From the Orchestra Library


The Call To The Stage

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on July 30, 2009

Nothing good ever comes of a conductor calling a librarian to the stage.

Really.  Nothing good at all.

Before you get all over me with the reasons why you think this tactic might be necessary – please hear me out.

There is rarely anything so important, or so simple, that it can be solved by the orchestra librarian’s mere appearance onstage during a rehearsal.  Most things that a conductor wants to change require the librarian to have physical control of the parts or score in question, and for some amount of time.  There is nothing we can actually DO at that exact moment unless the rehearsal is being stopped and time is being given to pull the parts and score to make revisions.  Believe me, if we could walk out there, wiggle our noses and magically fix something like Samantha in “Bewitched” nothing would make us happier.

The Call to the Stage is usually used to draw attention to something that is wrong or that a conductor wants changed in the  parts or score.  I’ll even go so far as to say it is often designed to draw attention, and leave it at that.  Whatever the motive, it’s probably an unconscious one on the part of the conductor, but the only thing calling a librarian to the stage accomplishes is creating the impression in front of 100 people that the librarian is at fault for something.  And they may be.  Or they may not be.  But a public airing of any issues doesn’t help anyone.  Think about it:

1)       The librarian gets called out, via the conductor’s emissary or over the stage monitor.

2)      The librarian comes to the stage, and the rehearsal is stopped.

3)      Some instruction is given to the librarian such as “We need to add the horns to the trumpet line at D” or “I want the strings to turn pages in a different spot” or “There is an error in the flute part” or, even, “the bowings in the second violins don’t match the firsts”……or 1000 other examples.

4)      The librarian says something like “Okay, I’ll take care of it at break or after rehearsal.”

5)      The librarian leaves the stage.

6)      The rehearsal resumes.

Nothing has happened now, except to waste everyone’s time and cause the orchestra to wonder why this wasn’t taken care of beforehand.  The problem or request still has to be fixed after the parts are available, and is usually done so immediately following the rehearsal, but it takes far longer to repair the damaged credibility.  That damage may be unintended, but it’s real.  Players always ask questions about such an incident and want to know what the deal was.

I guess you can tell this is one of my Big Pet Peeves.

Please understand that I am not talking about when a player is missing a part, for example.  In that instance, hopefully it’s the player themselves that comes to the library and we can solve the problem right then.  Because the library does sometimes make mistakes and from time-to-time a tuba part might end up in a timpani folder.  But sometimes the player has made the mistake and either left the part at home,  put it in a different folder, or it’s stuck between the pages of another part.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone out, looked through a folder, and found the part right there after being accused of misplacing it myself.  So, it’s best for all concerned if the player’s individual issue doesn’t become a time waster for the whole orchestra.  If it’s 10:01 in the morning, you’ve sat down to rehearse,  you haven’t figured out that your part is missing until  just that minute, and then yell out to the conductor you don’t have a part, yeah, I’m going to be a little peeved.

One clever player in the DSO this past spring texted me from onstage to let me know a part was missing for later in a pops rehearsal.  It was great!  We got the info in advance, we found the missing part, and all was well.  An excellent use of technology, I must say.  And then, of course, we went on to text about something entirely unrelated to help him pass the time while counting rests.  Low brass.

And, you know, if I happen to be playing that particular rehearsal and the conductor decides he or she wants something done – I don’t mind if the instruction is given right that minute even though I’ll need to do the work later.  That’s fine.  I’m right there, I know what the issue is from being in the rehearsal, and that makes sense.  No problem.

It’s not the same as being Called To The Stage.

I understand that all kinds of situations arise during rehearsals in which folks think there is a musical  emergency  or crisis, something that needs to be fixed right then, and that this can only be accomplished by bringing the librarian out in front of everyone to address it.  But I can’t think of a single situation in which that is truly necessary, and in which it wouldn’t be far better just to give us the instruction as soon as there is a break, and preferably privately – especially if we did screw up.  Human beings tend to want to deflect their own responsibility on to someone else if there’s a problem, and if we are called out in front of the whole orchestra it’s a perfect opportunity to insinuate the responsibility was ours, when maybe it’s something that we should have been instructed about in advance so we could do the work beforehand.  Or maybe we did make a mistake, so then it turns into a public humiliation.

Although it doesn’t happen much anymore, in the past 25 years I’ve been called to the stage for all kinds of reasons and I can only remember once when I could actually do anything to fix the situation right then.  I’ve gotten to the point where, if it’s anyone but the music director, I’ll go and stand at the edge of the stage and just wait quietly, watching the conductor while they determine whether or not they then want to stop the rehearsal.  I’ve noticed when I do this that once they see me – but backstage instead of coming onstage – they realize they can speak to me at the break and it will be fine.  Of course, if it’s the music director, I’ll walk right out to the podium and take the instruction on the spot.  I may have my pet peeves, but I’m not stupid.

Notre Dame Beheaded Saint

Notre Dame Facade Beheaded Saint Denis

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3 Responses to 'The Call To The Stage'

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  1. Esc-ola said,

    Ah, the old calling to the stage! Luckily, it doesn’t really happen that often.
    I will always remember the first time I was called on stage. It was in 1999 with the music director in the municipal orchestra of a capital city, somewhere in the Arctic region. I think we were doing Prokofiev’s Lt. Kijé and the orchestra had Luck’s parts, which obviously were and still would be very much on the grey zone in Europe. There was something the conductor wanted me to add, an alternate ending or something, which I did, with Finale 97 no less. However, I somehow missed attaching the slips on the actual pages of music. I just left them on the stands, thinking – well, I was young then – that somehow people would understand why them slips were there.
    Come the rehearsal and I hear thru the stage monitor “LIBRARIAN!” being shouted. I hid myself in the toilet and didn’t come out until the band had been on break and gone back.
    Obviously the situation had solved itself. But it’s true, it’s probably the worst thing that can happen, being called on stage — which can always turn into a public humiliation. And nobody wants that. And since WE don’t want that, we try to make sure it never happens, whatever it takes.

  2. kschnack said,

    Wish I’d thought of that, Jari, hiding in the toilet — excellent problem-solving tactic!!

  3. Marcia said,

    Isn’t my sister cute?


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