The orchestra librarian - a career introduction

THE ORCHESTRA LIBRARIAN

A Career Introduction

The orchestra librarian is a specialist in music who works in a performance library setting. As music of many styles, mediums, and periods is in a performance library, orchestra librarians must be musicians in the widest sense of the word. They are professionals in the care and management of an orchestra's music collection. Aptitude and training in both music performance and library skills are necessary.

Functions of the Performance

Librarian The performance library is often a hub of organizational activities for the entire orchestra. The traditional performance librarian's activities include: organizing and maintaining collections, providing services for orchestra members and staff, answering research or reference inquiries, and making recommendations for the acquisition of printed and audio/video material. Increasingly, the performance librarian is involved in developing new methods or strategies for library management, such as materials preservation and storage methods, archive management, sound recording collection, and automated systems of information organization and retrieval. Beyond these essential concerns, the performance librarian's activities reflect the nature of the institution to which he/she is responsible, i.e. symphony orchestra, opera orchestra, ballet orchestra, or academic organization.

The Symphony Orchestra Librarian

The orchestra librarian organizes and prepares all music needed for orchestral performances. In addition to acquisition from publishers or music dealers, orchestra music may be acquired from a variety of sources. A Substantial amount of music is still protected by copyright law and available only through rental agreements.

Administrative Duties

The orchestra librarian may assist in planning concerts, organizing concert production, and informing the administration of musical details such as timings, instrumentations, and personnel requirements. Some orchestra librarians prepare the program page and write and/or edit program notes for their concerts. In many orchestras the principal librarian is responsible for managing the department and providing a budget.

Programming and Score Preparation

Prior to each concert, information about programmed music originates from the library. The music director, guest conductor, program annotator, manager, soloists, and orchestra musicians all may need to study or peruse scores in preparation for the performance.

Music Preparation

The orchestra librarian collaborates with conductors and soloists about specific requirements for the accurate preparation of the music. Bowings, rehearsal letters or numbers, and measure numbers must be coordinated between the conductor's score and players' parts. Editing of tempos, dynamics, articulations, inserts, and cuts or transposition into a singer's preferred vocal range may be required. Due to mistakes or inconsistencies in published editions, the music may also need additional corrections and/or proofreading. For certain compositions the orchestra librarian may find it necessary to collaborate with other institutions and orchestras to locate and identify sources, editions, special versions or keys. Once these tasks are accomplished, the orchestra librarian can assemble concert folders for the musicians. This task should be finished well in advance of each series of concerts so that the musicians have time to practice. note: When a guest conductor performs the same repertoire with several orchestras the librarians from each orchestra may want to share the same set of parts. Some librarians are responsible for providing special arrangements and orchestrations , or music manuscript copying. The library staff is usually involved in coordination the production of the music for commissioned works.

Use of Computers

Aside from the musical expertise required to be a successful orchestra librarian, the advent of automated databases, research tools, and music writing programs have increased the librarian's reliance of the computer. Many orchestra librarians use a comprehensive computerized database that integrates information about the composer, instrumentation, and performance history of standard orchestral works. Other librarians have created their own organizational systems. Use of the internet has provided orchestra librarians easier access to information, especially research and reference materials. E-mail has also greatly increased communication between professional librarians and provided excellent opportunities for networking and exchange of information. Since many orchestra librarians must be prepared to provide last minute musical changes such as transpositions, or musical edits, it is extremely helpful to have use of a computerized music-writing program. These programs process digital information, input through a computerized piano keyboard (midi) to create manuscript as simple as a single line of music, or as complex as a full orchestral score. Once the music is in a digital format, the librarian has the ability to make any necessary changes.

Specialized Career Opportunities

Specialized career opportunities are also available within institutions other than symphony orchestras. Some of these include opera and ballet companies, military or other professional bands, chamber ensembles, academic libraries, music publishers and dealers, foundations, film, television and recording studios, and as a personal librarian for a conductor, arranger, or soloist.

The Opera Librarian

The opera librarian faces many unique challenges. The nature of this work requires the librarian to remain flexible and adaptable to continuous changes such as cuts being added or deleted, insertion of excerpts from secondary sources, and transposition of arias into keys more comfortable for specific singers. These challenges require the librarian to facilitate early collaborations between the conductor, management, librarian, singers and their agents months in advance of the performance to ensure the proper and timely preparation of scores and parts. It is also the responsibility of the opera librarian to route the pertinent information (and the ensuing changes) to everyone involved in the production, including stage managers, stage directors, set and lighting designers, accompanists, coaches, prompters, backstage conductors, soloists, ballet and chorus members. The opera librarian must also develop and work with an extensive vocal score collection, overseeing the purchases, care, and lending of these materials, as well as the production of vocal scores not available for purchase. Such special scores might feature a new translation, transliteration, or might be a compilation of materials from varied sources. In certain situations the opera librarian may be responsible for the preservation of old materials, especially those with invaluable, venerable, or irreplaceable performance markings.

The Ballet Librarian

The ballet librarian has additional responsibilities intrinsic to the ballet medium, since the music is subject to extensive revision and adaptation by the choreographer. The dance choreography often necessitates cuts and sequence changes in the music. Therefore the librarian must be able to make logical cuts, remaining aware of key centers, modulations, and transformations of the music. The librarian may have to transcribe music from a tape or piano version that the choreographer or ballet presenter arranged. A librarian who works for a ballet company must know standard ballet repertoire and major choreographers of these works. Frequently, there are several standard adaptations and arrangements of these works published. For example, there are several works entitled Romeo and Juliet, however, the musical arrangements are different for each choreographer. Opera and ballet librarians become a resource for other orchestra librarians, offering advice and assistance in locating, assembling and preparing music within their specialties which is often outside of the standard symphonic repertoire.

The Academic Librarian

The performance librarian in an academic environment generally has the same responsibilities as an orchestral librarian. However, the academic librarian oversees the music preparation for multiple ensembles, including orchestras, bands, jazz groups, and chamber music ensembles, as well as providing music for master classes and repertoire classes. An academic institution provides a unique set of challenges, With ever-changing personnel and conductors, music is constantly being remarked because there is not a standard set of markings for the ensembles. The academic librarian may also be required to make the library more accessible to the musicians than a performance librarian since students may require more frequent access to individual parts for practice and auditions, as well as study scores and audio recordings.

The Band Librarian

The band librarian also has most of the same responsibilities as an orchestral performance librarian, with the obvious exception of marking bowings. The scope of a band librarian's work depends entirely on the performance venues of the ensemble. Some military bands perform several ceremonies each day, sometimes requiring different music for each appearance. Other professional bands perform formal concerts and extended concert tours.

Other Related Opportunities

Since many music librarians are also musicologists, composers, critics or performers, they may find opportunities to teach, compose, and/or write about music. As a performance librarian, they may be asked to organize training programs for orchestra staff, researchers or interns. In a classroom setting outside the library, they may teach music bibliography or other subjects within their areas of expertise. The librarian may also serve the organization as occasional guest speaker or representative at various events. A librarian who is interested in taking a more active role in the world of music librarianship may publish bibliographic studies or other scholarly works. This could include preparing new editions or listing music errata in previously published editions. The librarian may review books or serve on local or national committees dealing with such issues as information storage and retrieval by computer, cataloging, audio/video recordings, education for librarians, preservation and archives, library management, computer graphics and other technical developments.

Training Opportunities

Training for orchestra librarianship should include a broad and intensive education in all aspects of music and the liberal arts. This career requires a combination of formal education and extensive practical experience in a symphonic organization. Most orchestra librarians have baccalaureate degrees in some aspect of music, and many have additional graduate studies and degrees in music or related fields. As of 1997, no college, conservatory or university offered an official program of study or degree in orchestra librarianship. Most music schools and many library / information science schools have programs that offer a variety of related course work which could be applied to orchestra librarianship. The best opportunities for training are found in major orchestra libraries that work in conjunction with accredited music and library degree programs. An internship with one of these organizations provides the serious student with a basic skill set, a sense of the pace and organizational structure of a functioning performance library, and invaluable experience with the many facets of orchestral librarianship.

There is no substitute for on-the-job training and experience. Many orchestra librarians began their training in school ensembles and community orchestras, or worked as assistants under the guidance of an experienced librarian. This time honored apprenticeship with a skilled master is the most useful and common way to develop effective orchestra librarian techniques. Useful skills The orchestra librarian also needs a thorough knowledge of symphonic repertoire, music notation styles, clef reading, key transpositions, orchestration, and the performance characteristics of all instruments. Since essential information about music and music editions is published in all countries and in all languages, a reading knowledge of German and at lest one Romance language is helpful in accomplishing basic bibliographic research and cataloging. The student should be familiar with the history and literature of both serious and popular music. Because the orchestra librarian often draws on the resources of other disciplines, the undergraduate would benefit from the study of a variety of liberal arts disciplines.

Good organizational skills are essential for the management of a performance library. A successful orchestra librarian has the ability to work in a fast paced environment with constantly shifting priorities. Good interpersonal skills are also helpful as the orchestra librarian is required to interact daily with individuals from all levels of the performance organization. The field of orchestra librarianship is relatively small and selective. It is a career that is often appealing to the organizationally gifted, or the intellectually curious and confident person who wants to have direct involvement with artists, musicians, and administrators in the production and performance of orchestra concerts.


The Orchestral Librarian
Prepared by the Major Orchestra Librarians' Association Publication Committee 1993 edition
Clinton F. Nieweg, Philadelphia Orchestra • David Bartolotta, San Francisco Ballet • Peter Conover, Houston Symphony • Gary Corrin, Toronto Symphony • Marcia Farabee, National Symphony • John Grande, Metropolitan Opera • Robert M. Grossman, Philadelphia Orchestra • Paul Gunther, Minnesota Orchestra • James Kortz, St. Paul Chamber Orchesra • Mary C. Plaine, Baltimore Symphony • Rosemary Summers, Metropolitan Opera • Lawrence Tarlow, New York Philharmonic • John Van Winkle, San Francisco Symphony

Revised in 2001 John Campbell, San Francisco Symphony • Russ Girsberger, New England Conservatory • Margo Hodgson, National Arts Centre Orchestra • Carol Lasley, Florida Philharmonic • Cathy Miller, The U.S. Army Field Band • Patrick Zwick, Utah Symphony

MLA Career Advisory Service



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Anyone interested in music librarianship at any stage of his/her career, from library students to library workers, from active professional librarians to those heading for retirement, are welcome to use this service.

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