From the Orchestra Library


Posted in Library Life,The Business by kschnack on May 29, 2010

Whew, made it. Finished my twentieth season at the DSO last weekend! (Well, that is, the classical season, which always feels like the “end” even though we have about seven more tough weeks to go.) I don’t know why we focus on these round numbers as important milestones, but this one feels like a real passage to me. I’m celebrating all the music and colleagues from the last two decades with an acute sense that things are really changing. And what a way to celebrate, with Mahler 2. It was a magnificent series of performances.

After twenty years in an organization, I think it’s natural to reflect upon the work one has done, how to do better, and what one hopes to continue to build and leave behind later on. Here at the DSO I was fortunate to have the opportunity to develop a library that had not previously been fully set up before I got the job. Everything from the design and layout of work counters, desks and shelving, traffic and work flow, all the way to organizational systems and processes was up to me at the start. Of course, we’ve evolved since then, and my work partners of nineteen years, Mark Wilson, and two years, Melissa Robason, have certainly put their marks on the library as well. But the basic plan is still in place.

Obviously, though, after this much time, the newness has long since worn away in terms of the physical attributes of the library. We fix or replace equipment as needed and as funds are budgeted. These past twenty years in particular have been technically transformational so we are constantly trying to upgrade our hardware, software, printers/copiers, and other tools.

But I am thinking more about the organizational systems, and the huge amount of detail that we process on a daily basis just to prepare music for one concert of one program, let alone 165 concerts of 65 programs. The über librarian part of me is always thinking about what should be kept for posterity, not only for our orchestra but for the field as a whole.

I find that record-keeping is one of the most challenging aspects of this work. And I’m an Organizer. (Remember, I didn’t say Neat. Nope. Not Neat. But a true blue organizer.) There are so many bits and pieces of information that could be useful in the future, and that should be entered into a repertoire database, annotated in a score, or saved in shared files for the next librarian(s). I do a great deal of that already, of course, as do my colleagues. But it’s easy (for me) to feel overwhelmed about this aspect of the work. It would be so reassuring to know that we’d gotten it all recorded, in the right place, easily accessible for future needs, a place for everything and everything in its place.

The roller coaster of our daily working lives doesn’t give us the luxury of chunks of time to meticulously catalogue every iota of data. There is always the next program to prepare. Not to mention that I am genetically incapable of putting everything away every day. So if I can spend a half hour on a day filing e-mail content, or making a note about the offstage setup before sending the parts back, or annotating doublings and divisis in the database, then I figure I’ve at least done something. Something that someday might help us, or others, find one obscure bit of information that will answer a question, save time or locate a work. We can’t come close to doing it all, but we can do Something. I’ve got to believe that such efforts over many years add up and make a difference in the end, and are worth doing.

Because before you know it, it’s twenty years. What a ride! I wonder what the next twenty will bring. I guess it’s time to find out.

Aisle of music between stationary and moveable shelves in DSO Library


If You See Your Librarian at the Grocery Store, and Other Gentle Reminders

Posted in Library Life by kschnack on May 14, 2010

Maybe it’s the time of year, but it seems to be “silly season” in our business.  So I offer these gentle reminders about ways you can help me help you, in the hope that we can all live happily ever after together.

If you see your librarian at the grocery store, maybe it would be a good idea to just talk about the weather or what’s for dinner tonight. Or, at least say “hello” before launching into asking for the music you need. ‘Cuz if you say “do you have the music for July?” I’m probably going to (passively-aggressively) look under the bread and lettuce in my grocery cart and then tell you that I don’t seem to have your music.

If you see your librarian in the parking garage at work or on the elevator, or coming down the hall towards the library but obviously just arriving (with purse, briefcase, jacket, keys, etc.), and it’s NOT AN EMERGENCY, it might be a good idea to consider saying “good evening” before asking for a part or tape or to use the copier or to open the music trunk or whatever else is on your mind. Better yet, go away and come back in a couple of minutes after I’ve had a chance to actually unlock the library, turn on the lights and copier, and drop off my personal belongings. Otherwise you just look like someone who has bad manners and I’ll become someone with bad manners.

If you see your librarian at the concert hall on a gig where s/he is playing and is not the librarian, and you’ve been on vacation all week, and the librarian hasn’t, and you haven’t called in advance to ask about getting a part, maybe you should think twice before asking if you can have the library or music trunk unlocked so you can pick up music that you just remembered you needed when you saw me. The best plan? Don’t ask. And don’t give me any ‘tude when I tell you I am off the clock.

If you see your librarian going into the bathroom at work, don’t stop her right then to ask for music. And if you are of the same gender, please don’t FOLLOW ME INTO THE BATHROOM to ask for something about the music. Really.

I’m serious. That’s just rude.

Oh, and if you are the opposite gender, that doesn’t mean you can follow me in there either.

The thing is, most of us (meaning orchestra librarians) are more than happy to help you out almost any time while we’re on the job if we can, even for non-orchestra favors, and especially if you are in some kind of bind. And if it’s a real emergency, we’re willing to help you at 3:00 in the morning if necessary. Truly, we are. But if you constantly require extra special attention at the last minute, or don’t ask with a “please” and “thank you,” or take advantage of seeing us outside of the job (I already practically live in that library as it is), our willingness to drop everything and help you is going to diminish rapidly.

I know that I don’t always respond to you with the smiliest smile and happy face. I will try to do better. And I don’t expect gifts of wine and chocolate at every turn for helping you with a personal music problem. But a little bit of courtesy in such hectic times would go a long way.

Thank you.



P.S. I should be clear — most of you already are very courteous indeed. And for that I thank you on behalf of all orchestra librarians. The rest of you? You know who you are!

The End of the Season? Not Quite!

Posted in The Music by kschnack on May 12, 2010

Like a desert mirage, the “end of the season” lures us forward with tantalizing promise. We’ve slogged it out for some 36 or 37 weeks, nearing the end of 21 classical programs of three or four performances each, 12 pops weekends with two or three concerts, numerous specials (mostly one-night stands), 3 different youth programs each performed about ten times, fifteen or more December holiday concerts, plus three run-outs, corporate concerts, commissions, recordings, and the like. I am NOT, at the moment, going to calculate how many pieces of music that is for fear I would simply keel over in shock.

The regular season comes to an end in less than two weeks with Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, a bookend celebrating twenty seasons in the Meyerson Symphony Center which opened with the same work under the baton of the late Eduardo Mata. It’s a fitting tribute and cap to an exhilarating season of musical highs with our new boss, Jaap van Zweden, and will, without doubt, be exciting, moving and memorable.

But we are tired, tired.  We are ready for a break.

Like everyone else, the orchestra has been dealing with economic challenges even as it pushes hard to grow through the tough times. The annual fund campaign is in overdrive until the end of the month. Final planning of repertoire, artists and tours for the 2011-12 season is in full gear, including several ambitious artistic initiatives that will be new for the orchestra. And there is no let-up on stage for the music director and players in their constant pursuit of excellence.

So just when it gets close to the season’s “end” and we start to see that light, the accomplishment of all those concerts and programs which now seem a blur, we are hit with the cold reality that..……it’s not really over!

Oh yeah. The Summer Season of the DSO. The Parks concerts. The Festivals. The Patriotic Concerts. The Specials. The Residency. Gotta put those hiking boots back in the closet for just a bit longer.

Perhaps it’s akin to a marathoner hitting the wall. How are we going to summon up the energy, drive, creativity and focus to finish all this out?

Well we will. It’s what we do. (But it doesn’t mean we won’t whine a little.)

Now before anyone gets the idea that we aren’t grateful for our 52-week schedule, let me assure you that we are. We know we are fortunate to have full-time jobs with a great orchestra. We also know that means we all have to work hard, all the time, all year. I do not begrudge that work. I know too well what it’s like to not have a job or to be in a troubled orchestra. I know what it’s like to be in an orchestra that closes its doors.

Twenty five years ago I was living that nightmare, and struggling through the aftermath to make enough money to buy food. I didn’t know what I was going to do, where I was going to go, or how I was going to survive. But I kept working hard, landed on my feet, and have now been at the DSO for twenty seasons. I will never forget how lucky I am.

The maestro summed it up in a few words the other night as he walked out on stage for the last piece on the program – Ravel’s Mother Goose Ballet. He had a bad cold, and was drained. No one in this orchestra works harder than he, and the intensity of it all had caught up with him too. But he looked up and said with a lightness of spirit, “It will be fine. Music makes everything better!” And out he went.

He’s right. It does.