From the Orchestra Library

On the Road Again

Posted in Stage and Concert Duties by kschnack on July 1, 2011

It was the usual orchestra library whirlwind getting ready for our Vail residency before leaving Dallas. Nevermind that we know all season the DSO will be going each summer and we work hard for months to be ready in plenty of time.  Preparations still always go right up to the last minute when the orchestra plays its final pre-tour concert at home and we load the library trunks. It’s just inevitable. Also, the crush of requests from conductors and players the last few days before leaving town can be overwhelming. I am certainly grateful to my colleagues Mark, Melissa and Shannon who have pushed hard through these last weeks to make sure all is done. Even though only one of us goes on the road, each tour success is a credit back home to the whole team.

To be sure, works we have done earlier in the season are good to go in advance and that is some relief. Also, once programs are set, the worksheets, concert orders, and related informational communiques are put in motion.

Of course, programs are never entirely set I suppose; you know the phrase “subject to change.” And so it goes that we did have a couple of last-minute encore changes. There was also some scrambling on the pops programs with charts that had to arrive late due to other orchestras’ usage. And this is when the rubber meets the road.

I think our poor personnel manager had the most difficult task right at the end. Lots of personnel changes necessitated a constant revision of seating charts and stage diagrams for each concert, and even each work, not to mention some late hiring for a few positions. Plus, we are coming out of a year of visiting and newly-hired concertmasters, which means that until the new season begins players are rotating in and out for the various Vail performances. This photo gives you an idea of the detailed stage diagrams that must be created for each piece – so that the stage hands, librarians and players all know what’s going on. We follow these when setting up the stage before rehearsals and concerts, and throughout the performance during repertoire and stage changes.

Vail stage diagrams

Of course, we mustn’t get too comfortable with these diagrams either – although we know this venue well and are pretty clear on how everything should fit – there are about a gazillion variables that go into setting up an orchestra on any given night and it only takes one to change the whole picture!


The Steel-Toed Librarian

Posted in DSO Colleagues,Stage and Concert Duties by kschnack on March 22, 2011

Well, I didn’t intend to be away from the blog for so long. It’s certainly not for a lack of material to write about from the orchestra library, trust me. So I have nothing but excuses and won’t bore you with my non-productivity in this area. However, a little insight into the past couple of months might amuse you.

It seems that every season we put our heads down in the mid-to-late fall, pushing madly through holiday concerts into preparation for the new year’s programs, until we can take a breather and look up just before spring. This winter I grabbed a quick look up one late night at precisely the wrong moment — to watch the snow fall, of all things — and seconds later found myself flat out on the frozen ground, painfully reminded that there was a thick layer of ice under that snow. Now, after almost seven weeks, the boot that was protecting a broken ankle with severely strained ligaments has come off… my great relief. I gotta tell you, trying to do the physical duties of an orchestra librarian with that thing on has been quite the challenge. And entertaining for the whole orchestra, too!

The Boot

The ordeal was indeed comical on many days, especially with the uneven shuffle I used to hobble along, or Hop-Along (as I was dubbed) especially in the beginning. I managed to kick and trip over everything in my path which led to a few more twists and turns. The stage was suddenly a terrifying minefield of chairs, stands, instruments, mutes and RISERS. And one look at a pops set-up with all the electric chords, mikes and amps sent me straight back to hide in the library.

So, many thanks to my colleagues Mark and Melissa (despite her impending motherhood) for picking up the slack with folders and stage moves, as well as the players who graciously handed me music when asked so that I wouldn’t have to try and climb over things to reach them. They surely saved me from mowing down a whole row of woodwinds more than once.

I broke a foot once before about ten years ago, and had a horrible blue/gray/white boot that looked and felt like one of those 1980’s ski boots. That particular adventure took me on tour to Carnegie Hall, and tromping all over New York City trying to keep up with my library friends from the Met and Philharmonic. One feels particularly graceful and stylish clunking around on stage in such gear.

At least this time I was bedecked for spring fashion week. And the boot was concert black.

Spring Couture?

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.

Always the Last One Out

Posted in Stage and Concert Duties by kschnack on November 23, 2009

It’s just the way things are.  The orchestra librarian is always the last one out of the building.

Although the percussionists and stage hands might try to dispute this claim, they don’t stand a chance.  Oh yes, they obviously have their fair share of packing up after performances (it is how I got to know my husband, after all), but, in the end, by the time the librarian goes home, there’s usually no one else left.

After a particularly rigorous three months, the DSO is more than ready for its Thanksgiving break.  Like nearly everyone else, I suppose, when we get return we’ll be doing back-to-back-to-back holiday concerts.  Sunday’s performance was the final one of an intense run of several weeks with the Music Director before the holiday.

While I was picking up folders and putting them in the trunk yesterday evening, the stage crew was striking our equipment so another group could be in the hall.  By the time I finished the immediate tasks of clearing the music, getting the scores back to the MD, closing up our trunks and taking care of a few folks’ requests, the crew was already done.  I went to the percussion room to deliver some parts that the principal will need this week, and found the section having a little toast to not only the weekend’s fantastic performances of Bolero but also celebrating surviving the last few months in less than ideal circumstances.  The Principal Timpanist, who had played with the orchestra 51 seasons, suddenly retired at the end of August, and that left each member of the section in new territory with the Principal Percussion moving into Timpani, and the others switching instruments from what they would usually play.  They’ve done a fabulous job and sound great, so they deserve that drink for sure.

Even so, 75 minutes later when I finally closed up the library to leave, my colleagues were long gone.  I stayed to finish some e-mail correspondence, lay out our next round of projects and deadlines, double-check the concert schedule for the library, sort the music I’d be bringing home to mark during the vacation, and straighten things up enough that we wouldn’t be returning to chaos after Thanksgiving.  December is chaos enough, thank you!  The three of us are all taking parts home to work on, because, although it’s a holiday, the music preparation is never over and we have to stay out in front of it or we’ll be deluged.  So, whether it’s  bowings during a movie or corrections while listening to the radio and doing laundry, the break is tempered with ongoing work.  Just like the players who have to keep practicing.

I used to think there was something off-kilter about my life as an orchestra librarian — and the last person out after a concert — sometimes 11:00 or midnight.  But I’ve come to realize it’s part of what I love about the job.  I like knowing I’ve closed out the day and evening, that I’m there when the ghost light goes onstage and all others are dimmed to dark.  It’s a similar feeling to the one I get when being in the hall before the performance, before anyone else has arrived, there on stage in a magnificent hall that has, in its short 20 years, already seen and heard so much great music played by wonderful musicians.  I’m not going to go so far as to say the walls are talking to me, then you’d know I was nuts!  But in a place like this, filled with all the music, the walls do feel somewhat hallowed.  It’s a privilege to stand there and know you are participating in something meaningful and special.  Not everyone is this lucky.

What Happens Backstage Stays Backstage

Posted in Stage and Concert Duties,The Business by kschnack on November 1, 2009
Tags: , ,

Well, except for the parts I’m going to tell you!  No names of course.  LOL.

Seriously, performers have to be able to trust orchestra librarians to handle backstage situations with professionalism, courtesy, discretion, and, above all else, help when they need something.  It wouldn’t be right to betray that trust, so I won’t — the last thing artists need is some star-struck librarian to “kiss and tell.”

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun and entertain you a little about the kinds of things that happen backstage.  Rituals, wardrobe malfunctions, logistical snafus, nerves, you name it.  Because it can be quite the trip.  And just when you think you’ve seen it all something happens that is a complete surprise.

Take wardrobe issues……..You can always tell if a dress is going to be dangerous for the diva during her arias, be it for breathing or bowing, and I’ve been asked more times than I can remember to pin up, zip up, scoop up, fix straps, check hooks, whatever.   The operations people and librarians are the last to see the artist(s) before they walk on stage, besides the stage crew and conductor.  And it’s usually at the very last moment when that look of “OMG, what am I going to do?!” calls for some fast action.  This is precisely why I always keep a mending kit in the library trunk by the stage; recently I had to clip off the sales tag from a soloist’s blouse before she went out.  Of course, she’s telling me to “hurry, hurry!” when, uh, a little checking after buying the duds and putting them on would have been in order!

For the guys it’s the fly-check.  Oh my.  Men, can I just say, if you are going to be all exhibitionist about this part of your dressing routine would you please do it in the DRESSING ROOM??  I really don’t need to see the more, um, personal displays, which, I swear, some of you are doing either to get attention or because of a pre-performance nervous ritual.  I mean, I understand the pre-performance rituals — I have my own, most notably always checking with one last look that I actually did put the conductor’s score out [this subject requires an entire blog post of its own], which invariably is preceded by a spike in blood pressure.  So I know you have to do whatever it takes to make yourself ready to Go Out There.  But does it have to be such a grand gesture?  I find it interesting that when the women check their flies they are very subtle about it, quiet, quick, done.  For the men out there who are also trying to be discreet, I thank you, from all the librarians in the world.

Not that librarians, male or female, can be squeamish about this stuff.  Again, it goes back to trust.  The conductors and artists need to know that we understand the concert hall is a theater, and you just can’t get worked up about people in various stages (pun intended) of getting ready.  Librarians are all the time having to go to the artists dressing rooms to get their scores, or ask and answer questions, and while you’d think those therein would wait to invite you in until they are actually completely dressed, it just slows everyone down so nobody worries about it.  Of course, I’m not talking about anything truly untoward.  Just life in show biz.

There are countless other rituals that performers do, not unlike athletes preparing for a game or race.  Some are famous in concert world lore, like Bernstein kissing his Koussevitzky cuff links before he walked out.  People cross themselves, knock on wood, stretch, jump up and down, make jokes, or just go into a Zen zone of their own.  I try to respect this process quietly unless asked for something, but some actually want a little conversation and companionship before they perform.  It’s important for the librarian to judge the artist’s mood accurately and not do anything that will get them off their game.  It may be old-fashioned, but I always stand at the entrance to the stage before the conductors and soloists go out.  It’s my way of showing support and respect, and staying available if they have any questions. I also like to think they appreciate being with a musician who understands what they are about to embark upon in their performance.

As everywhere else in life, there are some artists who go too far with pre-concert antics.  We had a conductor a number of years ago who completely shocked us all by horking up a huge glob of phlegm and spitting it on the floor before he walked out, stepping on it like someone puts out a cigarette, then taking a giant step over it as he went onstage.  Apparently this maneuver was lucky for him.  I’m sorry, but that’s disgusting and next time you come around, mister, I’m going to tell you so.  This is where we are different than ball players — it’s a concert hall, not a field! And, BTW, can anyone say Germs??  Forgive my detailed description, but I wanted you, dear readers, to have a full understanding of this particular ritual, just in case you know the guy and can set him straight that it is really UNCOOL.  You can also tell him that great rolling of eyes ensues when someone is that grandiose and gross.  Not to mention, it’s gets around.

Then there is the subject of performing from memory.  I understand why performers want to.  It was pounded into us as youngsters that we needed to memorize our concerti; one did not use the music.  I suppose it’s still expected for the standard solo repertoire, but the days are long over when everything has to be memorized.  Especially for contemporary music or premieres. This goes for conductors too.  May I suggest that, unless you really, really know the piece cold, it would be better for all concerned if you used the music? If you go out there without it, and have a serious memory slip, the audience is going to remember the memory slip more than anything else.  But if you use the score and give a tremendous performance, they are only going to remember that it was fantastic.  They aren’t even going to think about whether or not you used music.  No loss of face in that at all. I have witnessed moments of private terror, and have even, at times, offered a score to someone who clearly wasn’t prepared to do the work from memory.  Do yourself a favor. Take it next time!

So, there’s your little slice of backstage life for today.  Very glamorous, indeed, eh?