Melissa Rogers is Assistant Librarian at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and Head Librarian for the Aspen Music Festival and School. After another hectic summer at Aspen, Melissa agreed to share with Polyphonic readers her insights into just how hectic it can be for herself and the six other librarians who prepare all the music for the myriad of activities and concerts that make up a large summer music festival. Thanks to Karen Schnackenberg for encouraging Melissa to write this article for us.
It’s summertime…which means that it’s the season for music festivals! There are dozens of music festivals around the world that offer young, budding musicians the opportunity to study with professionals who are masters of their instrument, work with world-famous conductors, and perform both standard and contemporary orchestral and solo repertoire.
The Aspen Music Festival and School is one such festival, famous for its name and massive in its existence. The festival takes place over 9 intense weeks. Besides the approximately 150 professional faculty members who give individual lessons to the students, there are 5 different performing orchestras and countless other small performing ensembles. This doesn’t include various solo opportunities, including 9 different concerto competitions throughout the summer. There is also the Aspen Opera Theater Center, which studies opera scenes and puts on three fully-produced operas every summer. The conducting program is also a major part of this festival. Around 20 conducting students are admitted into the American Academy of Conducting Association program, one of the most prestigious and competitive conducting programs in the world. But don’t forget the composer program, which allows students to have the opportunity to compose an entirely new piece during their summer season and have it recorded by a live orchestra. There is also a component of the composer program where the students are given a clip from a silent film and have a deadline to compose a film score to match it.
With all this music and bustle of activity, you may ask how it’s ever possible for an orchestra librarian to get it all done. Well, I ask myself the same question almost every day, but somehow, someway, our job is to make sure it all gets done. Here’s your inside look into the life of a music festival orchestra librarian.
There are a total of 7 librarians here at the Aspen Music Festival. That may seem like a lot of librarians (and it only takes one of us to screw in a light bulb…or fix a copier, for that matter!). In fact, though, we need that many librarians to function in a festival that has so many different orchestras. Each librarian has her own orchestra for which to prepare parts, but I sometimes feel like we function as librarians on steroids.
In a normal (and ideal) orchestra library, you order music about 6 months in advance of the start of the season, start preparing music about 3 months in advance of the program, and get music out to the players about a month in advance. In a music festival, the timeline is extremely shortened. Research on the programs begins about 3 months prior to the start of the festival. This in itself presents problems since all research needs to be done remotely. While we have electronic catalogs of all orchestral works, sometimes you need to just look at the parts to be able to determine whether or not you can use the set or need to replace it, or if you need to order extra scores for the cover conductor and audio crew. But, as is my motto here at the festival, you do what you have to do to make it work and you move on. Rental music and new purchases are ordered about 2 months before the festival starts, and the Head Librarian moves out to Aspen about a month before. Then the real work begins.
Work stations need to be made for each librarian; Aspen-owned music needs to be pulled down from the stacks and placed at the appropriate work station; rental music needs to be checked in; new works need to be inventoried; conductors need to be contacted about editions they are using and if they will be providing their own music, etc. The other 6 librarians arrive 1 week prior to the start of the festival and then the ball really starts rolling. Each librarian is then officially responsible for their respective orchestra’s music, and they begin the process of contacting principal strings to bow their parts, making master copies of each principal part once bowed, giving it out to our student bow-markers (who get paid to take home a packet of music and make sure all the bowings match up, mark changes, etc.) and then stuffing the music into folders to distribute to the orchestra. Music is ready to go a week before the first rehearsal, but other than that we always seem to be playing a game of catch-up, never truly getting ahead (no matter how hard we try!).
Various issues constantly pop up, especially concerning instrumentation or the edition/version of a work. Some days it seems like this job is more about problem-solving then preparing music! Here are just a few examples of the small crises we’ve experienced this summer: adding extra stands of strings and/or assistant wind players a few days before the first rehearsal (of course, after we’ve already handed out principal parts); discovering the version of a piece we own and rarely perform is now seriously out-dated and having to buy the new version at the last minute; a conductor wants us to add inserts into string/wind parts in between rehearsals (and when everyone takes their music, that means we have 10 minutes before the rehearsal starts to track down the music and scramble to make the changes); juggling about 15 possible options for concerti depending upon which instrument wins the competition (almost all from different rental companies who each want to have their own way of handling last-minute rentals); the concerto competition winner can’t perform after we tracked down the music and must start over and track down music for the runner-up; hideous errors in parts that need to be compared to the score and corrected in less than a week; and students who think you personally have every orchestra part available at the festival.
But with every problem that popped up, I found that there were so many people who were generous enough to donate their time and resources to help us out. I would like to thank all the librarians who have sent us bowings and/or materials on behalf of their music director, and a special thanks to Ray Kreuger from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Library who generously sent us bowings, often at the last minute! I am always astounded by how helpful so many librarians are. They continually take time out of their day to help out a librarian in need, and this is greatly appreciated!
All in all, it’s a jam-packed summer that never stops moving. We prepare for it as best we can, try to anticipate problems before they happen and when something catches us off guard, we just have to take care of it and move on to the next thing, because there’s never time to stop and dwell on anything (which is probably a good thing!). It’s hard work, but so rewarding just to know that you put out 9 concert programs in 10-weeks time, and for the most part everything went smoothly. And then to hear the finished product every week and how students could produce such amazing music is truly inspiring. It doesn’t hurt that you’re in the middle of the gorgeous scenery of the Rocky Mountains either!