From the Orchestra Library

Auditions, Auditions and More Auditions

Posted in Preparing Parts,The Business by kschnack on February 14, 2010

Timpani Showroom (Photo credit: Melissa Rogers)

Timpani showroom?

Nope, just an audition.

Or rather, one phase of several auditions here at the DSO of late. We have had three days of preliminary, semi and final rounds for the Principal Timpani chair during the last month, and will finish the rest of the semis and finals on Monday following a long day of Assistant Principal Horn auditions. We just last week completed the Second Trombone auditions, and, on top of that, auditions have also been going on for several weeks to fill the choral director position.

You might wonder why I would be writing about auditions as a librarian, because you might think we don’t have much to do with them. But auditions can take a fair amount of careful music preparation. I’m sure most of us in this business have a pretty good idea of what the general audition process is for the players. But I bet most people, even the players, don’t realize what is involved behind the scenes in preparing music for the auditions.

Take a look at this list:

The repertoire lists are determined by the section principals (or, if the audition is for a principal position, by the next ranking person or committee) and conductor, and are sent out to the applicants by the personnel manager. Here at the DSO, we also often have a shorter list drawn from the full one for those who are asked to send tapes. We work with the principal or audition coordinator to identify the excerpts that will be required, getting exact starts and stops marked. Once the repertoire is determined, we then go into production of the audition book itself.

First, we assess which pieces on the list are under copyright, because the players will not be able to purchase those parts and we prepare them to be sent out. Amongst MOLA libraries there is an understanding that we will make these excerpts available to our orchestra’s applicants, but that we will try to do it in the proper, legal way. Currently, that means contacting the publisher for even an 8-bar excerpt of something like Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and gaining their permission to make the necessary copies to distribute or post on our websites (sometimes this involves a fee). Some of the publishers still have the view that allowing us to freely copy or post audition excerpts is a threat to their “revenue stream” and that an orchestra could somehow misuse those excerpts. (I’m not sure how having access to 8 bars of the Bartok timpani part could create any kind of situation in which we could put on a concert and charge a ticket price, but you never know. Perhaps audiences would come to a concert with 50 timpanists playing the audition excerpts in unison…..hey, maybe I should talk to marketing!)

Anyway, after we get permission from each publisher of a protected work, we then create a little book to send to the candidates. This means extracting* the excerpts along with title, composer, key and time signatures, tunings if applicable, and anything else we want the player to have. Here we prefer to send out clean but corrected parts so that the committee can get a sense of how the player approaches the work without imposing our own markings. I should mention that some libraries create the entire audition book to be sent to all the candidates, but at the DSO we generally do not. For the mailing we only reproduce the copyrighted excerpts, since all of the other parts are readily available for purchase. The personnel manager then sends the auditions materials out including the specific list of works with bar and/or rehearsal numbers.

After that part of the process is finished, we move on to preparing the rest of the complete audition book for the actual day of the audition. In addition to those copyrighted excerpts already prepared, we extract the specific passages that may be asked from the other repertoire on the list. For example, if the list calls for Beethoven Symphony No. 7, we know that the candidate will not be asked to play the entire symphony during the audition. (Oh my, can you imagine??) So we extract only the portions that the principal determines are realistically possible to include. This cuts down on lots of extra and unnecessary work for everyone and moves the audition along more efficiently. We make  one or two performance-size candidate books (including all the excerpts for prelims, semis and finals) depending on how many players are anticipated, and up to 10 copies of the book for the committee (8.5 x 11) for reference during the auditions. A cover sheet is put on the front with the list and page number of each excerpt. And then our work is, mostly, done. If the committee and conductor want to allow for the possibility of sight reading, we may have some things ready to hand out on the day if they haven’t been predetermined and included in the book. The candidates are given the information at the audition about what will be asked just prior to each round.

One aside: discretion on the part of the librarian is important. We make sure we don’t talk about, show, or post (like in blogs!) what will be asked on the audition so that everyone has the same info. Of course, most players — especially wind, brass and percussion players — pretty much know which excerpts will be targeted anyway but no one, even in my own orchestra, is going to hear the specifics from me!

Many players bring their own music to auditions, and that is perfectly fine for them to do. I certainly understand this, and did it that way when I was taking violin auditions. But it is incumbent upon the player, then, to read the orchestra’s list carefully and be sure to acquire the proper parts so they don’t have a problem using an incorrect version or something.

Once we are finally finished with our work. we save everything physically and electronically so that we don’t have to start over the next time the same instrument or position comes open. When I am long gone from this job, my successor will have, hopefully, less work to do for auditions.

As for auditions for orchestra librarian positions, that is a separate post (and, yes, I meant to write “auditions”). I will regale you with the good, the bad, and the ugly of that process another day!

*Extracting excerpts used to mean cutting out parts like paper dolls and pasting them in order on clean paper before copying them. Now, with our document manipulation software, we do the cutting and pasting electronically and it is incredibly fun. We are proud nerds.

Timpani Everywhere! (Photo credit: Melissa Rogers)


Yes, Melissa, there is a Santa Claus

Posted in Preparing Parts by kschnack on January 16, 2010

In the past couple of weeks as we have pushed through the final edits of Moldydow and the Vlasts, DSO Assistant Librarian Melissa Rogers has exhorted me — only half kidding — to “please make it stop!”  We’ve all cleaned, corrected, re-written, inserted, repaired, rebound, bowed, and added rehearsal numbers until we are glazed over.

So, I am here to tell you, Melissa, that I am making it stop now.  The parts are finally all out to the players, we have enough marked/corrected scores to get through the performances, and we’ve made the practice copies for the orchestra.  I have a few things in Tabor to check with the conductor, but barring any last-minute issues arising from the edition differences, we are done.  Finis.

After all these weeks and months, it’s finally time to take a breather, get the kink out of your neck, and the cramp out of your hand.  We’ll be back in the weeds soon enough.

Merry (belated) Christmas!  And thank you for all of your hard work!

Ma Vlast Deadly Binding (Photo Credit: Melissa Rogers and her iPhone)


Posted in Preparing Parts,The Music by kschnack on January 13, 2010

Sincere apologies to Czech musicians and citizens, and Mr. Smetana of course, for defacing the lovely name of the 4th movement of Má vlast, but we are just ready to be so DONE with this project.  Really, I am looking forward to hearing the orchestra play this work, and when we finally get finished with the preparation on the parts, I do intend to actually study a bit more about it.  But, one does begin to wonder if the day will ever arrive.

We are very near….we can see that light in the distance, we are almost chanting “move towards the light” at this point as we gut it out to the end.  A few more bowings, a few more corrections, another insert or two, and we’d be finished but we still have to make two movements of the 2nd violin parts legible and rip out the wire binding that is half out anyway (making it impossible to handle without getting impaled on the sharp ends) and re-bind the parts and fill in staff lines and note heads that don’t exist.

I have an idea.

Maybe the PUBLISHER should do that.  After all, we are paying good money for rental fees, and those fees are for the rental of the actual PAPER parts (not to be confused with a performance rights fee which is a different license).  So, if we are going to PAY this much money for the PRIVILEGE of using these PARTS I think they should actually be LEGIBLE and not LIFE THREATENING.

Okay, sorry to subject you to the rant but I have come to the end of my patience with this.  Some of the rental parts are made from bad copies with sloppy bowings, fingerings, slash marks and scribbles copied right into the copies (and no clean parts in the set to work from so we’ve had to completely clean them ourselves), missing slurs and notes poorly filled in with blue ball point pen, terrible page turns, and bowings put in one on top of the other without what was underneath actually having been erased first.

Normally I would have gone back to the agent for the materials and demanded a better set but this is all they could get to us in time and even these were late because of the overseas import from the publisher after an orchestra didn’t return the set on time after its performances.

We’re doing everything we can to make this less painful for the players, but this is one of those situations when we finally have to draw a line, call it done, and put the parts out.  Most of them already are, and we pride ourselves in this library on getting a good percentage of the classical works out a month in advance — well-prepared and corrected — but the last bits on this aren’t going to be up to our normal standard.  There is only so much time we can spend on any one work, for one program out of hundreds, with a guest conductor, and other repertoire of equal importance in the pipeline.

Time to let it go and move on. With a Moldau Mojito of course.

Mein Vaterland, Mein Gott!

Posted in Preparing Parts,The Music by kschnack on January 4, 2010

I had a library nightmare over the holidays, and I don’t mean that figuratively.  You know those performance anxiety nightmares players can have over a particular piece that’s difficult or a recurring worst-case scenario?  Well, instead of dreaming my hand wouldn’t stay on the violin fingerboard or I couldn’t identify the proper chords on the keyboard for my piano jury, this was about a Má Vlast Meltdown.  In my dream, the parts were all messed up or missing for different movements, the conductor was berating me in front of the orchestra, the players were calling for my head…..  Mind you, none of this has ever happened to me in real life, but it felt real, I’ll tell you what.  Yikes.

I’ve never had the distinct privilege of preparing Smetana’s complete Má Vlast before, so this is our lucky season in the DSO library.  Sure, we’ve all done Movement II, “Vltava” (better known in the states as “The Moldau”), and here and there one or two of the other movements.  But American orchestras don’t program the whole thing as often as our Eastern European friends for whom it is “meat and potatoes”  repertoire, and a lot of players (and librarians) don’t know the complete work.  I’m really looking forward to the performances and learning the unfamiliar movements, but I can’t say the part preparation has been so much fun.  In fact, there are as many potential variables (read:  impending disasters) as in an opera.

There are several score choices for this work, including the Supraphon (considered the “critical”) edition, reprints of the Urbanek, and Eulenberg miniatures.  The parts can be purchased for every movement in the reprint editions, or rented in the Supraphon.  That combination is not an unusual one at all, and something we deal with for many other works.  One finds out what the conductor is using and gets the corresponding materials. Or, in many cases, the scores of one edition can be used with the parts of another without problems — often even the rehearsal systems match or can be easily coordinated.

Not so with My Fatherland.  There are very real differences between the editions (including the rehearsal systems) and serious legibility issues in some movements. There are even differences between scores and parts of the same edition.  The librarian will have a mess come rehearsal time if they‘ve decided to just buy all the movements, add some bowings, and put out the parts.  I highly recommend against that course of action.  For example, the reprint of Mvt. 4 (“Bohemia’s Forest”) is newly-engraved and clean looking, but the notes are so small, and so many staves are pushed onto each page, that we had to re-make the parts, enlarged as much as possible.  (Double the money, double the fun!)  No way the string players could share a part and actually see the notes well enough without doing that. There are other problems with the rental materials from Supraphon for some movements.

This is the first work I’ve dealt with that has so many issues from movement-to-movement, requiring an edition decision for each rather than the whole.  To make matters more complicated, any given conductor may very well have some combination of different editions of scores for the six movements, so depending on a complete set of either the rental or purchased materials without checking each movement could be, well, the beginning of your own nightmare.  In our case, the guest conductor works from this type of patchwork system (basically combining various editions plus his own changes added through the years), and we spoke at length about each movement — comparing editions, checking whether or not there were measure numbers, rehearsal numbers or letters, or all three, and discussing the problems.  He supplied us with specific corrections and other instructions that he has found important to address in advance as he goes from one orchestra to another.  I was grateful for his willingness to do this type of preparation with us, and very early on, unlike some other conductors I know….*  It gave us ample time to not only discern which editions to acquire for each movement, but also put his changes in the parts and prepare them as he wants.

Even so, this project has taken many weeks, and we are not quite finished yet for performances at the very end of January and beginning of February.  Before I spoke to the conductor, I asked questions of several library colleagues who had prepared this work and they were all very generous with their time and knowledge.  They offered valuable insight into which movements of the rental and purchase materials were the least problematic, all loaning parts and/or errata lists for us to use as we saw fit.  That type of assistance was so incredibly helpful when researching the editions and then speaking to the conductor.  It also helped in dealing with budget issues — I wanted to be able to use our set of Moldau, and purchase what I could to avoid renting all six movements.  In the end, we rented three and purchased three (so we now own the three most commonly-played movements), but have had to spend a significant amount of time fixing and matching things up throughout.  I think it’s safe to say that the DSO Library Team Smetana is ready to be done with this project.

I’m confident we’ve done due diligence on these parts, and my library partners have given their all for The Fatherland.  But that doesn’t mean I won’t toss and turn a few more nights before rehearsals making sure we’ve covered everything.

* When conductors (particularly guest conductors) ask for specific things to be put into the parts, they should have the good manners to do so well in advance of the first rehearsal.  And that doesn’t mean two weeks, it means THREE MONTHS OR MORE. In most major orchestras, the organization gets in touch with the conductor many months in advance to inquire (usually through a questionnaire) whether they are providing materials, requesting a particular edition, or requiring any cuts, special markings, etc.  If the conductor does not answer the questions until a week or two before the rehearsals/performances, then he/she cannot expect additional work to be done. By then the parts are out to the players having long-since been bowed and prepared by the library, and we don’t have the time to stop other preparation to un-do and re-do work that we already spent weeks working on.  Please don’t put us in that position, or, if you do, please be gracious when you are told that it is too late!

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!

Nerds? You Betcha!

Posted in Preparing Parts,The Music by kschnack on November 9, 2009

This actually happened [with minor edits for appropriate content].

Orchestra Librarian X writes to Orchestra Librarians Y and Z and sends this video:

OL Y’s response:

I have been fascinated with what can be done on a button accordion.  Been watching lots of these for the past weeks.   Does that mean I’m a nerd?

OL Z’s response:

That’s incredibly amazing, and I never thought I’d say this, but he’s more musical than many of the fiddle players I’ve heard!  As for the nerd question, do we even need to go there??


Anyone get down which cuts he takes?


I was actually trying to catch the cuts as I was listening, but I’ll have to go through it again. Does that make me a nerd?


Of course the answer from his management would be “the usual accordion cuts.”

OLs X, Y, and Z then broke up in much cyber silliness and giggling [heavily edited for appropriate content].

PS. If you are not ROF LOL after reading that you are probably not an orchestra librarian.

PPS.  When librarians, prior to part preparation, ask if the soloist will be taking cuts in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and, if so, what the exact cuts will be, the first answer is always “the usual cuts.”  Then the librarian has to go back to the artistic administrator, artist manager, or artist, and ask again for the cuts with the specific measure numbers.  Because standard as they may seem, not everyone does them exactly the same, even though they call them the “standard” or “usual” cuts and you really don’t want to have the wrong cuts in the parts at the rehearsal.  Highly embarrassing, especially if said librarian is a violinist too….

PPPS.  To assuage the curiosity of anyone who cares:  the young accordionist took the following cuts in the last movement of the concerto (of course, while playing all the orchestral parts in addition to the solo violin part): the end of bar 68 to the beginning of bar 81, the end of bar 258 to the beginning of bar 271,the end of bar 422 to the beginning of bar 431, the end of bar 475 to the beginning of bar 488.  Standard cuts?  Some?  All?  You tell me.

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!

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.

More Mahler Means More Marking

Posted in MOLA,Preparing Parts by kschnack on August 30, 2009

Like everyone else, our 2009-10 season will “officially” open soon, but in the case of the Dallas Symphony that event also coincides with the 20th anniversary of the opening of  our hall —  the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center.  The gala on September 12th kicks things off and then we will have the first classical programs with our music director.  (Of course, by then, we will have presented two specials and two of our pops series programs, adding up to 9 concerts with four guest artist groups, not counting the gala with two more guest artists.) On the second classical program the orchestra will give the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ new cello concerto followed by Mahler Symphony No. 1.   This symphony has a less-complicated and confusing publishing history than the composer’s 5th (see post from July 12) and, therefore, is a more straight-forward music preparation project.  In a way.

By that, I mean an orchestra is safe to buy the most recent Kalmus printing of scores and parts (no need to rent anything), correct the errors, mark the parts, and it is good to go.  Although Mahler made profound changes in this work early on, eventually omitting the original Blumine second movement, and then continued revising it for more than another decade, there were only two publications of it in his lifetime.  The Kalmus edition that is available for sale these days is a reprint of the second and final version.  (The older Kalmus edition is NOT, and is quite different, so don’t get them mixed up!)

But don’t assume this is a short or easy marking project; you certainly can’t just buy the set, mark in some bowings and put it on the stands.  Remember what I said a few sentences ago about errors?  Lots of errors.  Between the various errata lists that MOLA librarians have created and other sources, there are between 750-1000 errors to fix in both the scores and parts.  We have been though our set in great detail two different times, so we have double and triple checked things, fixed all of those errors and any others we found along the way (because you always do find more).  We have used the set for a few performances and it is in good shape to use again.  This is a relief, because on top of everything else, having to correct Mahler 1 again would clearly have put us back a few months.

Although you will find a more expansive explanation of the why, how, and what orchestra librarians do about errata  in an article written for a few years ago (, I want to reiterate that there are errors in everything.  No publisher gets everything right every time.  It is sometimes hard to believe how many errors or omissions have been reprinted over the last three hundred years or so, but editors, publishers (and librarians) continue undaunted to try and accomplish the impossible — making perfect parts!  We will never succeed 100% (whenever a new edition of a standard work comes out, there are a whole new batch of errors to contend with), but every time we fix a set of parts we feel like we have lived to fight another day.

Probably the most sought-after resource created by MOLA librarians is our catalogue of errata lists.  Hundreds of lists have been compiled for major and minor works, through patient, painstaking perseverance by those who have done this detailed work.  It’s a huge project to sit down to compare scores, parts and resource materials, studying every single note, articulation, dynamic, tempo marking, musical instruction, key, key change, measure number, rehearsal letter, page number, movement number, accidental, and on and on, correcting materials and compiling the errata in a format that others can then use to correct their own sets.  This gift of musical expertise, time, research, and work cannot be overstated.   Every single player and conductor in a professional orchestra has at some time or another benefited from what is truly a labor of love for the art form by the librarians who have taken it upon themselves to prepare the materials to this degree.

At the DSO library, we don’t have the luxury to proofread materials from scratch very often (although we do it when we can and have taken on some rather overwhelming projects such as de Falla’s complete La Vida Breve, for one example), but we regularly use the lists others have created and then add to them in collaboration.  We also don’t just go through the list and automatically insert everything on it.  We carefully review each item for ourselves, making sure we agree with the suggested change while checking the parts and scores.   To be sure, most of the corrections are correct, and, while many of them wouldn’t stop a rehearsal if they weren’t inserted, they save a ton of rehearsal time.  And there are many that would stop the rehearsal — something we librarians try to avoid at any cost.

We all owe the former librarians of The Philadelphia Orchestra, Clint Nieweg and Nancy Bradburd, both now retired, for their trail-blazing in this area, and for the thousands — tens of thousands — of errors they have catalogued in the symphonic repertoire over the last 25 years.  As co-founders of MOLA, they were always looking at the big picture and towards the future (an interesting irony considering that this process is as tedious and detailed as anything one could imagine).  Their editions and teaching show a dedication to this process as yet unparalleled in our profession that they continue to this day.

For some photos of and information about the Meyerson:

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.

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