The Librarian is the unsung hero of any orchestra - whether amateur or professional - for it is he or she who is responsible for ensuring that all orchestral parts are present and correct to ensure that rehearsals can proceed smoothly.

It isn't always as easy as it may sound. Although the Alderley Edge Symphony Orchestra has a small Music Library of its own, most of it is hired as required from such sources as the Henry Watson Music Library in Manchester. Costs of music hire have risen sharply in recent years, requiring the Librarian to show good financial judgement in minimising hire periods as far as possible and thereby reduce costs.

Having collected the music and distributed it to the many 'pads', this is the start rather than the end of the story. Players commonly take music home for private study and - being human - occasionally leave it behind on rehearsal day, requiring the long-suffering Librarian to produce a replacement part like a rabbit from a hat in order to solve the crisis. Collection of music after performances is likewise a source of regular grief, as parts have an unerring habit of 'going missing', resulting in anguished telephone calls to errant players who have inadvertently driven off with them in their cars.

A digression to discuss the music itself might be of interest at this point. The non-player might assume that if players simply play accurately the notes in front of them, a good performance will automatically result. If only life were so simple.

An immediate problem is that despite the apparent complexity of a typical score, the notation itself is notoriously imprecise. What does a crotchet actually sound like? Just how quiet is 'piano'? How fast is 'vivace'? How long should a pause be sustained? These are all questions of interpretation which require the assistance of the conductor, the only member of the orchestra with telepathic links with long-dead composers which enable him (or her) to arbitrate on these tricky points with unswerving confidence. It is no exaggeration to say that the ultimate success of a concert depends greatly on the conductor's ability to convey these finer points of interpretation to his players and ensure that they are followed conscientiously in performance.

Another problem is often created unwittingly by composers themselves, who cannot always be relied upon to write music which is accurate in terms of notation. Some composers are particularly notorious in this respect, even to the extent of demanding notes beyond the compass of the instruments themselves. Composers also have second and even third thoughts, resulting in great debate as to their true intentions. Musicologists have argued for years over the famous flute solo in the second movement of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto (below left), which nonetheless makes its first appearance in a somewhat feebler form (below right):
Is this deliberate, or did Tchaikovsky simply have a sudden flash of genius and forget to update his first faultering effort? We shall probably never know.*

Then there is the question of misprints and errors. Until recent years, printed music has originated from plates engraved by hand, a painstaking process where errors can easily be made and expensive to correct. As a result, even the best orchestral parts, such as those produced by publishers like Breitkopf and Hartel, are rarely completely free from mistakes; here is a typical example (from the second violin part of the fourth movement of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony) where the publisher has committed a double whammy by overlooking an arco marking and confusing his crotchets and his quavers:
Rehearsal letters - or rather the lack of them - are another problem area. As it is normal practice for rehearsals to proceed in short bursts, one might have thought that music publishers would routinely insert rehearsal letters at strategic points to enable players to find their places with ease. Not so. It is surprising how often music is encountered that contains neither rehearsal letters nor bar numbers, requiring a conductor to search desperately for other landmarks in the score. The pandemonium that can result from an instruction such as 'Start from the sforzando', when the conductor has not realised that there are perhaps half a dozen plausible contenders, can easily be imagined.

The instant page turn is yet another natural hazard. It is a fact of life that composers usually have other things on their minds than the provision of bars of rest to enable players to execute a page turn with safety. Although publishers do what they can, it is inevitable that the dreaded instant page turn will be encountered from time to time and even more inevitable that they will occur just before or after a fiendish passage which will itself already be a source of grief for the unfortunate player. Such page turns invariably bear the scrawled warning 'V.S' ('Volti Subito') which players unversed in Italian generally interpret as 'Very Speedy' or 'Very Sharp'.
*This and many other fascinating examples are discussed at length in ‘Orchestral Variations - Confusion and Error in the Orchestral Repertoire’ by the late Norman del Mar.
The Alderley Edge Symphony Orchestra
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