From the Orchestra Library

A Librarian’s View from the Audience

Posted in The Music by kschnack on September 27, 2009

As a non-playing orchestra librarian (well, mostly anyway), I don’t get to hear the orchestra on stage as much as I did when I was playing more often and in the midst of the music.  Yes, we always have the monitor on so we “hear” the rehearsals and concerts, but I’m talking about participating in the performance as an audience member.  It’s still kind of a strange experience for me because, after being in orchestras of some kind or another nearly all my life, I don’t feel like an observer.  I feel like I’m part of the performance and, happily, that feeling will probably never go away.  A musician to the core, I’m right there with the players in every phrase, every solo, especially, of course, with the violin section.  (Oh, and the percussion section too, being where my husband is employed.  He was on triangle and tam-tam this week, but don’t let that fool you.  The triangle part is big, exposed — well, that probably goes without saying — and tricky.  Great job, honey!)

Sorry for going off track there for a second.

So, as the librarian, one has to plan in advance to sit in the hall during a performance.  Otherwise, the tasks of the moment will take precedence.  You suddenly find yourself racing against the clock to finish whatever has come up that night to be able to take 45 minutes or an hour to go out and listen with an unhurried mind, and appreciate all over again the reason you do this work.  And to support your colleagues.  A dear friend of mine who used to work at the DSO would often say:  “Someday we will miss this time in our lives when great music was flowing past us like water.  We should soak up as much of it as we can while we can.”  That’s for sure.  It’s a privilege and it feeds my soul.  How many jobs can you say that about??

Okay.  Not ALL of the music feeds my soul.  I said great music.  Some of the other stuff is a little soul-sucking to be honest.  But I’m not goin’ there!!

[These digressions must be so irritating for you.  Just go with it.  Work with me.  There’s a point coming but it’s a blog, not a scholarly article.]

Last night I was determined to hear the Mahler Symphony No. 1 in the hall.  The orchestra sounded fabulous all week during rehearsals.  I carefully scheduled my work so that when 9:00 rolled around I’d be free to go out for the second half.  I even came in early to get a jump on things as it was the last concert in the series before the orchestra has two days off.  Which means, as the universe would have it, all kinds of library issues popped up right before the concert and during intermission that had to be done last night.

The music director (who will be abroad for a couple of weeks) asked for a list of scores; several new items regarding upcoming audition repertoire needed to be addressed; some people wanted copies of various pieces; and then there was the usual stage move and dealing with scores and parts for the concert.  Suddenly a 30-minute first half was flying by.  When I finally delivered the materials to the MD*, it was a crunch to get everything done because I was not going to miss this performance!

Once out in the hall, I settled in for the nearly hour-long “Titan” which I love, and it was thrilling.  It’s amazing to hear things I’d never focused on before, even though I’ve played the work many times.  There’s no review coming here except to say the orchestra did a fantastic job.  Actually, that doesn’t do them justice.  It blew the top of my head off, and not because of decibels.  Wow.

Sitting there, I realized that if the top of my head can be blown off after nearly 20 years with this orchestra, and knowing the repertoire, players and personalities, then imagine the effect on someone who isn’t as familiar with the music, the art form, or the experience.  It was fun to catch reactions of people near me in the audience, including a row of three kids with their dad and a young couple, one of whom had obviously never heard or seen this piece live before.  They looked around surprised when the trumpet players came back onstage after the opening fanfares (the offstage performance was so perfect you couldn’t tell where it was coming from) .  They swayed with the ländler and the walzer and the klezmer  music.  They smiled when the horns and winds played bells up.  They were rapt with attention during the bass solo.  They jumped at the power of the 4th movement’s start after the 3rd faded away.  They looked at each other in amazement when the horns and trombone stood up near the end.  I’m pretty certain they went away from the performance completely awestruck by what they had been part of.  I went away awestruck by what I’d been part of.

And I’m certain classical music is not dead, despite what many would have us believe.  If this music can surprise and uplift audiences 125 years after it was written — and it clearly does — we should all walk around with our heads up, our confidence high, and our commitment unwavering to deliver this amazing, live art form to the world.  We are the ambassadors of it, after all, and we should be proud to be so.  Without apology or dumbing down or trying to turn it into something else.  We are lucky to have it flowing past us like water.

*MD = Music Director

PS.  For those who are interested in this sort of thing, the MD had us insert a section in the cello parts to double the violas, 8 bars before 19 in the last movement (letting them drop out of their pizz. a bar early to be ready).  It certainly gave an extra richness to that high passage.


One Response to 'A Librarian’s View from the Audience'

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  1. Bill said,

    I was at the Saturday night concert described above; I have heard the Mahler #1 many times, but never as exciting performance as this one. I ‘m not sure exactly why it was so special, but everyone around me was dazzled too. My guest was a first-timer to Mahler, and was thrilled! We’re so fortunate to have our new MD.

    Thanks for opening a door to the backstage work at the DSO; even those of us who THOUGHT we knew a lot about it are learning from your great stories.

    Bill in Dallas

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