Behind the Scenes with TSO Librarian Katie Nakanishi

by Tucson Symphony
Behind the Scenes with TSO Librarian Katie Nakanishi

You may have caught a glimpse of TSO librarian, Katie Nakanishi, during a concert discreetly switching out the conductor’s score between pieces. Like many of the other TSO production and administrative staff, the vast majority of Katie’s vitally important work happens behind the scenes months before a single note is played on stage. Everything related to the physical sheet music performed by the TSO goes through Katie’s hands. The role of an orchestra librarian requires a high level of communication, collaboration, organization, and surprisingly, quite a bit of detective work.

When the planning process for a new season begins, Katie is tasked with pulling music from the TSO library catalog or procuring it from other sources. While some music is easy to acquire, the TSO’s mission of programming repertoire by diverse composers can sometimes provide a challenge requiring keen detective skills… “Fortunately, here we perform a lot of music by underrepresented composers, especially Latin American and South American composers, which is something I love. The only thing that’s tricky about that is a lot of it is either unpublished or just really hard to find. Sometimes I have to be super investigative and look for scores outside the standard sources. Last season there was a piece on a Masterworks concert where the score ended up coming from the grandson of the composer.”

Once Katie has tracked down and obtained the scores for the season, she and her assistants diligently go through the process of distributing and preparing each instrument’s part for the pieces. “The music is first distributed to the string principals to do their bowings. I’ll give it first to our concertmaster Lauren Roth, and then I’ll give Joey, our principal second violinist his part and a copy of what Lauren has done, and on it goes all the way to our principal bass Jim [James Karrer].”

The sheet music with bowings then goes through the two library assistants, Laura Cásarez (also, assistant principal second violin) and Candy Amato (also assistant principal viola). They bow the parts for the full orchestra, which are then distributed for practice.  Typically, musicians pick up their music 2 weeks ahead of the first rehearsal for each concert cycle. Occasionally, musicians request music they are unfamiliar with or that they find particularly difficult months in advance.

Part of the challenge of performing music by underrepresented composers is that there tend to be more mistakes in the music due to a lack of access to editors. “It’s been a situation for the library world. For example, the composer Florence Price, because she was a black woman, was not afforded the same luxury of having someone to double check her work that white male composers typically had. Because of this, there were far fewer mistakes in their music. And for a long time her music wasn’t played that much, so I don’t think the publishers really wanted to invest in new sets because not many orchestras were playing them.” In recent years more orchestras have started programming Price and publishers have started to produce cleaner editions.

After the concert cycle has concluded, Katie either files the music in the TSO catalog or returns any music that has been rented. The music that is filed contains the markings, making the process a bit easier the next time the piece is performed. From time to time, though, this ends up not being the case. “Because publishers are constantly coming out with new editions or versions of scores and parts, which tend to be better and have mistakes fixed, we sometimes need to buy new versions of music we already own.”

If this all seems like a lot, consider that Katie and her team do this for every concert of the year! Next time you hear a TSO concert, you’ll know a bit more about the incredible work that goes into just getting the music ready.