Librarian: Ann Whitehouse

Interview by Kate Candy Colbert

In 2023 we continue with our ‘Behind the Scenes’ series that focuses on essential roles within the Manukau Symphony Orchestra behind the eye of the public. Our next essential role is:

Ann Whitehouse

If you have ever wondered how an Orchestra organises their music for each concert, then you will learn a lot from reading the following interview! It’s a great read and I am sure even most of the MSO players will learn something new and have a deeper appreciation for their music!

When did you become the MSO Librarian?

Just over a year ago, just in time to organise some tricky parts for Swan Lake and an expensive hire from USA only for the concert to be cancelled due to Covid. So frustrating for everyone.

Do you have any Librarian experience prior to joining MSO?

I have been assistant Librarian and then Librarian for Auckland Choral for about 10 years, but I have no previous experience as a librarian. I retired from a long career as a Speech Language Therapist and reinvented myself as a music librarian, learning on the job.

A Symphony Orchestra needs music to play. Who chooses the music for each concert?

Uwe Grodd, MSO’s Musical Director chooses the music with input from other members of the Artistic music committee, guest conductors, soloists, and players.

Does MSO have to buy printed music, or can it be hired?

MSO has an extensive library of bought music, and copies of music that is in the public domain, all of which has to be catalogued and maintained. Music that is still in copyright usually has to be hired from the publisher, but music out of copyright can often be downloaded from a website called IMSLP which has a huge collection of public domain music. We hire a lot of music from the National Library of New Zealand, and sometimes from other orchestras.

As Librarian how much time do you need to source music ahead of a concert?

I like to get on to it as soon as decisions have been made about repertoire, in case there are any problems with hiring, or finding suitable editions. Music hired from overseas can take several weeks. As a relatively new orchestral librarian I like to spend some time making sure I am sourcing the right music. By the end of the year MSO’s programme has been planned for the following year, and within a few weeks I’ll know where pretty much all of the music is coming from for the year. I aim to get parts for the upcoming concert ready for the players to pick up at the current concert, but that isn’t always possible, for example if the player list isn’t available.

What are the main tasks of a Librarian once music has been sourced to collecting it after concerts and filing it or returning it to its source?

I need to know which version of the music the conductor wants, when we will need the music, and either confirm availability with hirers or retrieve it from our library. I’ll check that we have all the parts, and preferably 2 full conductor’s scores so the concertmaster can have one as well as the conductor. Parts need to be prepared, which can involve being resized if they are too small to be read easily, or too large to make multiple copies from, and loose sheets or PDFs from the internet or from composers made into booklets. String parts go to the concertmaster and leaders for bowing string parts, then multiple string parts need to be made. The prepared parts are then made available for players a few weeks before the concert date.

I am grateful to Robyn Finlay, a first violinist in MSO who volunteers to collect all the music in after a concert and sort and order it, ready to return to our library or to the hirer.

How has the digital age and Covid changed the way music is made available?

Some soloists like to use digital parts instead of hard copies. During Covid lockdowns scanning and emailing became a time consuming but useful way of distributing music to players.

What is the hardest instrument to prepare music for?

The strings! There are just so many of them and transferring the bowing to all the parts is time consuming.

Do you have to collaborate with others in your role or are you mostly on your own?

There is lots of collaboration at different stages of the process. I collaborate with the conductor to source the right music, with hirers, with the concertmaster about bowings or cuts to the music, and later with the Operations Manager and General Manager about Call Sheets and player lists. In the middle there is a lot of solitary work in the office, at the photocopier, making folders, addressing envelopes.

What tasks are the most challenging being the Librarian?

Getting the bowing right for the string parts is a challenge for me. Previously bowed parts will often have been changed multiple times, and it can be very difficult to provide a set of legible and matching parts. It’s a tight squeeze in our office and sometimes music preparation can take up a lot of desk space, so much that as much as I love my co-workers, it can be nice when they are not there!

What personality is most suited to being a Music Librarian?

A love of music, and being organised and methodical, with attention to detail. I like problem solving and being creative which are useful skills, and it definitely helps to be able to lift heavy boxes of music on to high shelves.

What do like about your job?

I have loved singing in choirs of all sizes all my life and especially in big choirs with an orchestra. The major choral works are all very familiar to me but I know less about orchestral repertoire, so I am really enjoying learning about the composers and compositions as I source new music. I like the supportive administration team at MSO and the players are friendly and appreciative. Being able to sit in on rehearsals is a treat, listening as the sound develops and comes together, I love the performance and the satisfaction of knowing I have contributed in a small way.

Thank you Ann, your contribution is very appreciated and significant!