posts (primarily discussing updates to now-closed plugins); retaining the vast majority of the content here, I will do my best to keep a consistent quality standard. I generally aim to only publish content that is worthy of being published online and that provides additional value by being mentioned here, if it supplements another source. Moving forward, I anticipate a continuation of curated update-and-announcement-type posts. However, the primary focus will be on more substantial content. This post essentially documents my goals and expectations for my digital projects over the next several years, for example. Essays with multimedia supplements work particularly well in the traditional “blog” format; as evidenced by my favorite post:
I also hope to share more of my (non-professional) architectural work here. I recently published more of the work that I completed during my undergraduate architecture classes. This decision preceded the somewhat-random discovery that this example image from the live preview essay ranks top-five in a google image search for “mixed building floor plan.” I continue to be intrigued by the value that certain projects and ideas happen to provide to certain people looking for specific things. This is a testament to the out-of-the-box SEO power of WordPress, particularly for linked images, which I’ve witnessed in my contributions to sites ranging from USC ASCE to here.
Technically, this blog uses WordPress in the most out-of-the-box form of the Cello Expressions sites, and is resultingly low-maintenance. I recently, finally, added footer widgets to improve more-targeted navigation through what is now a reasonably large collection of posts. Notably, this includes a “Featured Posts” section, which will be used to organize what I see as the most important and highest-quality content that I publish here (using a WordPress menu). I also incorporated a more-comprehensive index of the Cello Expressions projects.
While I still like the artistic statement that the Figure/Ground theme makes, I recognize its functional limitations. Especially as I focus on longer-form and higher-quality content, readability and accessibility should become the primary focus of the design. I have already completed the concept design for the next graphical design for this blog. It will strive to make a similarly-bold artistic statement, but one that better lends itself to content consumption. Given my preference for focusing on content creation, and the disruption of WordPress’ ongoing “Gutenberg” project, a new design will likely launch sometime next year. Figure/Ground will have had an impressive five-year run here by that time, and will continue to be available on WordPress.org.
My WordPress themes are no longer part of celloexpressions.com, having moved to http://themes.halsey.co/ last year. However, they are still one of my digital projects. The move to a dedicated site is related to the decision to begin offering commercial themes. I still haven’t formally announced this project. One more theme is under development; once it is complete, there will be a good mix of target user types and I’m planning to market this project more broadly.
My themes focus on simplicity and usability. Prioritizing user-first, out-of-the-box design, their unique and opinionated designs provide visitors with unforgettable experiences. The themes implement core WordPress features along with efficient custom options so that user can get their site up and running, or switch an existing site to one of these themes, with minimal effort.
Starting with the free Figure/Ground blog theme, each theme features a unique design approach. Currently-complete themes include:
- Lucidus: an innovative photography theme featuring huge, layered (parallax) featured images and stunning post formats
- Visualize: Perfect for pairing poetry with photography, illustrations with essays, or showcasing mixed-media works, Visualize features a clean and simple design showcasing an elegant two-column layout
- Classic Artisan: A modern expression of a timeless design—with a traditional layout meeting bold typography, high contrast, and an elegant background, Classical Artisan is ideal for artists, designers, craftspeople, or small businesses
- Linework: A clean small business theme, Linework is a dynamic, highly-customizable canvas for your content to shine
- Figure/Ground: An eccentric free blogging theme featuring an animated background graphic and extensive customization options
Each of these themes is now available either free from WordPress.org or for purchase (licensed GPLv2 or later) on Creative Market. Check them out now if you’re interested. These are the types of design-focused themes that cannot be replaced by WordPress’ Gutenberg project. They allow your content to shine regardless of the editing experience and feature unique structural elements that cannot be duplicated with a block-based editor and a generic theme. As Gutenberg moves closer to inclusion in core, I plan to evaluate its integration with each of these themes as a measure of compatibility, contributing issues back to the core project. Look for a formal launch of Halsey Themes in six months or so.
The Cello Expressions WordPress Plugins site largely exists for posterity, as all of its content is pulled directly from WordPress.org. Unfortunately, the “I Make Plugins” plugin that powers it has been partially broken for some time now. This site will likely continue to exist with minimal changes until https://profiles.wordpress.org/ becomes more useful as an index. It does run a fun interpretation of the Twenty Thirteen theme with the Thirteen Colors plugin.
I currently have 25 plugins available on WordPress.org. A few are formally “abandoned” at this point, while a few others need some updates that I’m planning to make in the next few months. The majority of these plugins do not require regular or extensive maintenance and remain actively supported (indicated by bumps to the “tested up to” field in the readme). I try to answer questions in my plugins’ support forums every few months.
There are several more small plugins on my list to eventually build. Moving forward, my goal is to create plugins with little-to-no UI, and to publish as many plugins as possible that are built for a particular site. As with most of the plugins now in my library, it’s usually not much harder to build custom functionality in a generic way so that your work can be used by anyone needing that functionality, rather than restricting it to your project.
One of my earlier projects, pseudo-random experiments remains a good example of the type of work that I want to share with Cello Expressions. The various experiments hosted here have inspired WordPress themes and created graphics for Chase the Music concerts. I do not have any specific additions planned; however, any new experiments in a similar theme will be added as they’re created.
While this project has not been active since 2013, it is the newest addition to the Cello Expressions site. Originally intended to be published as standalone mobile apps, these projects are pseudo-educational and present advanced geometric concepts in interactive and uniquely digital ways. Future updates are not likely; however, there is useful existing content here that will continue to be presented along with the active Cello Expressions projects.
This is my oldest project, and the only project that predates the Cello Expressions site. Documenting a high school research project, it continues to receive a small, regular stream of traffic. Given the specificity of the research and lack of other online sources offering information on this particular type of wind turbine, it remains an important resource to have an online home (some of the graphics have even made their way to Wikipedia).
While the content here doesn’t necessarily fit with the other Cello Expressions content, hosting it on an archived site in this network is the best way to keep it in a stable, secure framework. The last updates were a conversion to WordPress in 2013, and the content was last updated in 2011. No further updates are planned, but the site will continue to remain publicly available.
After several different iterations in both design and structure, Cello Expressions is now in a reasonably stable and tenable state. Most of the sites run on a WordPress multisite network. These run a mix of custom and public WordPress themes and share a common administration interface. A few projects are on a basic HTML & CSS setup.
The WordPress sites each make use of a single post type. This suggests an alternative implementation where Cello Expressions could run on a single instance of WordPress, organized by post type, rather than several distinct WordPress sites. However, the current strategy facilitates unique graphical designs for each site. Given the diversity in content types and the unique themes and visual customizations provided for each, the multi-site approach has been relatively easy to maintain. In fact, while all of my other complex WordPress projects have used several post types within a single site, the multisite approach is worth considering more often. The “global” navigation bar and the few manual cross-site links would benefit from further iteration on this approach. For example: could the homepage be managed by a cross-site menu that renders dynamic multi-part content instead of being hard-coded?
The HTML & CSS projects are difficult to maintain–for example, the recent transition to SSL rendered them unusable for several months (all of Cello Expressions is now running on SSL (https://), after a series of transitional issues). However, these projects are generally simple, feature hard-coded scripts as content, and are rarely updated. For these reasons, it still seems to be best for these to stay out of WordPress
My extensive contributions to WordPress core are directly related to my goals with Cello Expressions. There is direct overlap in some of the more specific projects, such as default theme and feature plugin development. This blog has content related to WordPress core development. And, most of my contributions have directly improved my ability to publish my various projects online.
Moving forward, I plan to focus more on my own projects, here, than on WordPress core development. For a variety of reasons, I usually do not have enough influence for my contributions to create the level of impact that I’d like to have. I have also repeatedly had bad experiences with the way parts of the project are managed, and how decisions are made. Ultimately, the community seems much more receptive to my efforts as a plugin and theme developer.
As WordPress evolves, I expect to contribute opinions and (maybe) design much more than code. In fact, steps are being taken that will effectively prevent me from contributing code. Given that I now have much less time available for any digital projects, I’d rather focus on my own projects anyway. My perspective as someone that does not use WordPress professionally, and has no interest in doing so, remains generally underrepresented. I hope that other WordPress contributors respect and seek out this perspective more frequently, as it represents the silent majority of end users.
Overall, Cello Expressions has evolved into a stable home for a number of my projects. I might add more projects here in the future. I definitely want to generate more content within the project frameworks that are already established. Technical improvements will also come, albeit at a lower priority. Perhaps the biggest unknown is the level of interaction that my projects will see. Interest expressed via comments (or reviews, or direct messages) is likely to generate more focus on a particular project. That part is up to you.