Orchestra librarians want you to know about instrument names

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Editor’s note: This is part of a new collaboration with Orchestration Online, where we will publish their videos on Scoring Notes along with a complete transcript and links to further resources. Thank you to Thomas Goss for collaborating with us and making these terrific videos! — Philip


This post is a transcript of the video published on the YouTube channel of Orchestration Online, a resource for composers and orchestrators.

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Transcript: Orchestra librarians want you to know about parts paper sizes

Hey there, this is your orchestration tutor Thomas Goss. Many of my tips share the perspective of professional orchestral musicians, so that my viewers and readers can make more informed decisions about their scoring. But there’s one essential member of the organization who I’ve yet to focus on for their own sake: the orchestra librarian.

Just as much as we orchestrators should think of how each musician will play each staff in the score, we should also consider the needs of orchestra management when we finalize our work. What we do, or fail to do, may have consequences all the way down the line, right up to the point at which our music is sitting on the stands and even beyond. Developing composers sometimes become impatient with what they see as a bunch of unnecessary rules and regulations that an orchestra might require before agreeing to perform their music. But the simple truth is that a lot of what defines a score as a professionally finalized work is its ability to be quickly processed through the system so that rehearsals and performances go as smoothly as possible.

With all this in mind, it’s my pleasure to present a new series about things that orchestra librarians want you to know: why certain procedures that an accomplished composer or arranger takes are so vital to their job in making a work ready for the musicians and conductor. And what kind of havoc occurs when those procedures are missing or poorly finalized.

Let’s start with instrument names and numbers. Ideally, an orchestral work should start with an instrumentation page that lists all the musicians that will be performing. This tells the librarian and the orchestra manager who they will need to hire for the program, and any special circumstances such as auxiliary instruments for winds and brass. Ideally, each percussion instrument should be listed here – though it’s usually not necessary to tell each percussionist which instrument to play, as they’ll often make their own decisions as a section how to divide the instruments between them. Finally, unless this is a reduced work, or there are some other special concerns, there’s no need to indicate how many players on each string instrument. Most concert orchestras will just assign the maximum amount of string players available.

 

This page should be followed by the first page of score. Just like the instrumentation list, this page should include all the instruments that will be used in the piece, including doublings. In multi-movement works, the first page of each movement should include only those instruments that will be used in that movement – rather than all instruments for the entire piece. Percussion can be boiled down a single line, or just the instruments that are being used at start of piece – so long as the entire battery of instruments and number of players are included on the instrumentation page. Make sure to indicate how many of each wind or brass player on each instrument, if those instruments are sharing a staff in the full score. This information gets left out in a lot of beginning orchestrator’s scores, and can really mess up the process for the librarian. It’s never enough to just say “flutes” and “trumpets” on a first page of score. You must always say how many.

A fully detailed first page may seem to be redundant if you already have an instrumentation page; and indeed some very large works in the standard repertoire neglect the convention of including all the instruments on the first page, relying solely on the list that comes before it. But you cannot rely on the instrumentation list to be the only part of the process that indicates the size of your orchestra, especially if you’re not yet an established composer. The first page of your score should be as clear to the conductor and score-reader about the orchestra numbers as the instrumentation list is clear to orchestra management.

Without the aforementioned procedures, the system hits an immediate snag. Someone will have to look through every page of your score and compare it to the parts you’ve supplied – and if you’ve forgotten a part, nobody might find out until the one and only rehearsal. Or if you forget to list instrument doublings for auxiliaries, management may get the idea that your score requires more players than are available. Any impression that a score lacks basic clarity or is asking for too much may cause it to be passed over – even if its composer is fairly well established.

Another thing that causes no end of headaches for librarians are orchestral templates when they’re used carelessly. Notation applications often supply ready-made templates with which composers may score out their ideas – but when those composers fail to delete unused staves, their scores can end up looking much bigger than they really are. The librarian may waste precious time trying to locate parts that don’t exist, just because those blank staves appear on page one. This can also happen when the composer creates their own templates, whether it’s their own standard template – or one which includes all the available instruments in a call for scores. So make sure that you proofread for unused instruments any time that a template is involved. Or simply don’t use a template at all, and just start with instruments you know you’re going to use.

Speaking of calls for scores – the orchestra librarian may very well represent the front line in the process of weeding out scores. No matter how clearly the announcement states the available orchestral numbers, the librarian may still receive dozens of scores that require too many instruments, or unavailable resources such as a choir or virtuoso soloists. Please be aware that no matter how inspired and worthy of being performed such a score may be, there simply isn’t time or money available for the management of the orchestra to make an exception in your case. So edit down your instrumentation and hope for the best. Also be aware that an open call will result in many many entries. Any special attention that scores require may add up exponentially to the point where everyone along the chain of approval simply runs out of time and rejects anything for the slightest bending of the rules.

We’ll cover some of this in our next installment – but one last urgent concern about instrument names is that they should appear on every page of every instrument part, along with the name of the piece and a page number. It wouldn’t hurt to have the composer’s name included as well, just in case of similarly-named pieces – and for your own sake as creator of the music or the arrangement.

Chapters to come in this series: Orchestra Librarians Want You to Know About…

  • Parts Paper Sizes
  • Format & Page Turns
  • Cues & Repeat Bars
  • Bowing & Divisi
  • Percussion Parts & Scores
  • Proofing Parts
  • The Orchestra Librarian’s Process

Comments

  1. ENRIQUE SANCHEZ

    Gosh! This was excellent, helpful and valuable information! Thank you!

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