From the Orchestra Library

We’re Not in Kansas, or Texas, Anymore

Posted in DSO Colleagues,Touring by kschnack on July 6, 2011

One of the most important times in our Vail residency is when there is…….

A Day Off.

Did you think I was going to say “Rehearsals” or something? Silly you.

Now, I know we are here to work, and to do our work at the highest professional level. This is not a vacation, and no one in the organization sees it as such. All of us take this obligation and opportunity seriously. To well-represent the Dallas Symphony Orchestra whether on stage or off is an honor and we are proud to do it. I love it when someone who hasn’t heard the orchestra in a long time says “Wow, the orchestra sounded really good before but now it sounds phenomenal!” Or, “I think the DSO is highly under-rated; it should be mentioned in the same breath with the top orchestras.” I heard both of these comments in the past week and it was a great feeling. So, work hard we do. When we are in the middle of the performance schedule there is a rehearsal and concert each day of completely different repertoire, and we must transition from classics to pops and back again in a way that looks and sounds effortless. It is a difficult job, and takes a lot of concentration and stamina.

But here we are in the mountains and the cool, dry air — which, after coming from Dallas is a gift for which we are most thankful. This is what registered on the car dashboard as I went through Wichita Falls on my way here last week:

June 28 temperature in Wichita Falls, Texas

A colleague who had driven up the day before said it was 116 in Childress when she went through. So, you can imagine the glee with which we embrace the change in environment and the fervor with which we plan our precious time off during the residency. We lug the hiking, camping and biking gear; we pore over trail guides and maps weeks in advance; if we are smart, we also get in shape beforehand so we don’t miss a chance to enjoy the surroundings.

When I saw this on the car dash two mornings ago, it made me smile:

Ahhh, relief!

We always have at least one day off during the residency, and usually two. The outdoor enthusiasts among us try to hit the ground running, literally, on that first day off so we have been known to push ourselves pretty hard in these mountains. Huffing and puffing in the thin air, and using muscles that haven’t been challenged in a while, we bag the summits, raft the rivers, bike the passes. Conditions right now are making things a little more difficult than usual though.

Gore Creek

This past winter and spring, Vail Mountain had a record snowfall of 525 inches, topping the previous 35-year record by some twenty inches. The result has been extremely high and fast creeks due to snow melt runoff. Trails that are open are muddy and slippery at best, or still snow covered (knee-deep) and impassable in places. And some of our favorite trails are closed.

Of course, all that extra snow makes for extremely gorgeous scenery and excellent subject matter for photography, another summer hobby for many in the orchestra. Although the pine bark beetle infestation has destroyed millions of acres of trees throughout the western and northern United States, the aspen trees and other vegetation seem to have benefited from the easier access to sunlight and additional moisture.

As with many music festivals, the location is a draw not only for the tourists and locals, but also for the musicians. It’s impossible not to be inspired by the surroundings. Music and mountains are an unbeatable combination in my opinion, and can only enhance the experience for performers and audiences. Some of the greatest symphonic music ever written is meant to depict the scenes and forces of nature.

One of the most stunning views up here is looking east from the Gerald R. Ford Ampitheater. When the concerts are over, between 7:30 and 8:00 each evening, the alpenglow over the peaks dares anyone to not stop and stare.

Can you blame us for wanting to get up there when we have the chance? I didn’t think so!






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!

Yes, We are Geeks

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

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

Or wind clips.

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

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

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

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

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

Evolution of the 20th Century Wind Clip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good custom made wind clip doing its job!

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

I Never Did THAT Before

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

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

Did I have a shorter one for him to use?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Concertmaster Merry-Go-Round

Posted in Library Life by kschnack on October 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

See the new MOLA Facebook page!

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

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

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

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

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

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.


Posted in Library Life,The Business by kschnack on May 29, 2010

Whew, made it. Finished my twentieth season at the DSO last weekend! (Well, that is, the classical season, which always feels like the “end” even though we have about seven more tough weeks to go.) I don’t know why we focus on these round numbers as important milestones, but this one feels like a real passage to me. I’m celebrating all the music and colleagues from the last two decades with an acute sense that things are really changing. And what a way to celebrate, with Mahler 2. It was a magnificent series of performances.

After twenty years in an organization, I think it’s natural to reflect upon the work one has done, how to do better, and what one hopes to continue to build and leave behind later on. Here at the DSO I was fortunate to have the opportunity to develop a library that had not previously been fully set up before I got the job. Everything from the design and layout of work counters, desks and shelving, traffic and work flow, all the way to organizational systems and processes was up to me at the start. Of course, we’ve evolved since then, and my work partners of nineteen years, Mark Wilson, and two years, Melissa Robason, have certainly put their marks on the library as well. But the basic plan is still in place.

Obviously, though, after this much time, the newness has long since worn away in terms of the physical attributes of the library. We fix or replace equipment as needed and as funds are budgeted. These past twenty years in particular have been technically transformational so we are constantly trying to upgrade our hardware, software, printers/copiers, and other tools.

But I am thinking more about the organizational systems, and the huge amount of detail that we process on a daily basis just to prepare music for one concert of one program, let alone 165 concerts of 65 programs. The über librarian part of me is always thinking about what should be kept for posterity, not only for our orchestra but for the field as a whole.

I find that record-keeping is one of the most challenging aspects of this work. And I’m an Organizer. (Remember, I didn’t say Neat. Nope. Not Neat. But a true blue organizer.) There are so many bits and pieces of information that could be useful in the future, and that should be entered into a repertoire database, annotated in a score, or saved in shared files for the next librarian(s). I do a great deal of that already, of course, as do my colleagues. But it’s easy (for me) to feel overwhelmed about this aspect of the work. It would be so reassuring to know that we’d gotten it all recorded, in the right place, easily accessible for future needs, a place for everything and everything in its place.

The roller coaster of our daily working lives doesn’t give us the luxury of chunks of time to meticulously catalogue every iota of data. There is always the next program to prepare. Not to mention that I am genetically incapable of putting everything away every day. So if I can spend a half hour on a day filing e-mail content, or making a note about the offstage setup before sending the parts back, or annotating doublings and divisis in the database, then I figure I’ve at least done something. Something that someday might help us, or others, find one obscure bit of information that will answer a question, save time or locate a work. We can’t come close to doing it all, but we can do Something. I’ve got to believe that such efforts over many years add up and make a difference in the end, and are worth doing.

Because before you know it, it’s twenty years. What a ride! I wonder what the next twenty will bring. I guess it’s time to find out.

Aisle of music between stationary and moveable shelves in DSO Library

If You See Your Librarian at the Grocery Store, and Other Gentle Reminders

Posted in Library Life by kschnack on May 14, 2010

Maybe it’s the time of year, but it seems to be “silly season” in our business.  So I offer these gentle reminders about ways you can help me help you, in the hope that we can all live happily ever after together.

If you see your librarian at the grocery store, maybe it would be a good idea to just talk about the weather or what’s for dinner tonight. Or, at least say “hello” before launching into asking for the music you need. ‘Cuz if you say “do you have the music for July?” I’m probably going to (passively-aggressively) look under the bread and lettuce in my grocery cart and then tell you that I don’t seem to have your music.

If you see your librarian in the parking garage at work or on the elevator, or coming down the hall towards the library but obviously just arriving (with purse, briefcase, jacket, keys, etc.), and it’s NOT AN EMERGENCY, it might be a good idea to consider saying “good evening” before asking for a part or tape or to use the copier or to open the music trunk or whatever else is on your mind. Better yet, go away and come back in a couple of minutes after I’ve had a chance to actually unlock the library, turn on the lights and copier, and drop off my personal belongings. Otherwise you just look like someone who has bad manners and I’ll become someone with bad manners.

If you see your librarian at the concert hall on a gig where s/he is playing and is not the librarian, and you’ve been on vacation all week, and the librarian hasn’t, and you haven’t called in advance to ask about getting a part, maybe you should think twice before asking if you can have the library or music trunk unlocked so you can pick up music that you just remembered you needed when you saw me. The best plan? Don’t ask. And don’t give me any ‘tude when I tell you I am off the clock.

If you see your librarian going into the bathroom at work, don’t stop her right then to ask for music. And if you are of the same gender, please don’t FOLLOW ME INTO THE BATHROOM to ask for something about the music. Really.

I’m serious. That’s just rude.

Oh, and if you are the opposite gender, that doesn’t mean you can follow me in there either.

The thing is, most of us (meaning orchestra librarians) are more than happy to help you out almost any time while we’re on the job if we can, even for non-orchestra favors, and especially if you are in some kind of bind. And if it’s a real emergency, we’re willing to help you at 3:00 in the morning if necessary. Truly, we are. But if you constantly require extra special attention at the last minute, or don’t ask with a “please” and “thank you,” or take advantage of seeing us outside of the job (I already practically live in that library as it is), our willingness to drop everything and help you is going to diminish rapidly.

I know that I don’t always respond to you with the smiliest smile and happy face. I will try to do better. And I don’t expect gifts of wine and chocolate at every turn for helping you with a personal music problem. But a little bit of courtesy in such hectic times would go a long way.

Thank you.



P.S. I should be clear — most of you already are very courteous indeed. And for that I thank you on behalf of all orchestra librarians. The rest of you? You know who you are!

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