From the Orchestra Library

Yes, We are Geeks

Posted in Library Life,Library Supplies and Equipment by kschnack on July 1, 2011

Okay, so every now and then we orchestra librarians admittedly get a little obsessive about our workplace tools. And we know it sounds ridiculous to outsiders who suspect we are geeks and nerds anyway.  I doubt most people would find much interest in comparisons of pencils, pens, erasers, tape, paper, correction tape, paper cutters, copiers, archival music boxes, rolling shelving, music trunks and folders.

Or wind clips.

Perhaps only an orchestra librarian can feel true passion about a good wind clip. I know I do.

Our stage manager needed to acquire some more clips for our Vail residency where performances take place in the Gerald R. Ford Ampitheater – a covered outdoor venue at 8,000 feet above sea level. Except the covering isn’t 100% and the wind and rain are definitely an issue. And because we are taking 100+ players this time for Mahler Symphony No. 6, we have to have 200+ functioning wind clips at the minimum (percussionists and players on the outside rim of the stage often need more than 2 per stand).

So it was for this reason that we found ourselves explaining the relative merits and demerits of the various wind clip options before the purchase was made. In the past we have ordered custom-made clips of very high quality for reasons which will shortly become apparent. Commercially available (and less expensive) clips usually don’t measure up and actually can become an impediment to the well-being of both the music and the players.

The more we got into our “research” the more we giggled about what we consider truly important in our world. One has to laugh about the absurd, and besides that, I was trying really hard not to think about all the details on our three pops programs – fifty or more pieces – that wouldn’t be rehearsed before we left town and for which there was no turning back once we did.

Therefore, I bring you…….The Wind Clip.

Evolution of the 20th Century Wind Clip

The clip on the far left is a mid-20th century representation, origin unknown. Note the spring mechanism and shape of plastic. This clip still works well.

The next two clips from the left are representations of custom-made clips circa 1990’s. You will see that there is now a real spring (which can be either too tight or too loose) and the clear plastic is shaped to start further away from the wood, gradually ending in very close contact. This is the most crucial element of a good clip. The distance between the plastic and wood allows the clip to secure a stack of parts and still lie flat on the page, so the player can read through the clear plastic. Which is the whole point.

That being said, the 3rd clip from the left has TOO much of a gap between the plastic and the wood, and so, if the spring is not tight enough, slides around on the edge of the stand and is easily flung off mid-turn when in a hurry. The looser clips also end up on the floor during stage set-ups and moves, which wastes a huge amount of time all the way around.

However, this clip has one really good feature the others don’t – a shorter wooden section on the top which means a longer clear plastic section, and so more area through which one can read notes.

The last clip on the right is a commercially-purchased one, all plastic with a very tight clear top, and it’s terrible. You can see what happens in the next photo.

Bad Early 21st Century Wind Clip against Still Life of Orange and Christmas Tree

I don’t even know what else to say about that. Except don’t buy them!

Of our four featured clips today, I would have to go with the 2nd from the left. It’s not perfect, but it works the best overall, and when dealing with the music for 100+ stands and 200+ clips, it can be counted on to do what it’s supposed to do.

Good custom made wind clip doing its job!

And that, my friends, is your very important library lesson for the day. As I post this, the orchestra is rehearsing the very piece in the photo above. Complete with clips keeping music in place through a gentle Colorado breeze.


I Never Did THAT Before

Posted in And Other Duties As Assigned,Library Life by kschnack on November 21, 2010
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You know how people always say “THAT was a first!”? As time goes on in one’s professional life one begins to have fewer firsts, obviously, which makes it all that much more interesting when something entirely new does happen. I could have never predicted the first I experienced this week.

On Tuesday morning, just before rehearsals began for the last classical series weekend before the holidays, the Music Director (newly-returned to town after some time away) and I were looking over his upcoming programs and discussing what scores he would need. He walked around his desk to retrieve what I thought would be a score requiring emergency repair, only to see that he had picked up his baton.

Did I have a shorter one for him to use?

I went back to the library and looked through our small stash, coming up with one that would no doubt be too short, plus one a bit longer. Both were quite cheap “off the rack” models. I went back to his office to see if either would work.

Neither one seemed to do the trick. So, the request was made — could I cut his baton off a little bit?

Surprised, I said sure, I’d give it a try, not knowing precisely at that moment how I was going to do this. The conducting assistant and I walked back into the library with said baton, and it was then I realized scissors were not going to cut it (pun intended) so moved to the paper cutter. I lifted the arm and carefully positioned the baton at the length we thought was about right. Just before bringing down the cutting arm, I looked at the assistant to give him the opportunity to tell me to stop. He said “go for it, I’ll take responsibility!” and, while we both held our breath, I whacked the thing down, neatly clipping off about an inch.

For those of you not in this business, you might not realize that many conductors have their batons custom made with beautiful wooden handles and perfectly weighted sticks. Plus they have hosts of carrying cases and wooden boxes for the batons, all of which can cost a good deal of money. The idea of chopping a baton off seemed to me as taboo as cutting pages in a cloth-bound full score or ripping chapters from a lovely volume of great literature.

Nevertheless, I do confess to enjoying this little exercise, perhaps a bit more than I should have……

Last night I asked the MD how it was going with the truncated baton — he said it was great. Looks kinda short to me, and has this blunt end now, but what the heck do I know? He was happy and that’s what matters.

The MD is headed off to do a production of Parsifal for the month of December. I hope the baton is long enough for that.

The Concertmaster Merry-Go-Round

Posted in Library Life by kschnack on October 19, 2010

Like a few other major orchestras out there this season, we are in the hunt for a new first concertmaster. About a dozen fine fiddle players have been invited to fill the position temporarily as they and we are able to match schedules. Most of these folks are doing the “Concertmaster Circuit” and substituting in those other orchestras too.  And, while most of them will not actually be auditioning for the permanent job because they already have other great gigs around the country, some will, and that audition is in mid-November. The position will likely not being filled until the start of next season as is typical with this type of position. In the meantime, we have music to prepare and performances to produce so we are trying to stay ahead of the geographically-challenged marking process which is just a tad on the crazy side!

Life being what it is, of course, none of these violinists are available for any one stretch of time, so they are coming and going, back and forth, or popping into town for a single week.  So far we have welcomed four substitute concertmasters —  wonderful players who have been delightful to work with — and two will return later on. All the while we are in touch with the other eight, sending pdf and hard copies of parts to be checked over for bowing changes, arranging dates by which those markings can be returned far enough in advance for us to go through the rest of the bowing process, and staying in contact through the inevitable program changes for a couple of the weeks and issues with rental materials for some of the others. Just the normal stuff. But long distance. Which adds a few weeks to the process.

It’s been really interesting to watch the various styles of leadership and hear the changes in the sound of the section with a new concertmaster every week or two. I think it’s actually a great opportunity for everyone to work with and adjust to different players, the library included. It provides a chance for us all to approach things from a fresh perspective and learn something in the process.

Four CM’s down, eight to go, coming to town for a total of twenty-one classical subscription programs of three or four performances each.

I just hope I don’t accidentally make any of them mark the wrong piece with all this music flying around!

See the new MOLA Facebook page!

Posted in Library Life,Stage and Concert Duties,The Business by kschnack on October 3, 2010

It is finally a beautiful fall weekend here in Dallas. What a relief. Windows open, breeze coming through the house, and most important — NO SWEATING!

Speaking of relief, I am rotated off this weekend’s performances, and grateful for the opportunity to catch up on all manner of things for life and work. If you don’t know the phrase “rotated” in this context, it is essentially relief-time while the orchestra is working. A very common practice for the players (and conductors, too, of course), there are days and weeks within the concert season when each musician is guaranteed a certain number of “services” off (rehearsals and concerts) that are not considered vacation, personal or sick days, or unpaid leave. In American orchestra libraries, the scheduling is generally a pretty different system and, while we take turns working concerts, we don’t usually have the luxury of a full weekend series off. So it is a real treat when it happens.

This weekend, then, is all about writing and laundry. And some nice walks in the fall air. I’ve been enjoying reading and contributing to the new MOLA page on Facebook, and invite you to visit. Already there are some fun news articles and other good information about an upcoming workshop we are presenting in Chicago:!/pages/MOLA-Major-Orchestra-Librarians-Association/144549815587667

The good feelings about our field and industry are not without worry for our colleagues both near and far. Today, I am thinking about my friends at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Library who will be on strike beginning tomorrow to fight against a truly drastic attempt to change the entire structure, quality, and future of that fine organization. We wish them Godspeed for a decent settlement and a contract that at least treats them with respect. While you are on FB you might stop by their pages as well and offer your support.

Make Room for the Music

Posted in Library Life,Library Supplies and Equipment by kschnack on September 3, 2010

That can't be a copier.....

Somehow it seemed appropriate to jump back into the blog at the end of a crazy summer with this particular photo. Because it pretty much illustrates how things have been here in North Texas for the past couple of months: 105+ degree temperatures for a bunch of days, no rain, and lots of music to prepare for the start of another season. A little slice of heaven!

This is our dear friend and colleague Shannon Highland,  librarian for the opera, whom you have met in a previous post. She comes over and helps us out in the summers, and for that we are very grateful. In the past couple of months she helped us slog through marking several new sets of standard rep for our Music Director’s upcoming programs, as well as handled numerous other projects. The photo shows her back at work in her own library, clearly trying to make do with a less-than-optimal setup. (Getting enough resources and equipment in our libraries to help us do our jobs properly is often very trying, and it’s rare that we are equipped well enough, being non-profits and all. It’s hard to convince managers that buying a piece of equipment isn’t throwing away money; often buying new equipment saves money over a bit of time.)

As you can see, there isn’t much room dedicated to the opera’s orchestra library which is in their rehearsal center —  a few tables, shared space with another worker and the percussion cage, and some kind of Mars robot sent in to gather data from the looks of it. Actually, that is the portable air conditioning unit the opera used to cool down its projectors during the Moby Dick premiere. It’s nice to see it was keeping Shannon from sweltering down there during the hottest days of the year. Preparing Don Giovanni has enough challenges without having to literally sweat it out.

It’s unfortunate that the new Winspear Opera House, part of the AT&T Performing Arts Center, does not have a dedicated space for the opera librarian to work or storage for the orchestral and vocal materials. In other words, No Library. Instead, Shannon has to bring all the music over for productions and then claim one of the small studios as a temporary work space during the run of each opera. Why is it that millions of dollars can be spent on these spectacular performance venues and one of the most fundamental needs of the operation is just overlooked? Or, more to the point, why isn’t the priority of the Opera House actually producing Opera by the fine resident Opera Company?

Such  questions won’t be answered today for sure, but I do wish and hope for a time when the experienced workers are consulted before grand edifices are erected, and specs given by those professionals are followed during the design and building process. An Opera House without a place for The Music? Wow.

I hope you all have had a great summer and feel ready to start the new season with enthusiasm and energy. Now that the temps in Dallas have plunged to the low 90’s, the word “fall” might start to emerge from the recesses of our memories. Before we know it, the end of 2010 will be nigh.

But there is much music to make before then!

Not in the Excerpt Books: Part II

Posted in Library Life,The Business,The Music by kschnack on June 9, 2010
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It cracks me up that I entered Lady Gaga as a Composer in OPAS yesterday.

I was working on an upcoming Idina Menzel concert, who I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know much about until she was booked with us. (Yes, I am seriously behind the times on popular artists.) And then I saw her on “Glee,” and subsequently heard her sing the song that we’ll be doing on our program, which was written by Lady Gaga and which is hugely famous of course. It further cracks me up that I came right home after this exercise and watched two more episodes of “Glee” including the season finale with more appearances by Ms. Menzel. I am now a fan. (I also learned yesterday that she is married to Taye Diggs, which is another excellent reason to be a fan, but forgive a girl for seriously digressing.)

For you orchestras that “Don’t Do Pops” sometimes you are actually missing out on the fun in life! I clearly have been. (Not to mention potentially killer questions for a library audition test. It’s a whole different animal people. The younger librarians have it on us older ones in this area by a long shot. They know the music, the shows, and the different artists’ versions — I was asking questions all day to Shannon about these songs. So study up on the repertoire and instrumentation and stage set and acquisition of materials and arrangers. Coming soon to a test near you.)

Also, coming soon to a city near you — Idina Menzel in her tour with orchestras. If my colleagues need answers to the above questions, we’ve got ’em.

The song in question? “Poker Face.”  “P-p-p-poker face, p-p-poker face…”

You don’t know it? Where have you been??!


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!