Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Brief Introduction to Ensemble Librarianship

So… what does an ensemble librarian do, exactly?

In its most simplified terms, an ensemble librarian is the person responsible for preparing, distributing, and collecting all of the music that is to be performed.

It sounds like a simple job, right? As musicians, we arrive at the first rehearsal and expect that music will already be on our stands, just waiting to be played. We don’t often (or at all!) think about all of the work behind the scenes that goes into preparing that music.

Preparing just one piece of music, however, can take a lot of time.

The ensemble librarian must:

  • Pull a skeleton. A skeleton is one copy of every part that will be kept in a safe location. This way, even if every single member of the viola section loses his or her part, there will always be a backup copy.
  • Number the parts. Parts are numbered in score order, and then given a letter to denote each individual copy. For instance, Flute I’s skeleton will be given the number 1, the first additional copy will be 1a, the second will be 1b, and so on.
  • Erase all unnecessary markings.
  • Fix all errors in the parts (also known as doing errata).
  • Put bowings into the string parts.
  • Check for and fix any bad page turns.
  • Determine proper part divisions.
  • Put music in the proper folders.
  • Distribute!
At Interlochen, we also create Listening Lists for the students, in which we list a few recommended recordings of each piece. Recordings are available on CDs or records we place on reserve in the library, online listening databases such as Naxos, and various other Internet sources such as composers’ websites or YouTube (especially for the newer band pieces!).

In addition to this prep work, we also attend every rehearsal and performance of our ensembles so that we can make any changes or hand out any additional/replacement parts as needed. I spend five hours in rehearsal every day, and then I return to the library to work on the next session’s music.

If you're interested in learning more about ensemble librarianship, check out the following resources:
  • Major Orchestra Librarians' Association website:
  • A Manual for the Performance Library by Russ Girsberger
  • The Music Performance Library: A Practical Guide for Orchestra, Band, and Opera Librarians by Russ Girsberger and Laurie Lake

Preparing music requires great attention to detail and is a very time-consuming process. Next time you receive music, please take a moment to thank your librarian. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

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