Stacks of orchestra music waiting to be cataloged. Boxes and rolls of blue tape. Leaky ceilings. A room of musical scores that looks like it’s been hit by a hurricane.
Since summer, three librarians at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra have been up against a daunting deadline. They are trying to put up to a million pieces of music into as much order as possible by Monday, when it all has to be moved out of Music Hall to prepare for the historic hall’s renovation in June.
“We have music in five annexes, all over the place. We have music squirreled everywhere, and pipes have broken on it more than once,” said Mary Judge, CSO's principal librarian for the last 41 years. “It’s a treasure, and it’s our job to take care and protect it.”
It is the largest orchestra library in the world, and it is a treasure that has been hidden in plain sight. It tells stories of Cincinnati, of its musical organizations, its artists and its audience tastes. It is a history of us.
In a world that is increasingly digital, very little of this library is digital. It is old-world, and hands touch it daily. Over the past century, luminaries who have touched this music include Sergei Rachmaninoff, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, John Adams and John Philip Sousa.
Christina Eaton, associate librarian, left, and Mary Judge, principal librarian, prepare sheet music for a rehearsal of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. They are juggling their regular job while packing up and moving a million pieces of music from the library. (Photo: The Enquirer/Cara Owsley)
Said Judge: “We’re taking care of music that somebody bought years ago, put on their music stand and played. The decisions being made will affect somebody 40 or 50 years from now.”
This piece of Cincinnati history will have a temporary home at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, Downtown, during construction.
“Sometimes I tell people, I’ve been in the orchestra 40 years. They say, ‘I’ve never seen you.' That’s the goal.”
Mary Judge, principal librarian, CSO
But first, Judge and her two colleagues – Christina Eaton, associate principal librarian and Matt Gray, assistant librarian – are looking at every single piece of music and instrumental or vocal part. All million pieces must be documented and sorted. Some of it – including choral music dating back to the first Cincinnati May Festival in 1873 – is being put into a digital database for the very first time.
Music librarians are accustomed to working behind the scenes. You might see them briefly, as they deliver a score to the conductor’s music stand onstage, and scurry off. They work with the conductor and concertmaster (first violinist) to pencil bowings, dynamic markings and cuts into all of the orchestra parts.
The librarians go on domestic and international tours with the orchestra. And they always stand in the wings with extra batons, should a too-enthusiastic conductor break one during a show. They time every piece as it is performed. That goes into the database, too.
"Sometimes I tell people, I’ve been in the orchestra 40 years. They say, ‘I’ve never seen you,’ ” Judge said. “That’s the goal. I float onstage and float off. If you haven’t seen me, I’m doing my job.”
Right now, they are working frantically to pack up and move during the busiest time of year. December has a classical concert, Holiday Pops, Cincinnati Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” (the CSO plays in the pit), Handel’s “Messiah” and a New Year’s Eve tribute to Frank Sinatra.
"We found three days, Dec. 7, 8 and 9, that would work,” Judge said. “One of us will be up here at Music Hall, one will be in the Public Library and one of us will be a runner. Because we have to make sure that this library goes down in order. That’s why it has to be cataloged.”
The entire library represents more than 140 years of music, 120 years for the symphony alone. The collection – music for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops, May Festival Chorus, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Symphony Youth Orchestra, Vocal Arts Ensemble, Classical Roots Community Mass Choir and May Festival Youth Chorus – has been housed in 11 different locations in Music Hall.
And when music director Louis Langrée moved from Paris, they had to make room for his entire personal library of music, too.
Judge, 66, holds up a violin part with markings that go back to the 1800s. That's the least of it. Other musical finds they have unearthed:
Librarians discovered this score to Easter Parade, the first Pops arrangement made for the orchestra. (Photo: The Enquirer/Janelle Gelfand)
• A handwritten score to Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade,” the first pops arrangement commissioned for the orchestra by then-music director Thor Johnson. The cover page suggests that “the audience may join in singing at Letter D.”
• The original score to “Reel,” by American composer Henry Cowell, with his stamped envelope addressed to then-music director Eugene Goossens (misspelling his name).
• The Overture to “Sappho” by Carl Goldmark dated 1894, when the May Festival gave its United States premiere under May Festival founder Theodore Thomas.
• The vocal score to Richard Wagner’s opera “Lohengrin,” edited by Thomas, and printed by John Church & Co. of Cincinnati in 1873.
Organized chaos: An annex up high in the North Wing of Music Hall has held choral music and other music not used much anymore. (Photo: The Enquirer/Janelle Gelfand)
It's a massive triage project. Music that is water damaged or crumbling from age will be tossed. Little used but historic scores may find a home at the Public Library or Cincinnati History Library and Archives.
“I’m feeling very pressured,” Judge said. “We’re not purging – some people in the organization are purging. We are pruning. That just feels better. But some of the music is so old, it’s not playable. If you turn it over, it cracks.”
She walked to an overflow room down the hall. Stacks of Cincinnati Pops music – responsible for some of the Pops’ 10 million albums sold – sat in an empty dressing room on roll-away carts. During the summer, they were moved out, so the room could be used by Cincinnati Opera cast members.
Memories bubbled up at the sight. It was Pops founder Erich Kunzel who demanded that the librarians number every measure of every piece for the nearly 100 Pops albums that he recorded. To this day, the practice continues for the fiercely expensive recording sessions, when they have to record a quick retake, say, at measure 217.
Music is stored in a dressing room at Music Hall before it is moved to the Downtown Public Library while Music Hall is under construction Tuesday Nov. 10, 2015. (Photo: The Enquirer/Cara Owsley)
"Counting the measures, like for symphonies or 'Appalachian Spring,' that is my absolute least favorite job,” said Eaton, 36.
Across the building in the North Wing was more overflow. A secret, second-floor room, once used for wrestling, contained a trove of choral music – as well as what Judge called “dead storage” for music no longer needed. A dumbwaiter in the wall stood ready to ferry scores down to the first floor.
Gray, the 25-year-old assistant librarian, has worked there “24/7” to meticulously catalog the May Festival choral repertoire into a massive spreadsheet. He’s determined how many linear feet of space will be needed when it moves into the Public Library’s high density storage.
Assistant librarian Matt Gray has documented the music by linear feet in preparation for the move. (Photo: The Enquirer/Janelle Gelfand)
"There’s a big push for getting the actual footage of all of this, because when you go to move a huge collection, little numbers can make a big difference,” he said.
Tossed among the piles were arrangements of “God Bless America,” “Be Prepared” – for a special Girl Scout concert – dance band music and Strauss waltzes.
Even dead storage can tell stories. Take the time Keith Lockhart, the Boston Pops conductor who got his start in Cincinnati, was looking for a piece by Copland. He knew that music director Goossens had commissioned Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” for the Cincinnati Symphony. But he’d also heard there was another piece, “Jubilee Variations.” Several famous American composers were asked to write a variation on Goossen’s theme. Copland was one of them, and Lockhart wanted to perform it.
Music is stored in a small room at Music Hall where a leak in the roof has caused some of the music to be damaged. (Photo: The Enquirer/Cara Owsley)
“I found it. Then Erich (Kunzel) decided to record it on the Pops’ Copland album. Ever since then, I’ve never dismissed dead storage,” Judge said.
The librarians’ most challenging project was Nathaniel Dett’s oratorio, “The Ordering of Moses," which May Festival music director James Conlon resurrected for an historic performance and live broadcast in 2014 at Carnegie Hall. Conlon decided to re-edit and re-orchestrate the work. Which meant the librarians had to fix the parts.
"We worked ‘round the clock. It was a little unfinished, shall we say,” Judge recalled. “After every rehearsal, he found something he wanted to rewrite. That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done here.”
Conlon was still re-writing on the plane from Cincinnati to New York, and asked Judge to make more changes in the orchestra parts before they played Carnegie Hall.
“At that point, we had to use post-it notes,” she said.
Judge regularly works into the wee hours at Music Hall. As she walks through its halls, another memory surfaces.
Mary Judge, principal librarian, looks at old sheet music Tuesday Nov. 10, 2015 at Music Hall. There are a million pieces of music and 120 years of history in the library at Music Hall. Librarians are moving it to the Downtown Public Library while Music Hall is under construction. Judge has worked at the library for 41 years. (Photo: The Enquirer/Cara Owsley)
"My very first ghost experience was with Erich Kunzel. It was 3 a.m., and we were working on fixing some pops arrangements,” she recalled. “It was the middle of July, and it was so hot. There was no air ventilation, it was awful.”
Her phone rang, and Kunzel asked her to come to his office.
"So, I move into the hallway, and all of a sudden, I am covered in my personal air conditioning. It was really nice. I take a step, I stop, and it stops. I’m going down the hall, in my personal air conditioner,” she said. “I go into Erich’s room, and cross the threshold, and it stops and stays in the hallway. I left his office, and I was surrounded again, until I stepped back into the library.”
She doesn’t know if Music Hall’s ghosts will follow them, or be there when they return.
"I have always felt that the spirits that roam here never threaten,” she said. “They just roam.”
The music library's temporary home
The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and other tenants, will move out of Music Hall in June for an intensive construction period. Finding a place to put its rare collection of musical scores was a real challenge, said CSO president Trey Devey. He reached out to Kim Fender, the director of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County, who immediately offered space.
"They’ve lifted a weight off our shoulders," Devey said. "There couldn’t be a better and more protected place than our great library system."
The collection, all million pieces, will be housed in a high density storage area in the Library's basement. It will not be open to the public. But CSO librarians and staff will be able to work in that space until they move back into Music Hall, estimated to be fall of 2017.
When they move back to Music Hall, the new library will be in approximately the same place it is now, backstage. However, plans are being drawn to add a mezzanine level with high density storage, Devey said.
"Ultimately all of the collections, whether CSO, Pops, May Festival, Ballet or Opera, will all be maintained within that same footprint, all protected within the same systems. And that is not the case right now. Right now, our library is spread all throughout Music Hall," he said.
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