Why You Should Consider Carryin’ A Librarian

By • September 4, 2008

In my inaugural column for this publication over a year ago, I introduced you to the primary musical members of your session team: the composer, orchestrator, conductor, contractor, copyist, score proofreader, and score supervisor (“the booth god.”) An additional as-yet-unsung collaborator who can also save your bacon is the librarian, hired by and representing the supervising copyist.

On smaller or moderate-sized sessions, some of the librarian’s duties are often performed by the copyist, booth supervisor, composer, or even the engineer. As the size and complexity of the session grows, however, so does the importance of having a librarian as further insurance against disaster.

Under normal conditions, the librarian is a combination delivery boy, file clerk, and standby copyist, subbing for the copying team at the session. His duties are to collate the parts into folders by instrument, deliver them (and the scores) to the session, distribute them to the appropriate desks, and then reverse the entire process when it’s over. During the session, he stands by to make any notational changes that are too complicated for the players themselves to do on the stage, very often working feverishly during player breaks. He delivers any session-related documents like union invoices, materials & delivery receipts, and possibly orchestra lists (including woodwind and percussion doubles.) If all goes according to Hoyle, great. His job is done, and the casual observer may not even notice that he was ever there.

However, when there is a last-minute change which cannot be fixed with a quick pencil scribble, (and there usually is,) the librarian is the only one on the scene with the skill, the equipment, and the time to do something about it. And, just as an enlightened score supervisor acts as a one-man backup for the composer, conductor, contractor, or engineer, the wise librarian looks for any chance to act as a backup for him. If he’s on the ball, he’ll search for the next score, should they suddenly record out of sequence. He’ll duplicate an extra violin “book” if the seating arrangement creates a sudden need for one. He can kill the click at bar 67 when the score supervisor has to cue something else to the engineer, and he’ll make sure nobody will get an ulcer over how to make the director happy after the break by doubling 16 bars of woodwind soli with violins and violas.

He also has to be sensitive and diplomatic enough in the vacuum of overlapping responsibilities to know when to speak up about a problem and, more importantly, when not to. It’s not a job for the all-consuming ego, considering the whole team is supporting upward.

How has digital notation affected the traditional duties of the librarian? Depending on circumstances, he may be called upon to help assure a smoother session by faxing or emailing pdf’s of the more treacherous parts to certain key players in advance.

Theoretically, the availability of laptops and on-site printers who can handle pdf’s makes possible some emergency fanny-saves that would have been expensive nightmares in the past such as, say, when the singer walks in with a sudden throat condition that alters his/her range by a whole step.

But the advent of technology has evolved a quandary when it comes to post-session storage of the music. Traditionally, the librarian collected the stacks of parts and scores for later reverse-collation by cue for archiving by the composer. In a digital age, though, why hang onto paper? Aren’t the original files which generated these parts stored and backed up somewhere? For one thing, while no tree-hugger myself, I do believe in the eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt not waste!” (particularly when all that repro and binding might come in handy someday.) And which of us doesn’t cringe when we hear stories of how sheet music from our favorite film score is sitting in a landfill somewhere, dumped by an uncaring and myopic studio?

No, the real issue is more subtle. By backing up digitally, consider that you are merely storing what was delivered to the session, not necessarily what got recorded. It’s common that the version which gets used (and therefore remembered) is the result of changes (voicing, orchestration, form, etc.) made during the session. Unless you have a crystal ball, you never know which of your creations may someday have an afterlife, and you must weigh the PITA (“pain-in-the-a–”) factor of someday recreating those changes in a vacuum versus the cost of storing a box of paper somewhere. The beauty of pencil is that it leaves you with both the original and the edited versions, visible at a glance. I’ve always believed that, even when you can’t afford the price of something, you should at least know its value, and so it goes with a librarian. Whether you can budget for one, or arrange to cover some of his duties somehow, it’s good that now you are aware of what they are.

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