From the Orchestra Library

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:



6 Responses to 'The Curve Ball'

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  1. Amy said,

    You mean you try to avoid the types of emergencies that come about when the operations department, or the conductor or soloist or SOMEBODY is out in left field, right? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself either.

    • kschnack said,

      LOL, Amy. I deserved that!

  2. Ken Woods said,

    What a great post and a promising blog- I’ll be back often and will encourage my conductor colleagues to read. There’s much to be learned here.



    • kschnack said,

      Thanks very much, Ken, I appreciate it.

  3. Michelle said,

    It is wonderful to read your insights about being a librarian. I’ve only been a music librarian for 2 years, but everything you say rings true with me. So good to know other people deal with this stuff too! Thank you.

    • kschnack said,

      Isn’t that the best thing, Michelle, knowing you are not alone in dealing with all this stuff? I totally agree.

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