From the Orchestra Library

There’s No Avoiding the Subject Any Longer

Posted in Preparing Parts,The Music by kschnack on November 16, 2009

I’ve been procrastinating.  It’s under the guise of protecting you, of course.  Seeing as how there are so many things to talk about and stories to tell, I’ve felt justified in putting this one off because I thought it might just be too painful for everyone, including us.  Here at the DSO we’ve had all these big pieces to prepare — Beethoven 9, Romeo and Juliet, Bruckner 9, Mahler 1, Alexander Nevsky, not to mention a commission, an American premiere, numerous overtures and concerti, youth programs, and all those pops concerts I told you about.  And that was just the first 3 months of the season. We’ve long since started on the music for 2010 (doesn’t that just sound so futuristic?) because there is no getting off this merry-go-round at the moment.

So I kept thinking — hoping — there was a bit more time before I could broach this subject, but time has run out. I can’t avoid it any longer.  Librarians, I know you know what I mean.



[To quote an old friend of mine, sorry for yelling and all the exclamation points.]

Now, I love the holidays — it’sChristmas in my house and family — and I get into it 100%.  I do the lights, decorations, gifts, cards, shipping packages, baking, EATING, parties, and, yes, I even listen to Christmas Music.  But, after all these years, it’s still very unnatural to me to start thinking about Christmas long before the Halloween decorations have gone up.  In fact, just like all the other industries that have to go into holiday production well before the rest of the planet (am thinking Fashion at the moment, of course!), we start closer to the beginning of the calendar year than you might expect.  It’s a good thing, it’s necessary, and it’s really the only way to guarantee a well-thought-out, well-prepared, creative and imaginative program.  So, because our main Christmas show is a big deal, we start around March.  Yep.  March.  Sometimes it’s even earlier.  We do, however, ban anyone from discussing it in January.

We have a good team of folks who are part of this whole process, and my colleague Mark Wilson takes charge of the library aspects and is our liaison in the planning.  He’s great at it, working with everyone on the committee (which includes the conductor, a representative from the players, operations, marketing, PR, and others as necessary), fielding repertoire questions, and offering ideas and suggestions to help bring the group’s vision into reality.  He attends monthly meetings, researches proposed pieces, obtains perusal scores, stays in communication with all parties, tracks the music budget, keeps the chorus librarian in the loop, and, as time passes, orders and begins preparation on the parts and scores.

Christmas concerts take a whole lot of work by everyone.  They have elements. You know, aside from the orchestra and chorus and soloists, there are carolers and snow, kids, lights and sets, costumes, narrators, herald trumpets and handbells.  It’s always a true production.

Thank heavens we don’t use puppies or actual reindeer. (Yet?!)

Mark spent the last two weeks alone trying to put together the conductor’s book.  I’m not calling something a score when it’s 11″ x 17″ x 3 inches tall. That, my friends, is a very large Book.  And think of it — first you have to get all the pieces (some 25 or more) and format the scores individually so they can be put together in one volume.  Or two.  Depending on the music.  This is to say, no conductor wants 25 separate scores out there on the podium, for 12 performances, not to mention the cover conductor, lighting tech, and, TV people.  So, there isn’t just one book. There are 4 Big Books.

And do you have any idea how long it takes to make such a Book, copying every single page back to front by hand?  If you have no idea, you need to stand at a copier and try it at least once.  You will then want to shower your librarian with chocolate and wine.

Oh, yes.  I did mention TV.  On top of everything else, our shows are usually aired on a local TV station for the DFW metroplex.  Which means synchronization licenses (visual) have to be acquired for every piece that is under copyright, in addition to being rented from the publisher.  May I just politely remind everyone that you cannot put on television anything you want without the proper licenses?  Thank you.

So, once all the music arrives, including 250 vocal scores for everything, the chorus begins rehearsing (right along with Nevsky and Beethoven 9th and the American premiere), and the librarian(s) hit the part-preparation process.  This year is bittersweet for us as we recently lost our choral conductor, David Davidson, who had planned the program for many months.  So we have worked hard to carry out his vision for the program.  It will be our gift to him.  I’m pretty sure he’ll be listening to his beloved chorus and the orchestra that he would have been conducting.  These concerts made him so happy.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that our main Christmas program is not the only holiday series we perform.  We’ll also have a pops weekend, and a special two-night program with guest artist. All in all the orchestra will be performing approximately 60 seasonal selections this year.

You see why I was putting off telling you about it? I’ll bet you’re stuck with a tape loop of “Frosty the Snowman” playing in your head now!


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