From the Orchestra Library

One Program, A World of Librarians

Posted in MOLA,Organizational Effectiveness,Preparing Parts by kschnack on September 24, 2009

The thing I love most about MOLA — and I love MOLA for many reasons —  is the incredible collaboration between our member librarians all over the world.  You get to know the greatest people this way through the selfless, unquestioning help they are willing to give at the drop of a hat for the sake of getting the right music in the right place at the right time for someone else, even if they are a world away and have never met.  They do this even though they are so busy trying to keep ahead of their own deadlines.  It’s mind-blowing how generous with their time and expertise my colleagues are.

Of late, about 8 American orchestras have been making arrangements to play a pops concert with the same artist who is doing a US tour for the next month.  There have been all the usual logistical and operational questions to work out, including repertoire, instrumentation, fees, when the music will arrive, whether or not the parts are already used and bowed, or clean (and then have to be prepared), and whether or not they will already be in folders or have to be put together.  On top of all that, this type of artist tour means the orchestra librarians — to save their own and each other’s time and sanity — need to work together to organize the materials and maintain that organization for each other as the music is shipped from city to city, librarian to librarian.  The work the librarians do on the front end, plus the markings that are clarified in those early rehearsals and concerts, helps every orchestra down the line.

In this particular case, the organizing and shipping of two complete sets of parts came from one of our very helpful colleagues in another country and he set up the schedule of how the charts will move about the country based on the dates and geographical locations of which two orchestras would need the music first.  We happen to be one of those two first orchestras.

Since the parts needed to still be put into performance folders, we had a judgment call to make.  Do we do the work, stuff 31 different pieces in our folders, perform the concert, and then deconstruct all that work just to send it to the next orchestra and make them do the same?  Or do we stuff a set of folders we can give away, and send everything to the next orchestra all ready to put on the stands?

We do the second.  Of course.  This saves each successive library at least HALF of the amount of time it would have taken them to redo all that work.  And we are not being martyrs here.  It saves us half the time as well because we won’t have to take everything apart.  Which would be a totally unnecessary waste of time. With this many charts for full orchestra, let me just give you the straight scoop:  this all takes A Ton of Time.  How pointless it would be for each organization to have to totally start over.

The orchestra that is handling the other set of parts is also doing the same for the ones following them.  All of us are sharing details about assistant horn and trumpet, sax folders, an 8-inch stack of percussion parts that have to be sorted, etc.  It’s truly everyone pitching in to help the whole group.

I don’t want to get all “We Are The World” on you here, but I have many times been the lucky beneficiary of work already done by other librarians in this manner.  And it definitely makes you want to sing about it, especially for a folder with 31 pieces.

So this time I am happy we can do the work on the front end that will help our colleagues.  I like being one of a world of orchestra librarians.


Just Like the Old Days

Posted in Organizational Effectiveness by kschnack on September 13, 2009

There’s a great moment in the recent movie incarnation of James Bond — Casino Royale — when M, played by Judi Dench, delivers a withering tirade against her new double O for his latest fiasco.  She says how much she misses the Cold War when an agent who displayed such lack of judgment and disdain for how things were supposed to be done would have had “the good sense to defect.”

I know just how she feels.

Of course, the “old days” were never as golden as people remember, and we often forget how much easier so many things are these days, mostly due to advances in nearly every industry through technology.  And I’m loving learning new skills and how to think about things in new ways all the time.  But I do sometimes miss how things Used To Be in certain situations, the old-school ways of doing some things. Everybody knew the unwritten rules, to not follow them “just wasn’t done” and you could count on things being a particular way.

In our kind of work, these were such things as orchestral parts being the proper size with a predictable number of staves on the page depending on whether it was a popular chart or classically-composed music.  You never had to explain to anyone how big to make the page or the notes — everyone just knew.  There were no 8.5. x 11 parts.  (That doesn’t mean they were always legible, I admit.)  Orchestras sight read more, especially for pops.  (Again, admittedly, this wasn’t always comfortable for the players.)  The books would roll in with the band, and the road manager or conductor knew what went where.  Charts were in order or, if there was a change, the order would be announced at rehearsal and you played the show down without worrying about order sheets.  In the rehearsals the conductor hit the tricky spots, starts and stops with the orchestra alone, and then after an hour the artist would arrive and go through a couple of tunes as a warm-up.  Everybody would break for dinner and come back to do the show.  At the end, the books were packed up with the rest of the trunks and went with the band to the next city.

No shipping, no panicking, no mucking about.  There was an understanding from the artists that the orchestra players were pros and respected that they would get the job done.  Oftentimes, when the artist did a return date even years later, the same guys were in the band and the orchestra musicians would remember them and everyone would catch up on what each other had been doing since they last played together.

Most of the time it doesn’t feel like that anymore.

Forgive me for being a little wistful.

We’ve done a good bit of pops at the start of this season, culminating in yesterday’s gala 20th anniversary celebration of the opening of the Meyerson.  (We tend to call it “The Mort” and aptly so, because it was named for Mort Meyerson.)  A couple of big-name headliners came back with their band members and performed again with the DSO like they did when the hall opened in 1989.  In juxtaposition with some of the newer pops artists who don’t have much experience performing with symphony orchestras, and all the issues with parts (see previous ranting post about “Real Parts”), these guys stand out as reminders of how things “used to be.”

Yes, the old books are huge and heavy, the parts are marked up, and there are even quite a few of the same charts as in years past.  But the level of professionalism is just so ingrained in these musicians.  No issues, no problems.  Just taking care of business.  And the awareness that everyone can depend on each other to do their jobs, and that they know what those jobs are.

So, yeah, I occasionally miss that simplicity.  Not all the old ways of doing things should be obsolete.

Especially if a new way takes more time, is no more accurate, doesn’t get rid of the mistakes (just creates different ones), and doesn’t really help us in the long run.  And is less professional.

Sometimes It Just Takes a Village

Posted in Organizational Effectiveness by kschnack on September 10, 2009

How many librarians does it take to ……………………………………………make an orchestra happy?

Just kidding!  Bad joke.  😉

Let’s try this. How many librarians does it take to:

Put the music out for rehearsals? Stuff a set of folders? Or unstuff? Mark a set of parts? Or clean and repair? Put measure numbers in everything? Proofread a major work? Transfer markings from an old edition of a Beethoven symphony to a new one? Copy out a transposed part? Create excerpts for auditions or youth concerts? Make performance parts? Make an extra score? Make practice copies? Place rental and purchase orders for a whole season? Catalogue the music? Enter repertoire info into the database for all programs? Research a new work? Answer players’ questions about upcoming pieces? Put together practice parts for individual players? Get fee quotes or perusal scores for potential repertoire?  Return music to the publisher? Reshelve sets after performances? Answer questions from conductors, composers, and publishers, as well as the internal questions? Answer the phone? Make phone calls? Create a budget? Revise the budget? Have parts ready a month in advance? Change a program at the last minute?

Well, that’s The Million Dollar Question, isn’t it?  How many librarians does it take to run an orchestra library professionally, efficiently, providing a high standard of service to everyone, not make mistakes, and get everything done?

Of course we librarians usually believe there should be more librarians.  We know when we need more help, and we know what is being asked of us from all directions throughout the organization on a daily basis.  We know that the demands are increasing while resources are shrinking.  More “one-off” programs are being scheduled, and more artists are being hired who are unfamiliar with working alongside symphony orchestras in programs of less-traditional repertoire that have greater music preparation challenges.  More pieces are showing up with improper parts or electronically. We also know how often we are working 10-12 hour days/nights, or strings of days in a row without a break.

Those in charge of our organizations often believe we can get by with fewer librarians, that we can Just Do More, and that our pleas for extra help or additional money to hire another librarian are exaggerated.  Especially in tough times, this discussion is tabled for a future “better” time economically. And this can snowball on itself in a bad way.  Because tough times mean smaller budgets and fewer workers, so things don’t get taken care of early enough, there are more last-minute issues and all of a sudden everyone is in crisis management.  Which is very expensive from an organizational standpoint and a very slippery slope.

There’s all the stuff to do (some of which I listed above) that no one cares to hear about from the librarians.  They just want the work done.  I certainly don’t blame them.  You probably skimmed through that yourself and didn’t really want to think about it.  There are so many details it would make your head explode.  Just as I’m sure mine would if I knew everything about other people’s jobs.  And there are the money problems and the recession and the drop in giving which is wreaking havoc on plans large and small for orchestras around the country.  So no one wants to talk about fully-populated libraries and why that is crucial for the organization.  It’s usually low on the priority list, and there is a general lack of understanding across this and other countries’ orchestras about how the library can help achieve the organization’s goals, both artistically and fiscally.

I  know it’s kind of counterintuitive in the current climate for folks to realize that having a fully-staffed library actually saves money in the long run.  And sometimes in the short run.  And it certainly helps the performers excel on stage, which helps the whole organization realize its long-term vision.  Great concerts, recordings, and tours breed more success which can build upon itself.

But so often the short-term view is as far as things go.  I understand where that kind of misguided thinking comes from, to be sure. But it is misguided.  I realize we can’t have 10 librarians, or even 5, but if the library isn’t provided with the necessary resources to do the job RIGHT, it causes all kinds of problems and can cost a tremendous amount of money.  Things like unnecessary rental rush or cancellation fees, buying the wrong music, hiring the wrong players, not hiring enough players, orchestra overtime, and more.  Beyond that, it also costs everyone artistically through parts not being prepared properly and wasted rehearsal time spent on fixing things instead of rehearsing,

So, what I don’t understand is how the same expectations can be, well, expected from the library if budgetary cuts are made and there isn’t enough help.  I mean, if you have less money to spend on your household, and you’ve decided you can only afford a modest steak for everyone in the family once a month, then that means there will be NO STEAK for the other 27-30 days of that month.  Simple concept, right?  Can’t afford luxury items except for special occasions. Clear?

Apparently not.  I hear stories from my colleagues all the time, and have experienced similar situations myself.  We librarians, as a species, are usually still expected to do the same amount of work even with fewer people (so, in less time) and with a smaller budget, which translates to fewer resources.  We have to prioritize (or triage) in a way someone else might not like, especially if their need or request gets put to the back of the line.  And then there is an inevitable push by someone going over our heads to our bosses to instruct us to do the very thing we have decided must be cut due to lack of time and money based on our experience of what is most critical.

  • Bowings meticulously done for all programs in our control?  Necessity. Checking bowings in pops artists’ own books?  Not.
  • Fixing the most critical errors of major works from existing errata lists?  Whenever possible. Proofreading from scratch?  Luxury.
  • Some kind of rehearsal system in a work?  Absolutely.  Measure numbers in everything?  Impossible.
  • Practice copies for the major works for all the string players?  Yep.  Practice packets automatically handed out for every single piece?  Nope.
  • New parts acquired and marked for some sets that are really terrible?  Of course.  Making new parts for every pops piece that is sub-par?  No can do.
  • Inserting cuts from guest conductors if provided three months in advance?  No problem.  Inserting cuts at the last minute?  No way.  You will have to announce them from the stage.

Steak once a month.  Not every day.

There is always much discussion in library land about how many of us are in each organization, full-time or part-time or both, who does what, and how far do we go with proofreading, correcting errata, creating new materials, adding measure numbers, etc. We talk about numbers of conductors, numbers of different programs, and how long it can take to prepare ONE set of parts for ONE piece for ONE program or even ONE concert. Here at the DSO we usually have five conductors:  Music Director, Assistant Conductor, Pops Conductor, Choral Conductor, and Principal Guest Conductor.  That doesn’t count the regular guest conductors all season, for everything from pops to parks to classics.  Let me tell you a fact, my friends, the more conductors you have, the more different programs there are — and the more librarians you need!

Of course, there is never enough money to hire what we really need, because the truth is that the work is never done.   There are always more parts to mark or fix.  Someone can (and always does) want more personalized service.  Conductors often want more changes/additions/cuts added to the parts but don’t always provide the information until a couple of weeks before the rehearsal. Which is too late.  By then the folders are out for the players to practice.  We have to determine what are truly legitimate needs for right now, and what are “wish list” items that have to wait.  We have to set limits every day.

I’ve often wondered what it might feel like to go home at night and know that I had finished everything.

Ain’t gonna happen.

There are days when it seems like we need one librarian for each player and conductor.  Then there are moments, rare ones I hastily add, that it seems like one lowly librarian could handle the various items on the docket that day/night and, really, everyone else should take the day off.

But then comes 9:40 or so on a Tuesday morning before the first rehearsal of a classical program begins, and all hell starts to break loose.  The stage set has changed since we put out the folders a half hour before.  Someone forgot their parts.  Music Director asks for a librarian to talk about scores needed for later, or, worse, changes to today’s music. Cover conductor asks for a score at the last minute.  Players realize they need practice parts for tomorrow.  Admin upstairs calls and wants a quick answer on rental fees for a potential program change.

Right about then I could use a Village of Librarians.

All We Need is Time (and a bottle)

Posted in Organizational Effectiveness by kschnack on August 18, 2009

Not time “in” a bottle……….time AND a bottle!

In one week the orchestra will be back into rehearsals and concerts, jump-starting the 2009-10 season with two specials, two pops programs, one gala, and then the classics openers.  We were feeling pretty smug and ahead-of-the-game a couple of months ago and throughout the summer about the start of the new season as we prepared parts for the music director’s first concerts.  The commission was on its way.  The music was all ordered.  Lots of bowings, measure numbers, and corrections were done.  Excerpts were already being worked on for Romeo and Juliet.

But then reality intervened and now it’s a scramble to get everything ready in time for the players’ first day back, when they will need their parts for numerous programs (they are already showing up).  That’s what smugness will get you.  I had to laugh at Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary definitions and etymology – please note the reference to Low German and Middle Low German.  Straight from my ancestors to you here.  Guess I deserved it.  See below:

  • Main Entry: smug
  • Pronunciation: \ˈsməg\
  • Function: adjective
  • Inflected Form(s): smug·ger; smug·gest
  • Etymology: probably modification of Low German smuck neat, from Middle Low German, from smucken to dress; akin to Old English smoc smock
  • Date: 1551

1 : trim or smart in dress : spruce
2 : scrupulously clean, neat, or correct : tidy
3 : highly self-satisfied

smug·ly adverb smug·ness noun

(Since everyone who knows me well knows that I did not inherit the “neat and tidy” from my family, we have to go with definition No. 3.)

Anyway, as we discovered upon our tag-team returns from vacation, there were quite a few of those ever-lovin’ curve balls all over the library (see previous post “The Curve Ball”).  The commission was late. Not enough parts sent.  Score had to be created and sent to conductor.  Artists’ charts for specials coming pdf and too late instead of real parts (see last week’s rant on “Real Parts”).  Pops programs decided/approved late.  Couldn’t order rentals early enough so players will not get those pieces as soon as they should.  Program change on gala.  Two days of pre-season classics rehearsals means ALL repertoire for those performances must be completely ready earlier than planned.  Some pops arrangements need licenses for usage.  20th anniversary of Meyerson this month and everyone wants help with archival materials.  And as I mentioned at the top — we are doing excerpts from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Out of order.  From different suites.  Every librarian knows what that means.

Plus, I really REALLY want to clean the library for a fresh start.  Okay.  More like NEED to.

Time – just give us more time!!

Barring that, I’ll take the bottle.

DSO Library Karen's Area Definitely Needs A Fire Hose

DSO Library Karen's Area Definitely Needs Help. (Hey, maybe I should use that shovel!*)

* Shovel from the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center Ground Breaking more than 20 years ago.  Nobody knew what to do with it so I took it “for the archives.”  I find it very useful for many things.  And I will leave you today with your imagination working on that thought!

OPS: The Orchestra’s Engine

Posted in DSO Colleagues,Organizational Effectiveness by kschnack on August 10, 2009

I would like to introduce you to the fine folks at the Dallas Symphony Operations Department (minus the librarians, stage crew, and personnel managers who are considered an extended part of the department).  Here is a picture of 4/5’s of them:

DSO Ops Team:  Margaret Moore, Victor Marshall, Mark Melson, Amy Wagliardo (not pictured, Mary Lynch)

DSO Ops Team (from left): Margaret Moore, Victor Marshall, Mark Melson, Amy Wagliardo (not pictured, Mary Lynch)

Don’t they look like a great group of people?

Well, they are.

I’ll tell you a little bit more about each of them in a moment (and the black clothes), but first I just want to say that I have been a very lucky person to work with this group for many years.  They are smart, knowledgeable, fun, helpful, resourceful, creative, experienced, marvelous people who do an amazing amount for the orchestra and get little public credit.  I am grateful for them, I tell you for sure.  And I thank them for their daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly commitment to the DSO and for being such great colleagues and friends.  The library (and orchestra) could not have any kind of success without their truly tireless work.  And I appreciate that they put up with me, because I’m not a Quiet One.

As you now know.

First up, on the left, is Margaret Moore.  She is the Associate Artistic Administrator so deals with artist contracts, visas, travel arrangements, and payments; transports artists as needed to and from airports, hotels and the hall; generates classical programming worksheets, rehearsal orders, and other such info; handles all correspondence, scheduling and arrangements for the Music Director; processes commissioning agreements; communicates with artists about their requirements and distributes that info to the rest of us; works concert duty on classical concerts, and a whole bunch of other things I am leaving out.  Margaret is a professional organist, and she is one of the most excellent souls you will ever meet.  She is usually pretty unflappable, so when Margaret finally reaches the end of her rope, you know that the situation has truly gone too far.

Next to Margaret  in the photo, is Victor Marshall.  He has just retired after 28 years as the DSO’s Artistic Administrator, and now is the Artistic Advisor.  He knows everyone in the business, many of the great artists of our time call him their friend, and he has helped program the classical series, negotiated and booked artists all these years, handled their “care and feeding” and is extraordinarily knowledgeable about all things related to the classical music industry, particularly recordings.  He has a background in radio, an announcer’s voice, and so has been “The Voice of the Dallas Symphony” for promotions, PR, and radio spots since I’ve been here.  It’s him we hear every night just before a concert telling us to turn our phones off.  He will continue to work on our recordings (both historical and new projects) and advise about programming.  Victor always wears black, which is why everyone in the photo is wearing black, because they were at his retirement party and decided to pay proper tribute. Oh, and he knows every local dive, greasy spoon, and TexMex restaurant in the greater DFW metroplex, as well as the history of nearly every building!

Next to Victor, second from the right, is Mark Melson, Vice President of Artistic Operations.  Mark has been with the orchestra for almost 25 years, and head of operations since 1988.  In that position he, of course, oversees all aspects of the orchestra’s production including programming, tours, guest artists and conductors, budgets, hiring, and scheduling; he negotiates musician and stage hand contracts, and he is our boss.  Doesn’t he have a fun job?  Mark absolutely loves this art form that we strive to present at its best, and he is especially proud of the Dallas Symphony, listening to all the concerts and reveling in their success.  He knows alot about great singers, and is always sharing his recordings of performances he has found. He is a proud grandfather of two, sings in his church choir, and has this weird thing in his brain that causes him to express groaner puns without missing a beat.  Even in large groups.  He is not shy about it.  I am keeping a catalogue of some of the better ones.

The person on the far right of the picture is Amy Wagliardo, Director of Operations.  She is the newest and youngest member of the department, although she has been with us 5 years now, and when she joined us it was like she had always been there.  She has a Bachelors in Music Education, Masters in Arts Admin and an MBA, lots of financial background experience, and a mighty quick mind, so the department is in good hands with all her skills.  She does the orchestra schedule, is the liaison to the players, librarians, personnel managers and stage crew for any operational issues, manages the production details and orchestra logistics, communicates to Marketing for all program-related information, to Finance for the departmental and series budgets which she formulates, puts together the nuts and bolts of run-outs and tours, and on and on.  She has the largest computer monitor in the department, for which we tease her endlessly, but honestly, she absolutely needs and deserves it as she is always working on about ten things at once.  Amy is incredibly funny and fun to be around, she’s a great amateur photographer and has her own blog ( where she posts many of those photos.

Last but not least of the department (and not pictured) is Mary Lynch, the Operations/Pops Coordinator.  Mary handles all the details for the pops series’ conductors, artists, programming information, including contracts and riders, setting up travel arrangements and hotel accommodations for the entourages, communicating with road managers about logistics and repertoire, and is their liaison to the orchestra while on site for all rehearsals and concerts.  She also proofs Stagebill before publication.  In her role, she runs into some pretty interesting characters (where ego is never in short supply) and I’m always amazed and impressed with how she is able to remain patient and friendly no matter how they act!  Mary has a heart of gold, and when she has a little space in her schedule always offers to help us with bowings or measure numbers.  She is a singer (former member of the Dallas Symphony Chorus), very creative in arts and crafts, and an incredibly generous person.

So, that’s the core of our Operations Department, the people responsible for getting all the rehearsals and performances on stage.  I hope players in every orchestra can stop and think a bit about how much their ops teams do for them — can you imagine the huge number of details they handle in a day? I encourage everyone to go to their offices and hang out for a while, you would be amazed at all they cover (and, sorry to my guys for undoubtedly leaving out huge segments of what you do).  I think the Operations people have to be part manager, school teacher, therapist, travel agent, organizer, negotiator, listener, mediator, and Jack of All Trades.   There is no way any of our orchestras could function smoothly without these folks.

So thanks for everything you do, Ops!  I am proud to know and work with you, and be on “the team.”

Send REAL Parts, please!!

Posted in Organizational Effectiveness,Preparing Parts by kschnack on August 9, 2009

Okay, listen up, people who are in charge of sending guest artists’ charts (particularly pops) and self-published composers.  Yes, I know technology is very Handy Dandy for zinging electronic files around the world at the last minute, and I understand the temptation to avoid printing out parts and scores (in the proper size and on decent paper) and binding them (correctly) and physically sending a package to either a domestic or international location, or both.  It’s a pain.  Yes.  I know.

But it is NOT THE LIBRARIAN’S JOB of the orchestra to which you are supposed to be providing parts to do this.  It is YOUR job.  Yes.  It is.

It’s not that we can’t or won’t print out pdf parts; we do plenty of them, and make very nice parts indeed.  It’s perfectly fine for small projects, or even large ones if that’s what we’ve agreed to and planned for under the terms of your contract or commission.  We have many pieces throughout a season for which we have to produce parts and for which it is our job to do so.  But if you are being paid to compose a work, and the fee includes proofing, copying and preparation of parts and scores, then please honor your end of the deal.  And if you are the performer on a pops program and want to use your own arrangements, it is your responsibility to hire someone on your end to create and organize the materials in folders by instrument and send them ready to go on the stands.  Don’t tell me (at the last minute, after you’ve promised to send the parts by a certain day) that “we decided it would be easier for you if we sent pdf files, they are very simple, it shouldn’t be a problem, it’s what we do with all the orchestras, and it’s never been an issue with anyone before.”  Do NOT tell me that!

As you can plainly see, it is an issue.

We have an excellent Operations Department, and very clear commissioning agreements. I know that these things are spelled out in advance.  Somehow, though, in the flurry of activity that inevitably happens towards the end of a deadline period, some composers and performers find they’ve run out of time and so decide to fall back on the most expedient medium – for themselves.  And we’re so desperate to receive the parts by that time we have no other choice but to make them ourselves.

Look, there’s plenty of discussion amongst my librarian colleagues about where to draw this line, and some libraries are set up with wonderful equipment, enough people, and a budget to be the de facto publisher for whatever comes down the pike.  Some actually prefer it that way, so they can make the parts exactly the way they want. Because we, of all people, know how to make really good parts.  But it should never be assumed that the performance librarian will automatically produce entire sets of parts and scores for your piece or arrangements unless you’ve worked that out in advance.  For a fee.

And here’s why:  there isn’t always time for us to be the printers, publishers, AND librarians.  We have more than we can do just as librarians.

Going into part production unexpectedly throws a wrench into the entire work flow of the library and interrupts everything else we need to be doing.  There’s the time and labor.  Manipulating files to print. Paper.  Binding.  Toner.  Computer software and hardware capability.  Wear and tear on our equipment.  And on us.  All of this costs money.

Just imagine how much paper is wasted every time a particular artist performs with a different orchestra, sends pdf files of the charts, and another set gets made and marked. Then what happens?  The orchestra will never use those parts again unless the same artist comes back, and even then the program will probably be different. Not to mention all that time spent by both librarians and players to put in new markings, when a set from a previous performance could go on the stands, already prepared.  It’s just ridiculous.  And could have been avoided simply by doing the work far enough in advance.

I realize the days are gone when composers just composed, copyists only copied, publishers published, and librarians did the library work for their performances.  Yes, technology has blurred the boundaries of not only what is possible, but also what is expected for all of us in the music preparation part of the industry.  And everyone wants to be the beneficiary of cost-savings that technology can provide.  So, it’s become a tactic for some to shove the work onto the next party because it’s easier and cheaper.

But I do not buy that this is “just the way it is now.”  No, it’s not.  Orchestras still have to play from paper for the most part, they will for the foreseeable future, and that paper has to be in the proper, legible format, professionally prepared, and then marked.  Somebody has to do all that stuff before the markings are put in.  The expectation should not be that somebody is the orchestra’s librarian.

There are many composers and performers out there who create and send excellent parts – most, actually try to do this the proper way so the orchestra won’t have problems with their music.  They are professional and respectful and they care enough to send the very best, as they know it reflects upon them as artists.  I appreciate and respect them as well for their professionalism and efforts to provide what the orchestra needs from them.

But the ones that are just trying to get around doing what they are supposed to do………not so much.

I guess I should spare you from reading any more ranting about REAL PARTS, so will sign off now.  But brace yourselves.  There will be a future post on CRAPPY PARTS! You can count on it.

Mind-Numbing Minutiae

Posted in Organizational Effectiveness,Preparing Parts by kschnack on July 26, 2009

As a violinist and someone who has been sorting orchestral music as far back as I can remember, I learned a long time ago to depend upon the numbering system that is generally used when marking parts.  I have come to understand, though, that many players don’t even see those little numbers in the top corner of the part or, if they do, don’t realize what they mean.  And why would they?  It’s not a big deal — certainly not part of the players’ job description.

So, here’s what it’s all about.  Depending on the instrument you play, your part will have a number on the front from 1-9, for example, (strings) or 1-25 or 30 or more (winds, brass, percussion and auxiliary instruments).  That number coincides with your folder – so, if you are 4th stand Viola, all of your parts and folders will be numbered as such.  This is obviously so the librarians can keep track of everything and know when something goes missing.  (That is, of course, unless someone moves the #4 part and puts it in, say, the 6th folder.  This makes librarians feel a little out of whack and just ever so cranky.  But more on cranky librarians later since that subject is enough for at least one whole blog post by itself….)

This numbering system is also the basis upon which we organize the performance materials, both in advance of the rehearsals, during the set-up on stage, and when putting everything away or sending the set back to the publisher.  It’s derived pretty literally from score order – the order of the instruments in the conductor’s score.  When I teach interns, part-time helpers and new librarians how to do the work, I start with Score Order.  Almost everything we do with the music is related to score order in some way:  buying or renting parts (and getting the instrumentation right), checking in sets, preparing, cataloguing, repertoire instrumentation database entry, and physical storage.

Then there’s the actual work on the music itself which requires librarians to be able to read and understand scores and the order of the instruments (in all languages). Like transposing a part to double another, orchestrating a new start or ending in the middle of a work, devising a workable cut, researching whether or not an auxiliary instrument’s part is covered by other instruments, correcting errata, and so on.

As for the numbering, and there being exceptions to every rule, my particular bias is to not number Piccolo 1st (not that I don’t recognize it as the highest, and, of course, a very important instrument!), but instead always give that honor to Flute 1.  This has to do with the way the orchestra sets up on stage, with Piccolo seated to the right of the flutes – and so is more logical and efficient in my view when putting parts in folders (not to mention setting them on stands).  After an embarrassingly-high number of years keeping track of orchestral parts, and having to always shift the wind folders to get them in numerical order if Piccolo is marked #1, I have come up with a few short cuts that I rely on to be logical time savers.  This is one of them.  Seems über miniscule, I know, but you do something teeny about 400,000 times in your life and it becomes less teeny.  And even though it’s teeny, if it’s inefficient, it becomes a complete nuisance.  So I’ve changed the numbering systems for all the older sets at the DSO as I’ve run across them, to put Piccolo behind Flutes.  You must be either rolling your eyes or completely glazed over at this point to think it matters. (And I’m sure many of my library colleagues don’t have an issue with this so are probably rolling their eyes as well, or are aghast that I would change True Score Order.)

A few other details you may find either fascinating or useless:  we put Harp right after Percussion since it’s considered a member of that family, then Piano followed by any other keyboard (Organ, Harpsichord, Synth).  Saxes go after Clarinets (just like in the score).  Librarians do Rhythm sections in different ways; of course, some orchestras “don’t do pops” so wouldn’t have to worry about that much, but since most of us Do Pops in a big way, we have to have a system that works for us.  I personally keep the Guitar and Fender Bass at the end after Percussion and keep the Drumset with Percussion, but, one of our regular bass players doubles on electric so physically the part just goes in his folder in the bass section.  There are always these decisions to be made, and whatever works for different libraries and their players is what’s best.

One of the by-products of all this score order business is the inevitable order in which we put the folders onstage.  By now, the DSO cellists, bassists, and low brass are used to their folders being put out after their compatriots who play the higher instruments; we don’t mean to discriminate against those who live in the lower ledger lines, but it becomes sort of a habit.  I do scan the stage when I first come out and see who is warming up, and start with that section when it’s a difficult program or when folks seem to need their music more urgently than usual.  And, of course, when picking up the folders at the end, it saves a huge amount of time to do that in score order as well – no collating heavy folders after the fact.  I’m sure many a stage hand who is trying to get stands and chairs off quickly after a concert has wondered what the heck we are doing when we methodically walk to the middle of the woodwind row and pick up 3 folders to the right, then go back to the center and pick up 3 to the left, and likewise back through the section.  Maybe the audience wonders too.  Well, what can I say?  They probably just think we are absent-minded librarians, when there is indeed a method to our madness.  Quirks of the trade!