From the Orchestra Library

I Think My To-Do List Adds Things During the Night

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 23, 2009

Every day I go into the library with a general plan of what I think we are going to work on, how long I think it’s all going to take, what the highest priorities are (triage), and what absolutely has to get finished.  This plan evolves of course, and takes shape in the form of a master to-do list (well, that makes it sound all perfectly itemized and structured when it’s actually a continuous morphing of items into ever-new versions of the list) as well as various projects that are set up on the work counters to be done as we can get to them.

Within the master list are items I personally need to deal with, from the small to the large — whatever I won’t remember unless I write it down.  Now let me be clear about one thing before we get too far, although I figure it’s kind of obvious by now:  I am NOT one of those people who keeps a neat and tidy Action Plan on my PC or laptop or Blackberry or iPhone.   I certainly have tried, Lord knows I’ve tried.  But it never lasts.  It’s too certain of itself, or something.  Maybe it’s too much of a commitment for me to actually type a list, not enough wiggle room.

So I always end up scribbling on a piece of paper.  Recycled paper, just so you know.  Okay, pieceS of paper.  And post-it notes.  Lots of those.  I even put post-it notes with new reminders on top of crossed out things on the bigger list.

Anyway, I start every day with high hopes.  That I’ll at least knock the first five things off the list and have the fleeting but deep satisfaction that comes from marking through the items as complete, in some bold color so I can see that I actually got some of it done. Or tossing out (into the recycle bin) the used post-its when that task is finished. I believe this every day.  (What is it they say about mental illness — doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result?……)

Then I arrive at work.  The phone starts ringing, I check the the e-mails.  And before I’ve had a chance to start on the first list item, or even look at the list, several new issues have come up that need immediate attention.  Someone in the orchestra needs an extra part, finance needs to know what to code a particular expense, operations is finalizing the tour book and needs the programming worksheet information double-checked for instrumentation, the music director’s assistant has called to say he needs about 12 scores (this week!), a set of parts needs a rehearsal system created and marked, a program has changed so a rental order needs to be placed, the pops conductor calls to find out if the sax parts are covered in a particular tune…………and none of these things were even on my list.  But they have to be done, and they have taken priority over my previous plans, so I get busy on them.

When I finally get back to the list hours later, I notice something very disconcerting.  It’s gotten longer.  There are more scribbled items, some circled in red or highlighted, new post-it notes attached to the edge of my desk, and more pieces of paper! Instead of feeling the sense of accomplishment after finishing something and crossing it off, my list is now longer than when I left yesterday.  Where did these projects come from?  Who has gotten hold of my list? Has it come alive at night like the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” and gained a mind of its own?  OMG — IT’S adding things!!

Please, someone tell me my list has joined a mutiny, no longer responds to authority, and is adding a ridiculous number of things for me to do…….and that I am not the only one with this problem.  I beg of you.  Otherwise, I’m in serious trouble.


Crunch Time

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 22, 2009

It’s crunch time.  In exactly one week the Dallas Symphony’s instrument and equipment truck will be on the road towards the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in Colorado, followed by the orchestra’s flight up 36 hours later.  We’ve done the festival for quite a few years so we know pretty much what to expect, but that doesn’t change the fact that the week before any tour — domestic or international — is a blur of activity.  From rehearsals and concerts with the music director, to final operational and logistical details being taken care of, to loading up the trunks (instruments, music, equipment, wardrobe), it’s hard work for everybody.

Of course, taking off on an international tour is much more complex than a domestic tour in almost every way that I can think of except this: the number and type of programs.  It may not be exactly the same for every US orchestra, but when we tour internationally we usually do a mixture of three programs or so, always with the music director, and mostly classical repertoire with the occasional American “light classical” or showpiece.  We are doing this for the Vail residency also, but in addition there are three pops concerts with two more conductors, and two of those programs have vocal soloists and have not yet been rehearsed.  Both average about 20 pieces with lots of issues:  cuts, inserts, special starts and stops, some instrumentation alterations, and the like.  Music for these have come from a myriad of sources and quality-control has been difficult.

Despite it being a residency, the theater in Vail doesn’t have library-type facilities or equipment backstage.  This means that pretty much whatever is going to be a problem we have to preempt and prepare before we leave.  It can cause a few sleepless nights and many hectic days tracking and checking absolutely all the details.  Even so, it’s impossible to prepare for every situation; something unforeseen will happen, it is the nature of things.  When it does, I’ll have to deal with it quickly because there will only be one rehearsal for each program.  As Roseanne Roseannadanna would say, “it’s always something.”

I imagine the Generation X, Y and Z-ers right about now are wondering who the heck that is.  Mentioning Gilda Radner’s character from the old Saturday Night Live days certainly puts me in a particular generation, but I do have a point to make that’s relevant so bear with me for a second.  Because I am of an age that was born when a mouse was a little rodent and “Twitter” and “Tweet” depicted the sounds of actual live birds, I learned the skills of an orchestra librarian the old-fashioned way……..with pencil and eraser.  I also learned that preparing parts properly takes time (okay, I didn’t say I was always patient about it).  Of course, my own generation has fully embraced technology and learned to apply it in our profession — I have a blog afterall! — but I am still much faster writing out a part by hand than on a computer.  And it looks damn fine too.

So this will stand me in good stead backstage in Vail, when I can’t run to my library computer, or my fabulous copier, and instead have to do any work needed quickly on the parts by hand.  Yes, I’ll have my laptop, and my thumb drive, and the hotel business center and Kinko’s, but when it comes down to it, I’ll most likely have only a few minutes to use a manuel tool that I’ve packed in the library trunk.  It’s kind of like hiking in the mountains in the “old days” without a cell phone.  When you knew help wouldn’t be available quickly and you might have to get down the mountain alone, you tended to prepare more in advance for potential emergencies and have a plan to get yourself out of trouble.  And that’s how I approach the music preparation for going on tour.  Like a good Girl Scout.  Be Prepared.

The Music Trunks Are Not Bottomless

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 16, 2009

Orchestra players, I have your back, you know I do – after all, I am one of you and have spent my life onstage and backstage with you.  My job is to support you, and your success is my success.  But I gotta say, when you come up to me at a parks concert or a one-night  run-out and ask for parts for the next three weeks, I have to wonder what you’ve been smoking.  Seriously?  Have you ever looked closely at those trunks?  They aren’t nearly large enough to hold three weeks of music.  Not to mention that in preparation for a quick gig out and back from the hall, do you have any idea how long it would take out of our lives in the library to organize extra sets of folders to go with us, when you’ll be back in the hall in the next day or two?

It’s not logical.

(I just saw Star Trek today.)

I know you have a lot on your mind, and kudos to you for wanting to be prepared and practice.  That’s admirable.  And you sound fantastic, BTW.  But sometimes the level of magic you expect from us is a little surprising.  Not that I don’t think we are pretty good at magic on a regular basis.

Here at the DSO our goal is to have music available to you a month in advance for the major works/concerts, and shortly thereafter for everything else.  Now, it can’t always work like that due to rental pieces and last-minute programming issues, pops material, or just the sheer work load, but we do make every effort to meet that target.  So, when music has been available for several weeks and we do a quick concert or two away from the hall, no, we aren’t going to be bringing extra folders with us.  There are times when this is necessary, and different orchestras have schedules and venues that require different methods of distribution, but in our case, you generally need to get your parts while you are at the hall.

This fall we are going to start putting pdf files up on our website with password protection so folks can download practice parts from home if they choose to.  But we’ll still also make practice parts as needed.  I’m hoping this will be easier for all of us in terms of convenience for you and less standing at the copier for us (even though, as you now know, I love my copier).

Anyway, I just wanted to clear that little issue up.   It’s always kind of bemused me.

As for our travel trunks, they are pretty cool.  We designed them ourselves a number of years ago, and they have never let us down.  It wasn’t always that way.  When I first came to the orchestra there were two very old, small, smelly, ragged trunks that we had to use for touring.  I started asking early and often for funding to get new trunks, but, understandably, such capital purchases take a while to budget.  It might have been the first summer in Vail when I tried to push an over-sized score into the trunk (which had no place for large scores) and promptly jammed a splinter under a fingernail.  Way under.

I couldn’t get the splinter out so had to go to the emergency room for a numbing shot, extraction, and then a tetanus shot.  After the administration got the bill and heard the story, they agreed to fund the new trunks and we had them built.  I wanted three smaller ones rather than one large one so on a quick run-out I can manage the thing myself without having to bother the stage crew to roll it around for me.

And so I don’t have to take extra folders to the park.  😉

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 15, 2009

You know how people always say “It was one of those days”?  Well, it was one of those weeks.  With everything that was going on, I don’t even know where to start.  So, like all my German Lutheran aunts and uncles, I’ll start by talking about the weather.

First, it got really hot this past week.  Now that probably doesn’t come as much of a shock to any of you when hearing about summer in Texas, but remember, we haven’t technically hit the first day of summer yet and we’re just on the underside of 100 degrees already every day.  Even though it was actually milder than usual for longer than usual, I still can’t get used to the really high temperatures after 19 years.  Anyway, the heat contributes to weather patterns this time of year that create serious storms.  They can come up pretty fast and develop into full-scale tornadoes without warning.

This all means that the parks season for the DSO can be kind of dicey.  Our first concert outdoors every year is on Easter Sunday, and you never know if it’s going to be too cold or too hot.  Or just right.  Rain is always a possibility.  One year it was 100 degrees on that Sunday.  The hall is the alternate rain site because it’s fairly close to the venue, and we’ve often had to move there.  But sometimes it’s a perfect spring day and for those we are very grateful!

Our regular summer parks season starts around Memorial Day.  (See May 26 post.)  We hit the parks around the city for three weeks right about when the heat kicks in.  It’s brutal work for the stage crew; they put up a temporary shell at each park and never know for sure what the conditions are going to be, but they can almost always count on blazing sun and lots of bugs—just for starters.  The players have their worries in the parks, too, since the sun doesn’t go down very early here and great care has to be taken with the instruments.  For the librarians, wind is what bedevils us.  I’m here to tell you that parks concerts are hell on the music.  And guess who gets to chase down flying parts?  Yep, you got it.  We are experts with wind clips.  For a good time, watch a librarian strike the folders when a storm is imminent.  (The need for speed is one of the reasons why we ask you to close them.)

So, this concert last Wednesday was to be at a park near downtown, a nice little park, and there was a neighborhood festival scheduled to coincide with our appearance.  The day was clear and sunny, and despite some reports there might be showers outside the city, but everything looked good to go downtown.  To be sure, our Director of Operations had the radar up on her computer all day so she could keep an eye on things.  It appeared that if there was any weather at all, it would be well north of the city and not trouble us.  The guys set up the shell, unloaded the truck, and people started to show up at the park.

All of a sudden, about an hour and a half before the concert, a tornado warning was issued for one of the suburbs just north of Dallas, and the whole picture suddenly changed.  The sky got dark too early and the wind started to pick up.  This was going to be a much bigger system than anyone had realized.  Ops had to call the concert (it was too late to move to a rain site) and start notifying the orchestra and support staff we were cancelled.  The crew quickly loaded the instrument and music trunks back on the truck and took down as much of the equipment as they could.  I felt badly for our Operations Director who had worked so hard to keep ahead of this situation.  As they say in these parts, “bless her heart”!

She did the right thing though.  You can only make a decision with the information you have at the time, and the first concern is everyone’s safety.  As we all made our way back home, the storm grew very quickly with fierce wind and heavy rain.  We called it a night thinking it would be over by morning.

But no.  This is Texas after all, where we don’t usually get a nice, gentle, dreamy rain.  It poured all night, and was coming down even harder the next morning.  Nor did the lightning and thunder let up, cracking and rumbling and shaking for hours.  It was so loud I wanted to crawl under the bed with my cat Baxter.  By the time we were all going into work for a 10:00 rehearsal, there was flooding and the rain was so heavy it was truly terrifying.  Cars floated, trees came down, power was out all over the place.  Only about two-thirds of the orchestra made it in, some from quite far away, but we had to rehearse.  We would be doing a new program for a run-out concert that night in Greenville, Texas, about an hour east of Dallas. Again, trunks had to be loaded and the stage crew would arrive at the venue ahead of the rest of us to set up.  By the time the rehearsal was over, the storm was too, and clean-up had already begun around the city.  The power, tree and insurance companies would have their hands full.  And the orchestra would hit the road at 6 p.m. sharp.

As the weather cleared the sun came up, and the show went on despite the various hardships individuals had suffered with damage to cars and houses.  The next day there was another rehearsal for another program and the week culminated with our popular Latina Festival. We blitzed through four sets of folders just this week!  Now the two-week countdown begins until we leave for our Vail residency.

I’ve always thought the Dallas Symphony should do most of its parks concerts during the spring and early fall which are truly beautiful here, but I suspect the schedule doesn’t allow for extra performances outside during that part of the year.  Oh well.  If we didn’t have gale-force winds and Texas-sized storms, I wouldn’t have a story to tell.  As a percussionist friend of mine used to say:  “Ain’t summer grand?!”

The Curve Ball

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 13, 2009

Just as in America’s favorite pastime, it’s not a question of IF a curve ball will be pitched to the orchestra library, but WHEN.  It’s likely to happen at “the worst time” when you most hope it won’t or least expect it.  And then another one will come at you on top of the first one.

Our latest curve ball came a couple of days ago when a prominent businessman and long-time supporter of the symphony passed away.  It turns out the DSO will provide musicians and music for his memorial service in our hall.  During a normal week it wouldn’t be all that that difficult to  research a few pieces, provide some repertoire information to the powers that be, put together a chamber-sized group of folders and put them out for the service.  The silver lining in this kind of situation is that there is literally no time to mark parts or locate obscure music.  We use what we have, marked as is, and for some appropriate selections we have particular sets of parts ready to go.

But in the middle of six programs produced by the DSO this week (mercifully for us right now, two without orchestra) – including one run-out, one parks concert, one festival series, and just two weeks to go before the orchestra leaves for its residency with six more programs (two of which still aren’t finished) – well, the last thing one is hoping to do is put together another set of folders.  This is, in all seriousness, our absolute worst time of the whole year.

Here’s the thing, though:  I have no problem with this type of curve ball, and, like I said, it’s the kind of thing for which one must always be ready.  It’s very important, it can’t be helped, it’s an emergency, and it’s the right thing to do.  People of all cultures need and want music when they are grieving or celebrating, and, really, isn’t that why we do what we do anyway?  In the greatest sense?  Even in the darkest moments of human history, someone had to actually organize and prepare the music.

So, I always just take a deep breath, try to stay calm, be helpful to those doing the planning, and take care of my responsibilities as efficiently as possible.  And stay late to get it done if necessary.  It feels good to know we have offered comfort to the loved ones in such a situation, and when it’s someone we care about also, this is how we pay our respects.

But that brings me to the curve balls that are an issue.  The ones that don’t have to happen but do because of bad planning, no planning, or someone demanding unnecessary changes on a whim at the last minute, requiring whole departments to undo and redo already-completed  work.  These do not come from memorial services , true emergencies, or valid artistic and logistical circumstances that necessitate attention even right up to the performance.   They mostly just come from a lack of thinking through what will be needed well in advance about programs that would otherwise not be an issue.  And they create more problems, cost more money, and waste more time than just about anything else we librarians encounter.  It happens in every orchestra to varying degrees and the trick is to keep this kind of thing to an organizational minimum.

Real emergencies and legitimate changes in direction are part of the reality of life.  It will always be so.  That’s why it’s crucial to manage time, projects and resources well and efficiently, so when the curve ball comes, you can adapt quickly and, yes, wait for it……………….hit the ball out of the park.  (Oooh, I hear the groans.  Sorry.)  It’s impossible to handle these situations successfully if you are always in crisis management, because there will be no margin of time or energy for the true crisis when it happens.  That’s one of the reasons it’s crucial for the organization to work far enough in advance as a regular matter of course.  Then it can meet special and important challenges in a meaningful way.

If a person can’t handle curve balls thrown at them, it’s probably best they not become an orchestra librarian.  Surprise pitches are part of the game.  And if you are a librarian and haven’t seen this slogan in a while, here it is again:


Triage Isn’t Just for Hospitals

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 10, 2009

Every time I hear about medical triage I think of the TV show M*A*S*H* (yes, I am a Baby Boomer, although a young one, thank you very much) in which doctors and nurses were constantly rushing to prioritize massive casualties based on who needed the most urgent care.

So I mean no disrespect to the medical profession or the wounded when using that word to describe a process of prioritization in my own profession…….a way of managing crisis for us too.  A second definition found in Merriam Webster’s Online Dictionary says triage is “the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.”  In times of high volume in the library – preparing lots of music in a short space of time – the definition is apt.

I truly wish every part we put on the stage could be perfect.  Like many other librarians, I find great satisfaction in preparing a perfect part, and consider it beautiful once completed.  Sometimes this is almost possible to accomplish, given an excellent edition to start with, time enough to correct errors, plenty of light and proper tools, a good work flow and a steady hand to do the markings well.  And, as I am sure most other librarians can relate, we always try to give a set of parts the full attention it needs and that the players deserve for their performances. Orchestra librarians are, as a species, very detail-oriented perfectionists who are often more-or-less obsessed with getting those details perfect.  Even more importantly, we are professional musicians and truly understand the necessity of the part being not only right but as close to perfect as possible. Unfortunately, reality does not always allow that.

The truth is, if we made every part perfect, we would never get all the music out, much less out on time.  It’s just impossible when there are multiple conductors doing many different programs back-to-back, particularly when there are pops concerts included.

So, we have to triage the different works in terms of priorities, do what we can, and move on.  Here are some of the things we assess:

Is it a major work being conducted by the music director?   Is it a piece of standard repertoire which we will perform many times in the future?  Is the set of parts already in play usable, legible, thoroughly marked, and in good condition?  Or is the set on its last leg, pages torn, markings obscured by too many erasures, yellowing paper?  Does the program have twenty 3-minute pieces, many of which will never be played again?  Is the guest artist providing charts at the last minute over which we will have little control?  Does the edition require significant corrections?  Are the corrections known or will every note of every part have to be compared against the score?   Is the rehearsal system “good enough” or do measure numbers have to be counted and added?  Do we have enough help to go beyond marking bowings, fixing page turns, and correcting the most egregious errors?  Are the problems in the parts enough to stop a rehearsal?

Unfortunately, not all the works can be treated with equal importance no matter how much we want to. It comes down to whether or not there is enough time.

Although our work mercifully does not deal with life or death matters, it is fast-paced, deadline driven, and involves the coordination and execution of millions of details.  And, although no one will die if we make a mistake, a player or conductor might be thrown off their best game, or, worse, make a mistake in a performance because we missed or misplaced something, or because a part wasn’t right.  We do everything we possibly can to make sure that doesn’t happen with the time, resources and (wo)man power at our disposal.  But, sometimes it does happen.  And we are truly sorry.  Because we wish it could be perfect.  Always.

In Love With A Wonderful…..Copier

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 5, 2009

DSO Library copierI really am completely in love with our copier.  We have recently been extracting excerpts for both an audition and a family concert coming up, because, of course, when it rains it pours (especially in May and June in Dallas!).  So, I have had the opportunity during the past few weeks to renew my vows with our fantastic copier and thank it for being there in sickness and in health.  It took many years for the right one to come along.

Since I started at the Dallas Symphony 19 seasons ago we’ve obviously been through several copiers, and it was only relatively recently that we leapt into the 21st century and got a unit that can keep us from tearing our hair out during the crunch music preparation times like now.  The players probably never understood why we were so frustrated making practice copies or extra performance parts on a moment’s notice for all those earlier years – don’t you just press a button and voila?  If only.

Standing there hand-feeding individual pieces of paper back and forth through the machine to make a double-sided part of more than 3 pages was excruciating.  It took forever.  And, even after it took forever, it wasn’t always successful.  So it took even more forever. The weight and size of the paper would jam the machine on a regular and frequent basis.  The toner wouldn’t always adhere properly to the page, and then if we marked and erased bowings, well…….there went the notes.  We had to use the bypass tray because the regular paper trays wouldn’t work with the “non-standard” size.  It was hard to manipulate the original for a centered image.  Getting margins right was a guessing game.

And copying a full score?  Fuggedaboutit.

We did become very skilled at making do with what we had and what the technology of the times would allow, as all generations of librarians have had to before us.  I still often think of my predecessor, Mike Glass, who was the DSO librarian for 35 years, and what he had to go through to make a copy or write out a part.  So I really shouldn’t have complained.  But we all know only what we know, and this process was a huge pain.  Did the relationship have to be this difficult?  Surely there was something better out there.  However, we persevered, learned the “work-arounds”, figured out some tricks, and kept going.

Finally, when it came time for the organization to renegotiate its copier/printer leases, we got the opportunity we had longed for – going to the distributors armed with music paper and three simple requirements:  the library copier would have to be able to duplex our music-sized paper automatically, print from our computers directly to that paper, and make my breakfast.

Okay, I gave up that last part.  But it was amazing how many sales people would promise eternal happiness only to be stumped by not being able to deliver on what we considered the basics.  When we finally found a company that was willing to bring in its engineer to customize the settings on their machine to meet our needs – in other words, work on the relationship— we made a match.  We even got a double scanner in the doc feed as part of the deal.  And I am still in love with our copier to this day.

Radetzky Rescue

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on June 2, 2009

I am constantly amazed at the generosity of the librarian community worldwide.  Most players and administrators probably don’t realize how often the librarian for one orchestra takes the time to assist another.  And, by doing so, assists the players and conductors directly.  This could mean anything from scanning and sending a part at 7:55 p.m. if a player has forgotten it, to sending a complete set of materials for reference when another librarian needs to see corrections. Such aid isn’t just offered within the US – it’s between countries and continents, night and day.  Over the past 25 years MOLA has built and nurtured this community, and provided a communication system by which we can reach each other quickly when in need.  We even have a MUSIC 911 option through our member forum.

For our summer season, Radetzky March was added to a program at the end of this month with our new music director.  Anytime a new “MD” comes on board, there is an inevitable shift in musical style which prompts changes in the markings of scores and parts.  Many times this even means purchasing new sets of standard repertoire so that the MD can have a dedicated set of parts for use on his or her performances exclusively.  Such was the case with Radetzky for us this time; even though it seems like a relatively insignificant piece in comparison to, say, a Mahler symphony, we knew our old set would not withstand another round of erasing and remarking, and that we needed to get a second one.

So we contacted our friend and colleague Tom Takaro at the Houston Symphony (the Texas orchestra librarians have created our own sort of mini-MOLA for times like these, which has helped foster a nice congenial working sub-group) because when that city was flooded by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, the entire orchestra library was destroyed and they have had to painstakingly replace it piece by piece.  During these past eight years the Houston librarians have become intimately acquainted with the latest editions of orchestral repertoire. We wanted to know what Tom had purchased for Radetzky, and if he liked the edition.  Not only did he answer us quickly with pertinent details, he informed us that he had an extra set of parts to Radetzky in his library that he didn’t need now (new, clean) and that we could have it.  We replied we’d be happy to take it off his hands and pay what it cost him, so asked for an invoice.

Two days later we received a package that included the full set, complete with an errata list to make the corrections, and a note conveying that this was a gift for which no invoice would be sent.  Just like that.  No fuss, no muss.  We have a set of parts, we corrected and marked it, and it’s in the folders.  Done.  At a savings to our organization both in time and money.

We have been the recipient of such generosity many times, and try to return the favor whenever possible.  It just seemed like such a good deed it shouldn’t go unmentioned.  In case you have never read about the Houston Symphony’s terrible ordeal eight years ago, here is an excellent article: