i got to meet some folks who i didn’t even realize existed a month ago. did you know that orchestras have librarians? i sure as hell didn’t, but sure see why they do now. principal librarian joy fabos and her associate julie collura, perpetually tucked away on the fourth floor of the schnitz, were gracious enough to let me and some other symphonic nerds crash one of their workdays last week to learn more about what they do. while I had preconceived notions of mahogany wood panels, tiffany reading lamps, and maestro carlos sipping talisker in a wingback armchair absorbed by a leatherbound mahler biography, in reality the extremely cramped library could best be described as cinder block chic, adorned with random office tchotchkes that seem odd to an outsider – a sombrero sitting atop a file cabinet, a plastic toy dragon, and giant paper mache insects hanging from the drop ceiling. oh, and sheet music… over 2000 complete scores stacked on every available square inch of shelving. in spite of this voluminous collection at hand, it is routinely necessary to rent 1 or 2 orchestral scores for every classical concert – on average $1400 a pop! (shiiiiit… the next time someone bitches to me about the price of orchestra tickets, i can’t wait to pull out this little gem of a fact) oh, and get this… as an extra bonus the librarians need to track down a catalog of mistakes that are contained in the printed score they just shelled out all that dough for (these lists are politely called “errata” – latin for “steaming hot pile of fuck-ups”). once the needed sheet music is gathered, the concertmaster is responsible for bowing the score. i’ve never even touched a violin before, let alone play one, so this is all new to me: “bowing” basically involves deciding how to physically play the instrument – starting a piece either downbow or upbow, when to slur certain notes together or keep ‘em separated, how many notes you will fit on a single pull or stab of the bow, et cetera. after the concertmaster completes this homework, the dynamic duo of joy and julie roll up their collective sleeves, grab their #2 pencils, and mark these interpretive notations on each piece of sheet music for all five string parts – first violin, second violin, viola, cello, and bass. dear god. and in case the librarians ever get bored, they also need to resolve page turning issues that may arise in rehearsals, photocopy flimsy sheet music onto 70lb. paper, and make sure the hundreds of measure numbers in the conductor’s score match what the musicians have in front of them.
hope you enjoyed orchestra library 101. here’s to joy and julie, the unsung ocd heroines of the symphony… may your dreams of compact collapsible shelving one day come true. cheers!