The Orchestra Librarian
How had it never occurred to me, sitting in an audience taking in a symphony of professional musicians, to wonder about the person responsible for the sheets of music on every stand? When I saw 3 Orchestra Librarians credited in the program for this year's Grand Teton Music Festival, I felt silly--of course a large organization that depends on so many different pieces of music would need someone to care for those documents that dictate what happens on the stage.
Once you work in libraries or other book work, and particularly once you choose to take a less traditional path in librarianship, you notice these interesting little corners of the profession: the corporate librarian. The NPR librarian. Those who work in museum collections, textile archives, embassy libraries. The job in any setting, any field, is rooted in a common philosophy: how to classify and maintain a growing collection of information so that it is accessible by the end user. No different for this job; Orchestras need an Orchestra Librarian. But I had too many questions to leave it at that, so I asked the Festival if I could come by for a better understanding.
Professional music and the stage are endless points of curiosity. Backstage of course hosts an extra sense of mystique, the unseen den of the talent. While nothing was all that shocking to me in the bowels of Walk Festival Hall in Teton Village, I found it terribly interesting: the long shelf lined with all shape and style of black high-heeled shoes in a musicians' lounge. Open instrument cases here and there, alternately pristine (velvet-lined, near-empty) or more like a high school locker (lined with family photos and a Jackson Hole sticker, perhaps).
I arrived backstage during rehearsal, as could be seen on a screen in each room and hallway: the stage full of musicians, on that day rehearsing Dvořák with Yo-Yo ma for the night's performance. The screens didn't need sound; The music carried throughout the building. I asked for the librarian and was directed up a narrow flight of stairs that leads to a single door: the small, window-lined library. The simple, corner office (aspen leaves fluttering outside) holds filing cabinets, a desk, and a copier, little more. Three librarians will alternately serve the Festival Orchestra this summer under Principal Librarian Robert Stiles.
Gary Corrin was serving as Orchestra Librarian the week that I stopped by. Corrin comes to Jackson Hole for a few weeks every summer (this is his 16th year), and then returns to his full time work as Principal Librarian of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. The work is humble: Gary tells me if they do their job well, no one should notice. Their role is to set up members of the orchestra for success with the necessary resources (appropriate sheet music for each rehearsal and performance), something that ideally happens behind the scenes.
Like any good library with an organization scheme and procedures for keeping track of the resources at hand, the inner workings here are a well-oiled machine. The life of a classical musician can entail traveling the world, showing up in any number of concert halls and using music prepared for him or her to effectively rehearse and then perform pieces he or she may never have played, with a group of (at times) near-strangers. Invisible to the audience, the librarian is indispensable to what they hear on stage every night. The same way we wouldn't waste medical students' time with a poorly kept, out-of-date or incomplete medical library, orchestras invest in a professional to save the time of their musicians and allow them to do what they do best: perform beautiful pieces together within the vision of their conductor and concertmaster.
As custodian of the music from the inception of the program to the applause at the end of the concert (and the return of the music to its file in-house or to its owner out-of-house), an Orchestra Librarian wears a number of hats. After sourcing the music, the Librarian coordinates the bow-marking (commonly referred to as bowing) of string master parts by the Principal players of each string section (Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola, Cello, and Bass). Penciling in the tutti parts (identical parts used by the rest of the section) allows everyone in the section to play with the same bow direction and style. One of many variables that makes one orchestra sound different from another, these markings vary with each orchestra and acoustical environment, and so is not typically indicated in the music by the composer. Available during rehearsals, the Librarian troubleshoots issues that could result in a musician not having the appropriate music for what he or she ought to be playing--for example a piece from two publishers could have inconsistencies that can be disruptive to a smooth rehearsal. It takes a certain physical grace to navigate the maze of valuable instruments and equipment on a full stage. And every librarian can imagine the role of musician-wrangler: not everyone returns their music as they should, when they should.
As the rehearsal downstairs came to a close, Gary walked me through now-bustling hallways, the lounge and onto the stage, where he greeted an old friend, answered another musician’s question, and noted that he would need to gather music off of stands shortly. He led me to the studio of the Festival Music Director, Donald Runnicles, with whom he needed to clarify some details of upcoming programs. Runnicles' office was busy as he consulted with various players between 2 rehearsals. Upon understanding that I was learning about an Orchestra Librarian’s responsibilities, he was quick to praise Gary, exclaiming of the time saved by the quality of his work. He took a moment to consider his words, correcting himself after saying that Gary saves everyone a lot of anxiety. “The quality of the work can mean the difference between good moods and bad,” he said with a warm smile.
Everyone I encountered at the Grand Teton Music Festival was humble, kind, and passionate about their work. I left Teton Village considering how resources of all sorts, whether music or literature or reference tomes, set the foundation for excellence and inspiration in any field. Every category of librarian, that multi-faceted role, deserves to hold onto this humble point of pride: that the care and organization of our resources and our art (music being an example of both) is a cornerstone of all human endeavor.