From the Orchestra Library

The Orchestra Library Dressed Down

Posted in Uncategorized by kschnack on August 24, 2009

By now you’ve seen bits and pieces of our little library at the Dallas Symphony, including the photo just posted on Polyphonic’s home page (I thank them for that highlight).  As you can plainly see, even though our hall is grand and stunning both architecturally and acoustically, our library is anything but.  It’s just a room that’s too small and full, but, despite that, is a place of hard work and productive output.  It’s also the musical information center of the organization. Over the years we’ve managed to design and develop a functioning work space and traffic flow, with most of the equipment we need, and using the available areas as efficiently as possible.  Nevertheless, it is time for a redo!

I think many people (certainly those outside the business) are confused by what an orchestra library is, as opposed to what they might call a “real” book library, or a research library, or even a music library at a university.  So I like to equate the physical aspects of our workplace with the job we do by way of comparison.  Take the US Library of Congress, for example — it has a beautiful public foyer above ground, and what seems like miles of rolling shelves underground where the librarians live:

Library of Congress Foyer

Library of Congress Foyer

LOC Rolling Shelves

LOC Rolling Shelves

The LOC is part museum, part archive, part research library, part concert space, to be very basic about it.  Not meaning any disrespect to the largest library in the world by making such a simplistic example; these pictures are really only the tiniest tip of a gigantic iceberg.  At the MOLA conference in May we were given a tour down to the really interesting part of the library, where the music collections are housed.  It’s unbelievable and truly incredible to see manuscripts and first editions of works we’ve been performing all of our lives, as well as the collections of such artists as Copland, Irving Berlin and Heifetz.  But, alas, I have gone off topic.  Back to the orchestra library as a workplace.

We do have some rolling shelves both in the orchestra library and downstairs in our choral library (pictures of that to come another day), but you can see it’s not very many.  This photo was taken in the pre-summer madness when we had all those different programs to get out in six weeks.  So there is stuff everywhere. (We have to do our Spring Cleaning at the end of the summer.  I’ll post an After Photo at some point!)  The rolling shelves are behind the counter, which is in the center of the library and is the focal point of our work — preparing parts and stuffing folders:

DSO Work Counter in front of Rolling Shelves

DSO Work Counter in front of Rolling Shelves

Although you can’t see them here, we have some shelves of study scores and resource materials such as The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and the like.  What you can see below is a section of stationary shelves with boxes of catalogued music:

DSO Library music boxes

DSO Library music boxes

Not looking much like a public book library or fancy research library. Here is a photo of the entry to another very special and grand library, the National Library of Finland, which I had the good fortune to visit this spring:

National Library of Finland (Hubby Brad LR corner)

National Library of Finland (Hubby Brad LR corner)

It is the oldest and largest scholarly library in the country.  I was excited to be given a private tour of the non-public areas there as well, and met the team that is engraving a critical edition of the complete works of Sibelius.  Of course, as such, it is a working research library where specialists are even editing orchestral music, but they are not preparing parts and scores for a specific performance ensemble’s live concert or recording.

That’s where we orchestra librarians come in, after the editors, engravers and publishers are finished.  Then we add our bowings and articulations, cuts and inserts if necessary for the program, fix page turns and errors if the editors and publishers missed them, and organize the music for the concert.  Most of our time is not spent in the stacks, and, although we catalogue and maintain a collection of music, often including recordings, it’s all for the purpose of the orchestra’s peformances.

Our libraries are a place for study to be sure — but usually in the context of active preparation of specific music.  We may not have listening stations but we listen to a great deal of music — mostly our own orchestra over the stage monitor or related recordings.  We do research — but generally about the music considered for programming or occasionally about a piece for which someone outside the organization has requested help or information.  We are not a lending library — but we do sometimes rent or loan specific materials to other orchestras, just as they do for us.  It’s often not quiet in the orchestra library (in fact, we can be rather noisy), people don’t whisper when they come in to ask for music, and during intermissions of rehearsals and concerts it’s like Grand Central Station.  Sometimes there is a great deal of hurrying and scurrying around, phones ringing, copiers churning out parts, and general hustle and bustle.

One of my goals with this blog is to show the reality of what we do — the unvarnished truth (well, as much as I can without getting in trouble!) about what goes on hinter der scene, even if it’s not pretty.  Or neat.  Or perfect.  Many of my librarian colleagues are far more neat than I, that’s for sure, and it’s easy to imagine they achieve a closer approximation to perfection on a daily basis than I do.  We have differences in the size of our orchestra’s budgets, number of programs, concerts, weeks, librarians and conductors, but our jobs — regardless of the organization — carry similar responsibilities, rewards and challenges I suspect.  We’d recognize the work anywhere in the world.   There aren’t really that many of us, so it’s good to know The Others are out there dealing with the same issues, stumbling across the same questions, and available to collaborate and help if needed to find the answers.

That’s why I’m willing and unashamed to post photos of our library with music and supplies and boxes and other stuff sitting around.  Things move fast around here.  I bet we aren’t the only ones dealing with that either.


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