by Melissa Robason, music librarian
What goes into becoming a music librarian? What are the most challenging and rewarding parts of the job? In such a solitary profession, how are knowledge and techniques shared? Music librarian Melissa Robason recently asked colleague Àngels Martinez these questions and more!
What exactly is a music librarian? What training is required to become one?
A music librarian is the person in charge of preparing all the music needed for a performance. When a work will be performed, we need to know if it's under copyright or in public domain. In opera, the copyrighted works are rental-only, and the only materials we can purchase are the vocal scores and sometimes the chorus scores. The remaining materials must be rented from a music publisher.
Once we acquire the music, we proceed to prepare the music according to the production, conductor, stage director, singers, etc. We also need to proofread new materials, since there can be many errors. We mark every part with the cuts, bowings, transpositions, and indications needed, and also provide a cut list to all the people involved in the production. An important part of our job is also to keep track of what we have in the library.
In the US, an important part of our job is to work during the performances to set the orchestra parts in the pit, take care of the music for off-stage and on-stage bandas, set out the conductor's full score, and pick up the parts once the performance is over. And, of course, we are present during the performance for any music emergency. In Europe, this part of the job is done by other people, not the librarians.
Music librarians need to be musicians and, sadly, there is not a degree for music librarians. The best training is an internship in an orchestra or theater or having a mentor to help you learn the profession. Thankfully, an international music librarians association exists, MOLA, which embraces almost 300 of the most important symphonic orchestras, opera and ballet theaters, universities, conservatories, etc. Through this organization, we can share our resources and everything related to our profession.
How did you get your job at the Metropolitan Opera?
Previously to the Metropolitan Opera, I was working as Principal librarian in the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona for 22 years. I needed a change, but wanted to continue working in opera. I knew there was an audition at the Metropolitan Opera, so I sent my resume and was invited to the audition and interview. It was a high level audition, obviously, with the Met being one of the most important opera theaters in the world. Some time after, they let me know that I was one of the five finalists and I had to come to NYC again for a trial week working in the Met’s music library. After the trial week, I was notified that I had the job.
What is your favorite part about working at the Metropolitan Opera?
I have two favorite parts:
Without a doubt, working the performances. As I mentioned before, in Europe we do not work during the performances. I have discovered a new world. The feeling of working a live show is indescribable and just amazing. Also, the feeling of being involved in the entire process of the music, from the beginning of the preparation until the end (the performance), is very rewarding.
Another favorite thing is working with the MET Orchestra. There's a very good atmosphere in the orchestra and I love their enthusiasm and professionalism. The musicians really made me feel at home from the very first moment!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I love scuba diving and travel. The best thing about traveling is learning about new cultures, places, and people. Since I live in the US now, I try to save a week every year to travel around this beautiful country.