From the Orchestra Library

From Mahler to Minnie the Moocher

Posted in The Business,The Music,Touring by kschnack on July 11, 2011

Jeff Tyzik, our conductor for the pops programs up in Vail, told the audience the other night that you know you are working with incredible orchestral musicians when they can give a stunning performance of Mahler Symphony No. 6, and then come right back out the next night and do a fantastic concert of unfamiliar and difficult pops charts having had only one rehearsal.

He’s right, and they did.

In the middle of the residency we do four different programs in a row, and those just mentioned are the most difficult. Of course, we had performed the Mahler several times earlier in the season. But it’s never easy and, as you know, is relentless in its 80 minutes without intermission. I took the opportunity to sit in the theater and listen to my colleagues. It was truly an exceptional and moving concert.

Some of the audience members were probably not really up for hearing a work of this magnitude and length. And the house wasn’t terribly full, which means the program likely scared some people off who attend the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival to be entertained in a light-hearted way. But the festival didn’t apologize for this programming, which I applaud, and instead took the time to talk about the piece and why it was important to do.

The festival’s founder and Executive Director, John Giovando, spoke about how this music is so very compatible with being out in nature. He also told the story of Mount Mahler in Colorado, the only mountain in the US named after a composer: Finally, he told the audience that this was the first time in 24 years that the symphony would be performed. It’s always cool to do the premiere performance of such a major work.

The “hammer blows of fate” in the last movement and the order of the inner movements were also mentioned. There remains some controversy about both issues, and both are always a matter of discussion in musical circles. There isn’t room here to go into the respective stories (a quick Google search will give you the basics), but I can let you know that Maestro van Zweden does two hammer blows instead of three, and always conducts the Scherzo prior to the Andante.

I can also take a few minutes to tell you about how those hammer blows are produced in concert. The sound has to be like nothing else in the orchestra, and it has to be “jump-out-of-your-seat” loud. The Dallas Symphony had an instrument made by a bass player in the Chicago Symphony named Roger Cline. Mr. Cline used speaker technology by suspending and cushioning the strike plate on both sides with foam which helps create additional resonance. The hammer is also custom made, and not your basic drum mallet.

The Hammer Blow Instrument

Needless to say, this thing does the trick. Especially when Principal Percussionist Doug Howard goes at it full force. He scared the violin section half to death in rehearsal.

Principal Percussion Doug Howard ready to strike the hammer blow

For good measure, here are the traveling cases for the unique instrument and hammer!

The Hammer has its own box!

There is plenty of other fun stuff in Mahler 6, what with 106 musicians on stage. I liked how the cow bells were set up for rehearsal, complete with the player’s transportation accessories.

Cow Bells with Bike Helmet

Mahler calls for large woodwind and brass sections, as well as celesta, two sets of timpani and four or more harps. We use “only” two, as most orchestras these days do. Costs a lot of money to put this piece on stage, not to mention travel with it. The players were very good-natured about my begging, pleading and cajoling to let me take photos of them at work both in rehearsal and prior to the performance.

DSO Oboe Section for Mahler

Mahler Timps

Two Happy Harpists













The Mahler was really the main event for the orchestra in Vail this year. That’s not to say everything else wasn’t as important; it’s just that when a major work is programmed it can overshadow everything else in the players’ minds. It takes such a high level of preparation, concentration, craftsmanship and musicianship to perform this symphony well that when it’s over there is a collective sigh. And a real sense of accomplishment.

It’s no secret that orchestral musicians as a species are not crazy about pops concerts in general. But we well understand the need for those programs, and we give them our all just the same. Quality of repertoire, artists, music (I mean the actual parts), and conductors make a huge difference in how such a program is perceived by the orchestra. Which is really no different than for any other program.

We were thrilled by the concert Mr. Tyzik put together the night after the Mahler and hope we will be doing this show again back in Dallas. Turning the theater into a musical representation of Harlem’s 1920’s Cotton Club, the brass section sat on one side as the big band, and the strings on the other. Soloists Byron Stripling, trumpeter and vocalist, and Carmen Bradford, vocalist, wowed the capacity crowd both inside and out on the lawn.

Some of our own orchestra members were featured in solos throughout the evening, including Principal Trumpet Ryan Anthony and Principal Trombone John Kitzman. Mr. Tyzik’s point at the beginning of the evening was proved by these players as well as the rest of the orchestra. It’s amazing they can adapt so quickly to the different styles and physical requirements the various programs demand.

One of the highlights of the Cotton Club evening was Mr. Stripling’s tribute to Cab Calloway with his rendition of “Minnie the Moocher.” The audience was captivated, and sang their parts with gusto. It was easy to call up the memory of Cab in his all white suit, hat and walking stick, dancing and singing across the stage. I feel lucky to have worked with both of these gentlemen.

DSO at the Cotton Club

On my drive south through the mountains, my itinerary unfortunately didn’t take me to Mount Mahler. But I did find a couple of other peaks of interest. Colorado’s version of Matterhorn Peak reminded me that the town of Vail was modeled after Zermatt, Switzerland, where the original Matterhorn is.

Colorado's Matterhorn Peak (middle)

And then, all of a sudden, there was Minnie Mountain. I’ll take it.

Minnie Mountain (left)





Sturm und Drang

Posted in The Music,Touring by kschnack on July 2, 2011

If the late afternoon weather so far up here in Vail is any guide, the DSO’s performances at the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival will be full of excitement, drama, and intensity. Our first concert Wednesday evening had all that and more. Music Director Jaap van Zweden was heard afterwards to say “It was one of the best Beethoven 7’s we have ever done!” I have to agree with him on that.

But it wasn’t an ordinary opening night by any means, let alone a normal concert.

The day started off well enough with perfectly fine conditions for a morning rehearsal of Beethoven.

First Vail rehearsal 2011

Even Mr. Conductor who guards the front of the theater was happy in the dappled sunlight.

Standing guard over the theater

Other than the process of getting situated in the environment, starting to acclimate to the altitude and dry air, dealing with the logistics of instrument and wardrobe cases, and adjusting to a different performance schedule, it was pretty much business as usual for a first day on tour.

After the rehearsal we all went about our afternoon routines with an eye on getting back to the theater during the five o’clock hour rested, refreshed and ready for the concert at 6 p.m. It’s actually pretty tough to keep energy and focus on this schedule, especially early in our time up here. I’m always impressed with how the players manage in the thin air — especially the ones who have to BREATHE. You wouldn’t know by listening to them that their bodies were all racing to make more blood cells and oxygen.

So, despite a few afternoon clouds, it was a lovely Colorado day. The players gathered on stage to begin the concert with the Star Spangled Banner. Senior Associate Concertmaster Gary Levinson tuned the orchestra, Maestro van Zweden went out and gave the cue for the timpani roll, and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra was off and running in its first performance of the 2011 Vail festival season.

DSO Horn section getting ready to rock the Egmont Overture

After the banner, the orchestra launched into a vigorous Egmont Overture. They sounded great, and the horn section did indeed rock it; what fantastic music!

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto followed the overture with violinist Ida Kavafian, cellist Peter Wiley, and pianist Anne-Marie McDermott (who is also festival Artistic Director) as soloists. Everyone had a great time and enjoyed the wonderful performance.

Senior Associate Concertmaster Gary Levinson

At intermission we had a stage move to reset for Beethoven Symphony  No. 7.  This is one of the busiest times for an orchestra librarian during a concert — moving folders, picking up soloists music, exchanging full scores for the next work, and generally making sure everyone has their parts (and wind clips).

The orchestra then began the second half and I went into the lounge to start writing this blog. All of a sudden, as if on cue with the timpani, I heard a loud sound that was clearly not man-made and looked up at the skylight to see dark sky and trees waving wildly in the wind. Stormy weather had moved in without warning. Oh no, the music!

I raced out to the edge of the stage to see players frantically clipping their music while continuing to play. At this point, there wasn’t real rain, and after a few minutes things died down. The orchestra went on as if nothing had happened, and all seemed under control. It wasn’t long, though, before the storm decided to unleash its full force. Now there was rain coming in from the sides of the stage. Musicians were moving their stands and chairs away from the rain’s range, and some had to leave the stage altogether. At the end of the movement Maestro van Zweden begged the audience’s indulgence and waited a few moments to begin the slow movement. The orchestra did make it through that but just barely — it was now clear the concert couldn’t continue.

Once again the Maestro told the audience the orchestra would have to stop so the instruments were not ruined. But he asked them to wait, and we would try to come back and finish the symphony. That brought loud cheering and applause, and musicians and listeners alike waited for the wind and rain to abate.

And in true Colorado fashion, it did just that. A little bit later sun came through the clouds and a dazzling rainbow arced across the theater. The players moved back on stage, took their places, and completed the performance with a rousing Scherzo and Finale of the symphony. It really was a spectacular performance enhanced by nature’s drama and unpredictability. Live music at its best!

We shall see what transpires in our upcoming performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6. With the Hammerblows of Fate, I doubt Mother Nature can resist a little atmospheric gift. See you then.

Back on stage after the storm

The beautiful rainbow that graced our performance

Not in the Excerpt Books: Part II

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Think These are in the Excerpt Books

Posted in The Business,The Music,Uncategorized by kschnack on June 3, 2010
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I must have written this memo to the orchestra while I was lost in a flash sideways or something, because weren’t we just doing Mahler???

Dear Orchestra,

This is to let you know that the Video Games Live people no longer send the orchestra’s music in advance, but instead bring everything the first day of rehearsal.

Therefore, they have provided a link from which you can see and/or download practice copies of all of the parts. [Link, user name and password edited out for blog.]

Please note that the “O” in the password is a capital “O” – NOT A ZERO.

Attached is the concert set list for our performances. The numbers in parentheses relate to the numbered selections on the download file. So, if you want to practice “Diablo III-Wrathgate Zero” you go to #37 on the list of selections and click on “Diablo III.”

The instrumentation, in addition to strings, is also attached.

Let me know if you have any questions,


PS. Although I probably won’t know the answers to your questions, as I have no idea what those titles mean, except for Frogger and Mario.

The End of the Season? Not Quite!

Posted in The Music by kschnack on May 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s right. It does.

Schoenberg and Bugs Bunny

Posted in The Business,The Music,Uncategorized by kschnack on April 25, 2010
Tags: ,

Sometimes daily life in the orchestra library is an exercise in absurdity and irony. As such, it can become great fodder for storytelling. And it also serves to provide endless material for merrymaking so that when the going gets tough we librarians have something to laugh about.

I remember how thrilled I was after graduating from college and getting my first orchestra job, and playing Mahler Symphony No. 1 the opening week. Even the pops concerts in the beginning were exciting, performing with all those “stars.” As time went on, of course, the reality of the job set in and one could be a bit disillusioned by the amount of “non-serious” repertoire that was programmed. I know that many of my colleagues experienced the same adjustment from their expectations of what playing  in a professional orchestra would be like. All those years of study and practice, perfecting every technique so we could execute the most technically demanding classical symphonic, opera and ballet repertoire, to play back-up for a pops show? Yep.

These days I am older and more realistic (and hopefully a little wiser), and I understand better how challenging it is for the artistic leadership to develop creative and appealing programming while maintaining and raising the quality and level of excellence, and……making payroll. So, I admit there are worthwhile pops programs that are not only audience-friendly but artistically satisfying for the players. Of course, some US orchestras “don’t do pops” — or at least if they do it’s called something else — and many players yearn for their dream job in which they wouldn’t have to do those kinds of concerts. But let’s not forget that composers have long crossed back and forth between the so-called serious and popular music in their compositions. For example, Erich Korngold, and, yes, even Schoenberg, had to earn a living after they escaped Europe to Hollywood during the war. Did Schoenberg go tonal to please? Korngold wrote some pretty progressive music for films that, with merely a change in title, could have ended up on the concert stage as “serious” with no one the wiser.*

So, it is with great pleasure that I recount for you the following short incident that took place during a recent rehearsal:

We were well into rehearsals for a week of subscription concerts and the strings had just finished a rigorous work-out on Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. As we finished the stage move to the Brahms symphony set-up I had to make an announcement regarding an upcoming pops program, for which the music had been promised but was delayed by the show’s creator. I got up in front of the orchestra and said “I am very sorry to let you know that the Bugs Bunny music  is late and won’t be here until Friday.”

From somewhere in the cello section I hear: “OH NOOOOOOOOOO!!!”

At which point we all lost it.

Because “Bugs Bunny on Broadway” is a pre-packaged concert that is performed in sync with the film clips of the cartoons, often to some of the most famous classical music ever written (you know, “Kill the Wabbit” set to Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”), I like to think Mr. Schoenberg would have found the absurdity, irony, and humor in the situation.

*John Mauceri gave a very enlightening talk examining this subject at a MOLA conference in LA a few years ago. An edited version appears on page 4 of this issue of Marcato and I encourage you to read it:


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.

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