From the Orchestra Library

More about Library Peeps

Posted in DSO Colleagues by kschnack on October 23, 2009

I think this is a great day to tell you about Shannon Highland, a wonderful musician, friend, colleague, and fellow librarian.  You saw Shannon earlier in the summer stuffing folders for a 25-piece July 4th concert:

Shannon Highland stuffing July 4 program

Shannon’s main day gig (and, of course, night gig too), is Librarian of The Dallas Opera.  Go to this page and float your mouse over her name for a lovely formal photo:  Tonight is the opera’s opening for its 2009-10 regular season with a production of Othello, having moved to the new Winspear Opera House.  Between the start of a regular season of productions and preparing two high intensity gala programs with selections from numerous operas and musicals, she has had her hands full with the needs of the orchestra next door.  Before the rehearsals went into the new house, the opera orchestra came over to the Meyerson one afternoon, so Shannon took the opportunity to stuff the Broadway gala music.  Which, oddly-enough, looked exactly like the photo above.  We helped her so the process would go much faster and be less painful for all concerned.

Here is Shannon earlier in the year before the orchestra’s first hard-hat tour of the Winspear (that’s the lobby of the Meyerson):

Shannon ready for tour of new Winspear Opera House

Shannon ready for tour of new Winspear Opera House

This is Shannon’s third season as the opera’s librarian; she is also a fine bassoonist and often plays in the opera, as well as in many other ensembles around the DFW area.  In the summers, we are thrilled to have her work with us in the DSO library.  Since the opera season is only 17 weeks in the fall, winter and spring, this is a win-win for everyone.  We are especially shorthanded late May through mid-August, and that is when she is free to work with us.  Thank heavens she is also willing!

We first met Shannon quite a few years ago when the DSO’s former Director of Education, LeAnn Binford, and I were looking for a summer intern to share between our departments.  We headed to an arts district jobs fair for high school AP students in Dallas who would be sponsored by a foundation and matched with one of the area’s many non-profit arts organizations for an internship.  This was set up similar to “speed dating” except it was “speed interviewing” and everyone was trying to meet all the available students.  Shannon was the top student there, and pretty much all of the arts groups wanted her as their first choice.  As did we.

So we just flexed a little muscle as the largest arts group in the area, and had our pick.  Lucky us!

Shannon worked her first summer for both departments, and impressed everyone.  Smart, quick and accurate with details, she exhibited a conscientiousness, work ethic, and aptitude for orchestra library tasks that led to her return the next summer exclusively as a paid library assistant.  We couldn’t have been happier that the arrangement continued during summers throughout her college years at the University of North Texas, until she took off for grad school at USC.  We had to say good bye and good luck, not thinking we’d get to work with her again in the library world after she left.

A few years later, all grown up and with her Masters in Music (Bassoon Performance), Shannon decided to take the interview for the library position at TDO.  We were surprised and pleased about that, and so excited when she won the job.  We love having her back full-time in Dallas, especially as one of our city’s small, merry band of orchestra librarians.  You get to know the essence of a person’s character doing this work together, and Ms. Highland is a stellar human being, a delight to spend time with, and funny as all get-out.  The Dallas Opera is very lucky to have her, both as the librarian and as a bassoonist, and she is doing excellent work over there on both counts.  She has professionalized the position in a way that had not been accomplished before, and we are so very proud of her!


Being the Best That We Can Be

Posted in The Business by kschnack on October 21, 2009

Every year I look down in late August when we start our season, and by the time I am able to look up and catch a breather, it’s almost the end of October.  And every year I say it’s not going to happen this year, that I will take more time to get out of the library, be with family and friends, do more non-work things, have some fun, and enjoy the change to fall.  And every year it goes the same way despite my best intentions — I lose two months.

Where the heck did September and October go????

I’m pretty sure all the other librarians feel that way too, as well as the players and conductors. It’s what we do:  the players are practicing a ton of music for classics, pops, youth and special concerts, and the conductors are jetting around the galaxy for guest appearances in other orchestras, so studying scores for a bunch of different programs at once too.  The librarians are trying to get a handle on the work flow for the season, and prepare the parts as much and as soon as we can so we don’t slip behind when the inevitable music crisis occurs.  I know one thing for sure — everyone I talk to in the business is trying to push through the opening onslaught.  Forget about ever having fall vacations!

I’m not dissing the job here — I am glad for it and the life it allows me to lead.  I’ve certainly experienced the other side of the situation and been out of work, so I know that drill.  It’s terrible.  And many people are dealing with that these days.   Colleagues in our industry are suffering the same fate as in others, and any one of us could be next.  It’s a scary time.

And it’s a time when we need to be careful, in more ways than one, and maybe in ways that seem counterintuitive.  Our orchestras have to bring in revenue over and above ticket sales which are only part of the big picture.  We have to depend upon individual and corporate donors, plus grants and long-term endowment funds.  I understand the temptation to book  more and more “shows” and non-orchestral artists to try and turn a quick $50K.  It makes a lot of sense to knock out those deficits by showcasing popular artists that are not necessarily mainstream classical and that have big followings.  I totally get that, and am certainly not opposed to the need — responsibility, even — to be creative with our programming and who we feature.  And I give credit to the people in artistic planning who are trying to find the right formula, the right balance, knowing that whatever decisions they make, somebody is going to be disappointed.

It’s a little like politicians who have to please their base and keep those core supporters happy enough — or they’ll lose that group over time.  But the politician can’t only please those people, especially if the base is really outside the mainstream.  So, then there is the numbers game about how far away one can move from that base, pulling people from the other side — or center — over.  And then assessing whether it is worth it.

I think Symphony Administrators are dealing with this type of scenario every day.  I put them up for doing so.  Hard work and lots of stress, for sure.  What they are trying to accomplish is more complicated, in a way, than what your average politician is doing.  Because what we do is already considered to be out of the mainstream — and that scares some people into thinking we need to become something else, be what we aren’t.

Which, in my opinion, is exactly the opposite of what we should do.

I’ve been watching how orchestras (the ones I’ve been in and others out there) deal with all this over the years, the economic ups and downs.  I’m personally living though this cycle in a serious way for the third time.  But I still don’t buy what many (even within the arts) would have us believe is the problem.

I don’t believe that classical music is the killer of our industry’s ticket sales and fund-raising.  I also don’t believe that all pops presentations or “shows” have a negative impact on the artistic output of the organization, which is the other end of the spectrum.  I don’t think we should become just pops orchestras, or booking agents, and I definitely don’t believe we should panic and hire sub-par artists or dumb down the quality of our “product” to turn a fast buck.  Cutting corners, as every architect knows, may save money in the short term but it’s a disaster later on for the stability of the building.

I believe that the killer is Bad Music, Badly Played Music, or Badly Marketed Music. Or All Three.

Great music, played well, and marketed with passion, creativity, and belief in what we do works.  It generates buzz and excitement, not to mention civic pride.  It’s okay to do a pops series with an artist that might not fit the usual mold if they perform at a very high level, in a way that can be melded with the orchestra and its fundamental reason for being.  But if it’s an artist whose music doesn’t work well with an orchestra, or, God forbid, someone who isn’t even very good, then we are hurting ourselves.

And I’m not so sure featuring artists without the orchestra helps us at all.  Isn’t the point that the audience hear the orchestra?

I believe our audiences know the difference between Bad Music Played Badly and Good Music Played Well.  They might not understand it, but they know it.  They can hear it and feel it, and they won’t want to be sitting in the hall any more than we want to be on stage if something isn’t good.

I don’t know the answers for all this, and I know orchestras sometimes have to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.  But let’s at least make sure that the ingredients we use are top-notch.  Let’s Be the Best That We Can Be.

Big Time in Big D

Posted in The Arts,The Business by kschnack on October 15, 2009

Big doings going on down here in the Dallas Arts District this week.  The new Dallas Center for the Performing Arts (now named the AT&T Performing Arts Center) has finally opened, and numerous special events are taking place in the different performance spaces.  It’s a pretty exciting time to be living and working here, especially in the arts.

Thirty years in the making, the center is the culmination of the vision of city cultural leaders who poured their energy and money into creating a state-of-the-art (pun intended) district for art, architecture, music, opera, theater, ballet, and the education of future artists.  First,  the Dallas Museum of Art moved to downtown from its old Fair Park location twenty-five years ago.  Then the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center opened in 1989, and in 2003 the Nasher Sculpture Center was completed.  With the addition of the $350 million ATTPAC (yep, acronym already in full use) and the recent expansion of the Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts, the district is being touted as the largest performing arts center in the country.  From west to east, in a 65-acre section of north downtown, you can start with paintings, walk to the sculpture garden, come to the Meyerson for a symphony concert, continue to the Winspear Opera House and Wyly Theater, eventually go to an outdoor concert at the Annette Strauss Artist Square or an event at the 750-seat City Performance Hall, and end up at One Arts Plaza for dinner and drinks, or, if you’ve bought one of the new condos, turn in for the night.  Take that, Lincoln Center!

Well, I know Texas Walks and Talks Big, often to the state’s own detriment in my opinion, but in this case they may have just gotten it right.  Early reports from pre-opening rehearsals say the Winspear acoustics are like none other and are, quite simply, fabulous.  We’ll find out soon, with two opera galas and the opening of Othello all within the next week.  The new hall is only feet outside the east door of the Meyerson, and I had the lucky privilege this evening of getting a tour of the backstage and pit, plus walking around the new plaza that links all the venues together.  (Orchestra librarians don’t often get very many perks, but sometimes we are in exactly the right part of the business to participate in something incredibly special.  With a pass around my neck labeled “TALENT” I’ll have backstage access throughout the opening events.  No comments, please, about The Talent.)  It really is quite spectacular to see it all come together since we’ve been watching the construction for the past two years.  I know my colleagues, friends, and one very important family member who will be working there are savoring this truly once-in-a-lifetime event.

The edifices that humankind erects to celebrate religion, art, education and culture all over the world are such unbelievable accomplishments.  It’s only now, in my middle age, that I’ve really begun to understand and value the long, slow arc of such a process.  Watching this district develop over the past 20 years has given me new appreciation for the work, commitment and faith that goes into creating something this big and bold, and for the people who made it happen.  Many of those early planners are no longer with us to experience the fruits of their labor, but that was the point for them — to leave it behind and know they helped achieve something great for later generations.

So, today, for the first time since I came to Dallas in 1990, I was able to step out of the concert hall, walk a few feet next door to watch dancers rehearse for the opera’s opening gala in the new house, go back outside and see a performance with strings and percussion on an outdoor stage, look across a plaza to a theater opening night, and re-enter the Meyerson for our rehearsal with the full orchestra and chorus of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 which the DSO will perform as part of the weekend’s activities.  Despite my gentle teasing of Lincoln Center-ites, I felt the same sense of immersion that I do when in New York, walking across the plaza between Avery Fisher Hall and The Met, or around to the stage entrances and across the street to Juilliard and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. I was surrounded by these new houses of human artistic expression, and the artists and audiences already sharing the space and creating the living organism that is that expression.  An arts district alive, and filled with possibility and promise for years and years to come.  How cool is that?

Hats off to the people who had the ability and tenacity to bring their vision to reality.  It’s very inspiring.  You should come to visit and see all of this.  You’ll be astonished.,28804,1920701_1920683_1920671,00.html

Marking or Correcting: What’s the Dif?

Posted in Preparing Parts by kschnack on October 9, 2009

It came to my attention this week that some players are very confused about the difference between an orchestral part being merely marked or comprehensively corrected.  I certainly understand why that might not be clear.  Why are some things entered in pencil and some in ink?  (Didn’t our teachers tell us we were never supposed to use ink on music?  And don’t we tell our players and conductors not to mark our parts and scores with anything but pencil?) Why do some entries look like they are permanent but “hand written” in an engraved part?  Why are there places with correcting tape or inserts?  Why would there be an added slur in ink when the penciled bowing contradicts it?

When is a marking a Marking, and when is it a Correction?

First, anyone who has ever played in an orchestra — school, community or professional — knows the drill when the conductor gives an instruction in rehearsal that is not printed in the part.  You pick up a pencil and mark it, right?  Well, not everyone marks it, I suppose.  Maybe they will remember to play as the conductor requested without extra marking (and we could spend a day on that subject alone) but you get my point.  Those are Markings.

But, sometimes those might be more than markings.  If an error is discovered during rehearsals the player will mark it in pencil.  Even thought it’s a Correction.  We try to catch those afterwards and fix them permanently.

Then there are the bowings.  Which are nearly always Markings.  Sometimes composers include bowings in their works (especially 20th and 21st century music), so a case could be made that if something was left out in the publishing, it could become a Correction when added later, either in pencil or ink.

[Going rogue here for a sec.]  But let me just save all the composers out there a whole bunch of time.  I would personally suggest, unless you really understand proper bowing technique from the inside out, and know exactly the effect you want and will get with a specific bowing, it’s best to just leave the bowings out of the composition.  Because, as much as you love that bowing, and have dreamed of that bowing, and imagined the moment when the strings have gotten to that bowing of yours and played it with all gusto they can muster, that bowing is going to be changed.  Yep.  No getting around it, no matter what you do.  You can put it in your will if you want, and players and conductors are still going to change that bowing when you are not around.  You might say, “But if it should obviously be an up or down bow in a passage, I want them to know that.”  They already do.   Anything that so clearly “should” be played with an up or down bow will be played that way automatically.   Anything that is not obvious is open to interpretation.  So, save yourself the time and trouble, and leave the darn things out!  [Off soap box now.]

Back to Markings.  You are probably aware that when we librarians prepare a work we go through a process with the string principals to put in consistent bowings as well as other indications such as notating when something is to be played on a particular string, adjusted articulations to match the bowings, special indications for where to play in the bow, whether the passage is off (spiccato) or on the string, and other related instructions that may come from the concertmaster or other section leaders.  All of these things are considered usual Markings.

The music director or conductor may have instructions for us as well, such as special bowings, articulations, style, dynamic additions or changes, cuts, instrument doublings not in the score, assignment by stand or player of string divisi passages, inserts, or any other change or addition they may wish to make.  Markings all.

Except.  (There’s always an “except” isn’t there?)  If the conductor has discovered some errors that he or she would like fixed in the parts, those become permanent.  And are, therefore, Corrections.  This might include wrong notes or rhythms, articulations, or dynamics, for example.

Of course, a librarian needs to be vigilant about any “corrections” given to them by others, including conductors who can be quite adamant that their finding is definitive.  Most of the time, these will be obvious things that, once checked in the score, can be permanently corrected.  But if it isn’t a clear error, and I don’t have source material to research that correction, I use pencil.

That leads us to the issue of inking corrections, not only in our own sets but in rental materials.  Some of my colleagues and predecessors have been doing this for 25 or 30 years — it started with librarians correcting their own orchestra’s sets in pen, because anything in pencil is too easily removed and why have to keep correcting that G to a Gb over the years?  This also goes for rehearsal systems.  If one is going to go to the trouble to fix the set of parts to match the score, then ink it is.

Such practical approaches led librarians to begin to correct rental sets in ink and now it is common practice among the MOLA orchestra librarians.  We have an understanding with the publishers (we meet with them regularly) and when we create errata lists of their publications, we share the information with them.  Why not?  It helps everyone — every orchestra that gets the set — so it helps the publishers too.  Players will often see a notation on their part at the top or bottom saying “corrected” and a date, or, even, “MOLA corrected.”  This means that a good deal of scholarly research and note-by-note checking went into the part preparation.  We don’t always catch everything, obviously, but if there are 500 mistakes in a set of parts and we get 489 of them fixed, more’s the better.

So, through this process, the professional librarians have become quite skilled in fixing such errors either by hand or software, to fit nicely into the part and match the look as much as possible.  The goal, of course, is to make the part look uniform and blend all corrections into the print.

But if you are not the librarian, please, PLEASE, don’t try this at home, folks.  Players and conductors, use pencil.  I’ll leave the stick technique and triple tonguing to you.  Leave the corrections to us!

Thank You Jeff.

Posted in The Business by kschnack on October 4, 2009
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As this week went from near-sanity to complete madness (I’ll have to get back to you on that), I was glad to have a laugh when I saw Jeff Curnow’s new video.  Jeff is Associate Principal Trumpet in Philly, and he used to be Principal Trumpet here in Dallas.  I assume most of you have seen his hilarious short videos taking on all manner of indignities in this profession from a trumpet player’s perspective.  But if you haven’t you should watch them immediately.  What cannot be truly conveyed in hundreds of words is instantly captured on these videos, many of them innocuously named “Trumpet Tips” as if you are about to get a serious lesson.  They are lessons alright, and ones you will never forget!

This latest one is the first in a new series called “What’s Bothering Jeff?” on Drew McManus’ blog Inside the Arts. When my husband and I watched this we about fell out of our chairs laughing so hard.  Here you go (and check out the great website while you’re at it, all kinds of good stuff there):

There’s the one about taking auditions, to which I’m sure everyone relates:

And librarians certainly feel his pain about pops:

But my favorite is still the first one I ever saw in which conductors (sorry, conductors out there, but you have to admit this is funny!) take it on the chin, literally:

Jeff, we are so glad you have found a productive and therapeutic way to channel the dark side.  Keep ’em comin’, we are counting on you.  Otherwise we might just lose it.