In Karen Schnackenberg’s article, Who Is That Orchestra Librarian, we read about the diverse backgrounds and variety of skills that go into making an orchestral librarian. As she points out, librarians may have training in performance, history, musicology, orchestration, or any combination of the above. I would add music education, music copying, and even retail music sales to those backgrounds.
By the time I was finished with high school, I could play a half dozen or more wind instruments, from clarinet to tuba, and had played in every possible type of ensemble. I could also read any clef and play nearly any written part on any instrument. Naturally, I figured that these skills would make me a pretty good music teacher, so I headed off to music school with this in mind. I also worked in retail music along the way, selling reeds, renting violins, and ordering hard-to-find print music. When someone needed a special order mouthpiece or an obscure piece of music, they’d come to me. Music copying was a natural sideline since I’d been the one to write out the missing parts in high school and college, not to mention having sharp transposition skills and a good eye for layout.
It took an odd route, but eventually I found myself in my current position as Librarian for the Rochester Philharmonic, where I have been for 10 years. You would think that I would have figured out that this career was created for me since I started sorting and cataloging music in the seventh grade, and did it everywhere I went thereafter, but alas, I did not know that such a job existed. There also is no such thing as an Orchestral Librarian Degree. In hindsight, the other directions that I have traveled led to my being a better librarian.
OK, maybe that’s more than you needed to know about me, but it does lead someplace. The librarian is responsible for making sure that what is in your folder is completely ready for you to perform. In addition to having the right editions and the conductor’s markings, it must also be readable, error free, and logistically playable. Can you make the page turns? The mute changes? The instrument changes?Is the new composition that you are reading accurate for the ranges of your instrument? Transposed correctly? Is it so technically difficult or unusual that you might need a “heads up” well in advance?Now you can see (I hope) why my varied background allows me to help you with these things.I’m not just a musician who chose the library over playing or teaching as a career, but instead a musician who is truly interested in all of the parts working together well. I suspect most librarians feel this way regardless of how they came to be that librarian.
Next to your Personnel Manager (PM) who makes sure that you get paid (among other things), the person you will most want to build a relationship with is your librarian. So you’ve had some kind of hiring interview with the PM and maybe the HR (Human Resources) person and they’ve given you a pile of documents – contracts, schedules, benefit forms, and tax forms. Now go meet the librarian. A great conversation starter might be, “So, how did you come to be a librarian?” I suspect that no matter where you go, you will find backgrounds as varied and interesting as mine. It shouldn’t take much time to quickly find common conversation with most librarians, whether it’s talking about Bach concertos, teaching brass instruments, or brands of violin strings. If you really need more conversation topics, try hobbies or travel. They seem to be equally varied and most interesting for both librarians and players.
In addition to just meeting your librarian, use this first conversation to ask about the music policies in place. When is the music for each performance ready? Where do you find it? What policies exist for practice copies? Some orchestras have a contract policy stating when music is to be made available – a typical one is “two weeks in advance of the first rehearsal.” Some orchestras must mail the music to the players; some have a central pick-up location. Every library has a practice copy policy – find out what yours is. (At this point, you are on a fact-finding mission, not an analysis of the process already in place.)
As time goes on, if you keep building on your relationship with the librarian with friendly conversation, it should benefit both of you. You learn how your librarian operates and your librarian learns what you might need to do your job better. Keep in mind that this is a subtle process over time – going to your librarian and telling him or her what you need is not the same as the discovery process that happens in friendly conversation. The first can be seen as demanding and will not work well for either of you; the second is far more meaningful and will last much longer.
On any given day here at the RPO, I could have requests for scores or research from three different conductors, bowings to manage on any number of pieces from the concertmaster and four principal string players, two programs to put together for two weeks from now, research to do for the artistic administrator, AND a rehearsal to attend. And that’s just one day. And still, I find the time to converse with any number of players that pop their head in the door. They may have a question on a program or they may just be stopping by to say “hello.” Either way, it’s important for both of us to spend a few minutes talking now and then.
By doing this for the past 10 years, our players and I have built very good relationships where they trust that I truly understand their concerns and that I’ll do whatever I can to help them prepare, and I trust that they understand what pressures I’m under as I do this. Most of them can read the signs: if there are piles all over the desk, two conductors in the office, and someone else on the phone, it isn’t a good time to stop in and ask for a favor! On the other hand, if they need help on an upcoming program, I’ll find the time to help them right away. It is indeed a two-way relationship of both trust and respect that we’ve built together over time.
There are times when you will want to ask your librarian for such personal favors as audition parts for other orchestras – not that you’d ever want to leave the great orchestra you just signed on with! Most librarians have a policy related to this. Some may not do it at all; some may want the request in writing; some may get to it when and if they can. Keep in mind that you ARE asking a favor – something that’s not necessary for you to do your job with your current orchestra. And notice the piles on the librarian’s desk when you ask. Finally, dark chocolate works. It makes saying “no” to your request a lot more difficult!!