The librarians also shuttle the music folders well in advance of any rehearsal or concert as well as handling conductors scores during performances. This is often the most visible yet uncomplicated task we face!
Q: How does the librarian interact with publishers? Composers? Instrumentalists? Conductors? Others?
Each of these constituents you mention have different priorities when they interact with the library. Broad interpersonal skills are prerequisites for a successful career. I define these skills as the ability to form musically trusting relationships quickly with everyone who needs the library.
Publishers: Librarians are the copyright expert in any organization and liaise with publishers. The most uncomplicated transaction is the simple rental of a copyright work (small rights). It’s more complicated when there is a world premiere, last minute program change, or grand rights (stage works). We cultivate trusting relationships with rental agents as this allows us to “pull the rabbit out of the hat”.
Composers: Supporting a new composition is one of the most exciting projects we undertake. Frequent changes from the composer are transmitted to the performers and often under time pressed circumstances. The guidance that a librarian can offer a less experienced composer/copyist is valuable. Aspects of layout and readability are paramount.
Instrumentalists: Players depend on the library for accurately prepared parts available well in advance of rehearsals and concerts. Librarians are expected to research mistakes in the music and troubleshoot anything which is difficult to decipher. We need to also provide workable parts for transposing instruments. A librarian has done an excellent job when the parts are simply a tool that does not hinder a performer. There are also instrumentalists with who make special requests such as enlarged music or special transpositions. These requests are accommodated on a case by case basis.
Conductors: The best relationships between conductors and librarians are interdependent and less hierarchical. The conductor is on the hot seat in front of the orchestra and must trust that his or her requests have been carried out via the parts. The librarians also depend on the conductor to guide the music preparation process (edition, editing and bowing). If either the conductor or librarian is sloppy, the product is compromised. An experienced librarian will anticipate what the conductor will request.
Q: What is the role of a 21st-century librarian? How has the profession changed?
In today’s era, librarians straddle analog and digital methods. Skills are required in each.
PDF scans often supplant paper practice parts these days. Computer engraving is a useful skill, but there are still cases where a simple handwritten patch is faster and looks more seamless. In-house production of scores and parts has become much easier for us, however the question remains: are librarians quasi-publishers, or does this responsibility start further down this pipeline? There isn’t consensus within the profession about this, but the profession has certainly changed because of it.
The craft of being an orchestra librarian has expanded into a much more finely-tuned and networked endeavor because of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA). It was founded in 1983 and has grown to include members from many continents who share resources and best practices through an annual conference.
Q: What was it like working at the Met? Any stories that illustrate the vital role of librarians? What’s unique about working in opera?
The Met is a fascinating and complicated opera city. The entire company is united toward one goal: to put on the best show possible. Some of the brightest minds work at the Met and I’ll always be grateful for the experience I gained there over nine seasons (2002-2011). The Met presents around 20 operas, a symphonic series and opera galas each season, so it’s incredibly busy. It’s also a complicated workplace with over 20 unions represented in the house. Competing departmental priorities for funding and influence also add to the complexity behind the scenes.
A few stressful but amusing things happened while I worked as a full-time assistant librarian at the Met.
So, one, or sometimes two librarians are present for any Met performance. One night during an intermission of Gounod’s Faust, a call came to the library that the organ pedals weren’t working. After a valiant attempt to fix them failed I was asked to play the music usually covered by the pedals on the keyboard while the organist played the melody. What a shock and surprise that a librarian would be making such a booming sound during a Met performance!
Another time a flute player left their part for Shostakovich’s The Nose at home and there was no backup copy. I found myself in a taxi entering the player’s West Side apartment to grab the part and then deliver it in the pit during the middle of Act I. The world of opera is dramatic in all corners of the opera house!
As far as the practical matters of working as a librarian in an opera house, one must remember that the orchestra is not the only focus, which is contrary to what we are taught as instrumentalists. Vocal scores must be prepared long before the orchestra parts as the singers need them but also all the technical staff. Frequent off-stage performers (banda) are often an exciting part of the staging. Librarians in a theater must remain aware of their location and needs of these bande.
When there’s a cast change, a cut may be added or opened and the library is the clearinghouse for this information. And then there may be transposed arias required! In summary working, as part of an opera theater, changes are frequent and to be expected.
Q: You have a particular passion for education. Tell us how you feel about educating the next generation of musicians.
The knowledge we acquire as professionals is meant to be shared with the younger generation. One of my great joys at Juilliard, where I worked as principal orchestra librarian for total of eight years (1999-2002 and 2011-2016), was collaborating with student composers. The Juilliard Orchestra performs a concert of their music in addition to several other readings throughout the year. The composers consulted with me in advance and I offered feedback about the look and feel of their materials. Many student composers never had their parts and scores subjected this type of scrutiny. Most were so grateful for feedback about layout and readability, as their teachers focus more on content.
In 2013 I was asked to serve as the librarian for the newly formed National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America (NYO-USA) which is sponsored by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall. There is an intensive residency and tour each year. Alongside the NYO staff we developed a thriving apprenticeship program which currently consists of a librarian, orchestra manager, composer and conductor. These apprenticeships are a great career introduction to non-performing opportunities in music.