- Conversations with the World’s Leading Orchestra and Opera Librarians by Patrick Lo
This volume is a collection of interviews with orchestra, opera, ballet, and individual performers’ librarians. In nineteen interview chapters, twenty-two individuals provide answers to a fairly standard set of questions. Two of these individuals, Robert Sutherland and Tony Rickard, appear in more than one capacity, and some interviews include two or even three staff members. The geographic range is broad: Berlin, Cologne, Doha, Glasgow, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Tokyo (p. 253). A concluding summary, an appendix (Robert Sutherland on his Metropolitan Opera database), and a thorough index of places, people, and specific compositions round out the contents.
Patrick Lo is a member of the Faculty of Library, Information and Media Science at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. He is widely educated (England, Hong Kong, Canada, Germany) and is a prolific researcher and author. The book developed from his interest in lesser-known aspects of librarianship. His preferred term for these professionals is “performance music librarian”, to distinguish them from other practitioners of music librarianship.
Interviews include librarians from five opera companies, one ballet company, seven orchestras, two radio orchestras, two librarians for personal collections of performers, and one performer reflecting on the role of the performance music librarian. Several categories overlap; for example, the two radio broadcasting orchestras, the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and West deutscher Rundfunk Cologne (WDR), also give formal concerts and each includes multiple performing ensembles, for which the music library is responsible.
What can one draw from these interviews? Perhaps the most important themes are that the work of these librarians is vital to any performance, that the work goes almost unnoticed if all goes smoothly with a given performance, and that those who do the work take immense pleasure and pride in their work. Regardless of the type of collection they serve, responsibility for all aspects of performance preparation fall to the librarians, most of whom work alone or with just one or two colleagues. Many have additional assistants available on a freelance basis for times of particularly heavy duties. Ordering scores and parts (whether sale or rental), marking cuts, marking bowings for the entire string section, assembling parts for the individual players, making sure any translations are accurate, incorporating all performance changes, having or making transpositions—all of these are standard elements of the work. Additionally, some are required to take on seemingly unrelated responsibilities such as the negotiation of copyright and related legal issues. In another example, Damien Kennedy at the English National Opera is both performance librarian and surtitles manager. When an organisation or performer goes on tour, the librarian is usually also responsible for making sure all the scores, parts, translations, instructions, and any other element that would be needed in the home venue is provided, and usually must also see to the shipping. Occasionally the librarian is required to travel with the performers, which has its own rewards and pitfalls, as described most particularly by Robert Sutherland, then of the Metropolitan Opera.
One of the standard interview questions concerned the background of the librarian. As one might expect, each performance music librarian has extensive training in some aspect of music. Many are, or were, performing musicians and some continue to perform as time allows, whether with their employer or with another ensemble. The majority were trained as string players, but there are also piano, horn, flute, and bassoon players among them, and one who enjoys singing for relaxation. None had specific training in their work prior to being hired for the music library; in fact, many indicated they “fell into” the position quite by accident. Most were grateful to specific mentors but others started the organisation’s library from scratch and created a system based on conversations with their peers at other institutions. Camaraderie among [End Page 187] performance librarians is strong, and is...