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I have learned a great many things in my tenure working for one of (and according to our PR department the) leading Pops orchestra. Sure, some of it is the fun things like what a new pop sensation does when they first walk off stage, strange things that famous bands order in the dressing rooms – but as an individual and librarian, these 2 things I think those of us working in the field can agree with much certainty:

1. Any tune, literally any, can be turned in the a Pops piece, including drum set, synth, guitars, etc. For America’s birthday the program had various versions of all different genres, including Ashokan Farewell (a Pennsylvania Dutch favorite) and I Shot the Sheriff.

2. If you are standing backstage, you will be asked to do almost anything – and expected to do it. This July 4th I carried a flag onstage for the ever popular Armed Forces Medley. While I’m not necessarily Army material, I had a good time. I’ve dressed myself in various embarrassing costumes, herded cloggers, Irish dancers, really the list could go on.

Home of the Hofbrauhaus (sigh, the original one, you guys, is NOT in Kentucky ok?) Munich offers views like this one.

The first heffeweisen for us (eine kleine for me)

It is that time of year, when both Ixi and I are off touring different parts of the world.  Tomorrow the CSO departs for a three week gallivant of Europe, mostly Germany and parts of of Spain.  I have packed myself, a ridiculous amount of shoes and portable library to NYC where I am spending the week at the Metropolitan Opera.

My day included a lot of bowings, piano rehearsals for Satyagraha and tours, and the inevitable wandering in stairwells.  Is the library on B level of C level?  Is it one story down from the stage or two?  Where is the pit?  I can proudly say that I didn’t get lost – a first for everything.  My colleagues were warm and welcoming, and along with my host family (who made me fresh espresso to start my day), I can tell this is going to be a fabulous week.

I was fortunate to score prime seats to see Prokofiev’s The Gambler – which was interesting.  The orchestra is amazing, the singers spot-on – but I was not prepared for the pyrotechnics that accompanied this production.  Something to be seen, who doesn’t love a good opera with large casts and bright pretty lights, but read the program notes otherwise the some of the symbolism might get lost.

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Composer Krzysztof Penderecki once said to a colleague in reference to his piece Threnody, ‘ah, the sins of my youth.’ While I’m not sure I can accurately describe the exact meaning of this, I felt the the unmentionable sins of my youth came crashing back into my ears today as I listened to 90 violists prepare for the audition in the orchestra. I heard some very impressive playing, and I heard some less so. I haven’t heard some excerpts and concerti in years, and it was strange to hear them again, whatever form they were in.

Practice Practice Practice. Don’t ever walk into any kind of audition, interview, judging of yourself as a professional anything with your pants down.

I might be the most particular person you will ever meet. I like things a certain way. And pretty much everything, has a certain way about it. There is a way I fold my socks, there is a way that I eat my very favorite d’anjou pears, there is a way that I fix my coffee, there is a way that I correct music, there is a way that I addictively research editions of music, and I think Billy Joel got it right – I do have ‘a way’ about me.

I embrace this dominant attribute in myself; I think it makes me eccentric, and if nothing else, good at my job. I don’t have any kind of creative process to arrive at some sort of dramatic outpouring of my emotion or soul. I realized this, as I sat watching from my nice little booth above the stage running the slides for a staged production of Igor Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat. This is not say I didn’t know I might not be the most flexible person in the world already, but I did realize that I will never operate that way. While the actors talked about ‘exploring the space’ and ‘building from feelings’ I sat by, with portable library, making sure my slides were numbered just so, my cues marked precisely with dark highlighter, my text changes corrected – and it was obvious that equally didn’t understand me. I think that we all agreed that we needed each other in order to create what I’m sure will be an amazing show.

Moral of the story – you should come see concert:nova & The Know Theatre in action this weekend. I’ll even show you my score if you do.

In the growing age of invasion of privacy, whether it is out there for others to see or not, and the feeling of entitlement to bits of one that shouldn’t be taken without asking or invitation, the digits, specifically mine, aren’t something I’m willing to just give out.

At the recent epiphany in the difference of  music library workings in the Europe, Jari – aka The Gateway to Information, he is Finnish after all – and I decided to compare notes on our daily toils.  These numbers, I’ll give out.

My Numbers for the 2007-2008 Season (equivalent to one year of work)…

Number of Programs:  85

Number of Performances:  140

Number of Musical Titles Prepared:  350*

Jari’s numbers were a bit different, but he has another important digit – today marks the first anniversary of his appointment with a very major orchestra.  And one librarian year in charge of running all this is really probably closer to 5 human years…

 

*Summer concerts aren’t yet set, so this seems pretty close. 

In our small world, it is easy for music to become one’s religion. We have all dedicated our lives to it, sacrificed for it, loved it, needed it, and occasionally been rewarded by it – similar to religion, or some would say a cult. It’s easy to fall in love everyday with something new and undiscovered, or find that feeling in something you’ve heard many times before.

John Adams appeared this week with the orchestra with a program fraught with programmatic music intended to break your heart – Strauss’s popular (and my first tone poem ever) Death and Transfiguration, along with two of his own compositions. The first, Transmigration of Souls was clearly meant to evoke poignant sentiments. Specifically written as a ‘memorial space’ (a term from Adams, similar to a requiem type piece) for 9/11, he wanted it to transcend time, for any horrendous affront suffered by man and repairing the damage done to the human spirit. His careful staging and sound effects by Mark Grey made it happen – our chorus master cried for about 30 minutes after it ended.

For me personally, his other piece, The Dharma at Big Sur, was significantly more moving. Dharma has several meanings and connotations depending on religious or philosophical views, but a common Buddhist belief is that your personal inner peace and happiness is dependent on following dharma. I can’t quite say what it was exactly about the piece that moved me so, but that is the point. To think that your happiness can be changed, to turn a seemingly intangible idea and almost make it something you can grasp – and to think that Adams was able to portray this through his music was inspiring. Take a listen if you can.

Unlike some colleagues I’ve heard about, I will rarely call out a conductor gone bad or send them a letter stating my disappointment in them. If I were to send a letter, it would look something like this:

Dear Maestro,*

You make me sad. I have worked very hard on all your requests, from the obvious and common, to the obscure and odd. I have corrected mistakes you’ve never noticed, researched materials you’ve never known about, contacted authoritarians you’ve never heard of, the list really does go on and on. I don’t really have the time to list all of them you see, since I have some errata to get back to.

But please, don’t ignore me. I know I’m a librarian, often hiding behind a stack of music or in the shadows of the stage, but I am not invisible. When I ask you a question, I need an answer to do my job better, so you can do yours. When I ask you which concert ending you’d like to perform of an opera overture, actually think about it and don’t guess – it really does make a difference.

And please, don’t lie to me. If you’ve lost your score, or are too cheap to buy one, or your dog ate it – I don’t care. Just be honest with me and I’ll be happy to make you a new one. You insult my intelligence when you come up with some ridiculous story about why you don’t have it.

And please also, don’t challenge me on rental issues or copyright. I read journals and news about it for fun.

So please finally, don’t interrupt me while I’m eating. I rarely get any time to myself to have a clear thought throughout the day. I will always stop what I’m doing to answer your questions or fetch you something, but it is rude. Unless you, or your score, are on fire. Then it’s perfectly reasonable.

So you see, dear maestro, that a happy librarian makes a happy conductor. A respectful maestro makes a happy librarian.

Always, your favorite librarian

___

*no specific maestro was intended for this letter – any similarities are purely coincidental
February 2020
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Please ask before using my photos or content from this blog or my website. I most often say yes and I'd like to know who to thank. The photos and content of this blog are under copyright. All rights reserved. © Ixi Chen

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