ave you ever stopped to consider how many people work for the Oregon Symphony beyond the musicians? Did you know that the Oregon Symphony has a library? Meet principal librarian Joy Fabos and enjoy her crash course in the fascinating sphere of the music library.

Joy Fabos, Oregon Symphony principal librarian. Photo by Christine Dong, Artslandia.

First, where is the library, and what lies therein?

I didn’t even know that the position existed until I started working here. It’s one of those things that you don’t think about, and that’s the way it should be. We consider ourselves to be music ninjas. The library is located on the fourth floor of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. It is our workspace and houses the Oregon Symphony Library collection. We have about 2,100 pieces in our collection and maybe 6,000 scores. We also house the Norman Leyden Library collection (named for the Oregon Symphony’s longtime associate conductor) and a choral library.

How did you come to this line of work?

I graduated from college with degrees in violin performance and music education, as well as play the violin and viola. I was with my former violin teacher, Carol Sindell, when the librarian of the Symphony called her office looking for some part-time help. Over the next few years, I learned on the job, eventually becoming the assistant librarian. I left after a few years to pursue some playing opportunities and other adventures and then returned when the principal librarian position opened up. In order to be an orchestra librarian, you really must be a musician first. Then, it is most often about learning on the job.

Are you the only librarian working for the Oregon Symphony?

There are two other librarians, and we are structured like a section in the orchestra. I am the principal librarian. Kat Thompson is the asssociate librarian, and Sara Pyne is assistant librarian.

What, specifically, does a symphony librarian do?

To put it succinctly, we research, procure, prepare, and distribute the music to the players and conductors of the Oregon Symphony. These duties vary a great deal from concert to concert. If we are preparing a Classical concert, we may have to rent a piece or two still under copyright from one of about seven or eight rental agencies, give it to our concertmaster so that she can put her markings in it (bowings, mainly, which specify the direction of the bow and articulation), distribute her part to the other string principals so that they can match the markings, and then transfer all of those markings to the individual parts for each string player. We also check rehearsal markings to make sure the conductor score and orchestral parts match so if the conductor stops rehearsal and wants to restart, everyone has the same reference point. If we own the piece on the concert, we may be able to pull it off the shelf and skip a few of the steps, depending on how recently it was performed. There are also often mistakes in the rental parts that musicians, librarians, or conductors have caught over the years, so errata lists are available to us. This is all to do as much preparation in advance of the rehearsal as possible so that the time can be used to work on the music and not dealing with errors. We then pull all of the pieces for the specific concert and put together folders for each musician. If we are preparing a Pops show or a Special concert, the process is similar but, usually, with a bit less lead time. Some guest artists even prefer to bring their music with them, which makes for a bit of a flurry pre-rehearsal.

Joy Fabos, Oregon Symphony principal librarian. Photo by Christine Dong, Artslandia.

What is the cataloguing system used in a symphony library?

When I first began working here, I helped my mentor Rob Olivia (principal librarian at the time and the first professional librarian hired by the Symphony) create the system to catalog the collection. We use a searchable Excel spreadsheet. It is not fancy, but it works!

How is your line of work impacted by the shift toward digitizing printed materials?

There is definitely exciting potential out there in this area. For now, musicians and distributors are still clinging a bit to the paper sheet music, but I expect this will change soon. We already have much easier access to digital resources online and do scan and send parts to musicians on a regular basis.

What do you find most rewarding or exciting about your job?

I love the fact that every day is different with new challenges and tasks. In one day, I may be emailing with Smokey Robinson’s tour manager, rearranging two parts to be played by one player, meeting a choir director to distribute parts, and breaking down the previous night’s folders. I also love the people I work with and the physical space we occupy. I really couldn’t ask for better coworkers.

What are the challenges of your job, specifically, and your career field, in general?

The challenges are similar to any profession: getting information in an accurate and timely fashion, occasional demanding artistic temperaments, last-minute changes, etc. The problem for us in the library is that certain parts of our job just take time, and there is no way to speed that up. Fortunately, people are understanding in these situations. Once we had a guest artist cancel at the last minute due to illness, and the entire concert was re-programmed less than 24 hours before the first rehearsal. That was very busy, but the orchestra musicians took up a collection and bought the librarians an espresso machine!