Always the Last One Out

It’s just the way things are.  The orchestra librarian is the last one out of the building.

Although the percussionists and stage hands might try to dispute this claim, they don’t stand a chance.  Oh yes, they obviously have their fair share of packing up after performances (it is how I got to know my husband, after all), but, in the end, by the time the librarian goes home, there’s usually no one else left.

After a particularly rigorous three months, the DSO is more than ready for its Thanksgiving break.  Like nearly everyone else, I suppose, when we get return we’ll be doing back-to-back-to-back holiday concerts.  Sunday’s performance was the final one of an intense run of several weeks with the Music Director before the holiday.

While I was picking up folders and putting them in the trunk yesterday evening, the stage crew was striking our equipment so another group could be in the hall.  By the time I finished the immediate tasks of clearing the music, getting the scores back to the MD, closing up our trunks and taking care of a few folks’ requests, the crew was already done.  I went to the percussion room to deliver some parts that the principal will need this week, and found the section having a little toast to not only the weekend’s fantastic performances of Bolero but also celebrating surviving the last few months in less than ideal circumstances.  The Principal Timpanist, who had played with the orchestra 51 seasons, suddenly retired at the end of August, and that left each member of the section in new territory with the Principal Percussion moving into Timpani, and the others switching instruments from what they would usually play.  They’ve done a fabulous job and sound great, so they deserve that drink for sure.

Even so, 75 minutes later when I finally closed up the library to leave, my colleagues were long gone.  I stayed to finish some e-mail correspondence, lay out our next round of projects and deadlines, double-check the concert schedule for the library, sort the music I’d be bringing home to mark during the vacation, and straighten things up enough that we wouldn’t be returning to chaos after Thanksgiving.  December is chaos enough, thank you!  The three of us are all taking parts home to work on, because, although it’s a holiday, the music preparation is never over and we have to stay out in front of it or we’ll be deluged.  So, whether it’s  bowings during a movie or corrections while listening to the radio and doing laundry, the break is tempered with ongoing work.  Just like the players keep practicing.

I used to think there was something off-kilter about my life as an orchestra librarian — and the last person out after a concert — sometimes 11:00 or midnight.  But I’ve come to realize it’s part of what I love about the job.  I like knowing I’ve closed out the day and evening, that I’m there when the ghost light goes onstage and all others are dimmed to dark.  It’s a similar feeling to the one I get when being in the hall before the performance, before anyone else has arrived, there on stage in a magnificent hall that has, in its short 20 years, already seen and heard so much great music played by wonderful musicians.  I’m not going to go so far as to say the walls are talking to me, then you’d know I was nuts!  But in a place like this, filled with all the music, the walls do feel somewhat hallowed.  It’s a privilege to stand there and know you are participating in something meaningful and special.  Not everyone is this lucky.

About the author

Karen Schnackenberg
Karen Schnackenberg

Karen Schnackenberg has been Chief Librarian of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra since 1990. Prior to that she was orchestra librarian and violinist with the New Orleans Symphony, Santa Fe Opera, Oklahoma Symphony, and Chamber Orchestra of Oklahoma City. She holds degrees in Music Education/Violin (Bachelors) and Violin Performance (Masters, emphasis in Baroque Performance Practice and Music Theory), with honors, from the University of Oklahoma. She also studied at the Aspen Music Festival and the Meadowmount School of Music. From 1987-1999 she was the classical music columnist for the International Musician, the industry’s trade paper for professional musicians. Karen is Vice President of the Major Orchestra Librarians’ Association (MOLA), a professional association of over 225 orchestras, bands, opera and ballet companies worldwide, and will begin her term as President at that organization’s first European conference in Zürich in April, 2006. Karen also currently serves on the Executive Board of the Dallas/Fort Worth local of the American Federation of Musicians and, in her spare time, is a free-lance violinist, an avid reader, an amateur photographer, and a hiker.

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