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Library Dedication Party.
Photos by Greg Anderson

Near the end of the MSO’s 2009-2010 season, John Peterson generously endowed the MSO’s Music Library. This endowment means that the MSO can continue to maintain and build one of its greatest assets. Comprising more than 900 symphonic and choral works, the collection contains pieces by some of the greatest artists in western civilization. This gift will defray some of the expenses involved in maintaining the collection, including library rent, administrative and shipping costs, and music purchases and rentals.

We recently spoke with John Peterson about his gift....

MSO: What does this endowment mean to you? Why did you choose the Music Library?
Peterson: I’ve wanted to do something for the Symphony for more than three years now. I had initially thought that I might get involved as a concert sponsor, but in talking to Rick [Mackie], I learned about the Music Library. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the library but I quickly learned how critical the library is to performances. After I made the decision to endow it, I spent time with the MSO librarian who showed me the collection and explained why it is so important and special. Although I had had some dealing with publishing houses in the past, I did not know that the estates of some composers still collected royalties for each performance of their works. I decided it was a very good place to put some of my money, and it looks to be a success.

MSO: What does the Symphony mean to you?
Peterson: It’s become a part of my life, and I see it as part of the life of the community as well. I see so many people who are involved and that means a lot to me. I think the MSO’s educational programs are very important because, if we can interest children at an early age, we’ll have a dynamic group of musicians and audiences for future generations. I’m a relative late-comer to symphonic music. I played trombone in high school and college bands and sang in a church choir at my mother’s insistence, but it wasn’t until I became interested in the creation of Overture Hall that I decided I’d like to check out what was happening there. So I went to my first Symphony concerts and kind of got hooked. Over the past years I’ve come to appreciate symphonic music more than I ever had in the past, and it’s a very current interest of mine.

MSO: Why is this kind of giving so important?
Peterson: I think those of us who do Have funds, who are able to provide support, are doing a great deal to sustain the culture, and maintain the vitality of the arts throughout the nation. I understand that, in its budget class, the MSO is one of the best symphonies in the country. I feel that it is an outstanding group and I want it to continue.

MSO: Music is alive in a way that no other art form is; through interpretation and performance, it is reborn for each succeeding generation. And unlike a da Vinci or a Chagall, it is alive and accessible to people from all walks of life throughout the world. In essence, you’ve endowed a living art collection.
Peterson: That’s it; you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s exactly what I feel. The art form is international in scope, which I like very much. I wanted to provide some support for the Music Library to be available for generations to come.

The work of MSO Music Librarian Kathryn Taylor and her assistants is essential to the quality of MSO performances. She works with John DeMain, guest conductors and soloists to research and select editions, receives bowings from the concertmaster and transfers them to all string parts, corrects mistakes and provides music to the musicians well in advance of the first rehearsals for both Symphony concerts and operas.

MSO: Why is the music library so important to the MSO?
Taylor: You can’t have a performance without printed music. Having a collection represents the core repertoire of symphonic music is vital to every performance at every symphony orchestra. Owning and maintaining the collection allows for easy access to the music that we need. It’s an investment, ensuring that we don’t have to pay to rent the music every time we perform it.

It also preserves the artistic vision of conductors and music directors. Composers indicate bowings for strings and articulation for winds and brass along with dynamics and tempo in their scores, but many markings are prepared at the library level. For each performance of a work, the concertmaster marks the appropriate bowings for the first violins, and each string principal prepares the bowings for their section in accordance with those. Some music directors, particularly if they are string players, provide their own markings, but John DeMain relies on the principal strings for their expertise.

MSO: What does this endowment mean to the Symphony?
Taylor: It means that the library will be preserved and will continue to supply the needs of the Symphony well into the future. I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen to this collection; the funds will be there for a long time to make sure it’s preserved. I feel so honored that someone recognizes its importance to the Symphony and is guaranteeing its sustainability.

MSO: What’s special about the MSO’s Music Library?
Taylor: It’s been in development since the 1920s. We were fortunate in our founders, who recognized the importance of a good music library to a symphony. Our collection includes nearly 800 symphonic works and 100 choral works, and there are editions that were orchestrated in the US during World War II, when music could not be purchased from Germany.

It also includes some manuscript music, meaning sheets that were handwritten by music director Sigfreid Prager for instruments that were not originally intended by the composers. These were used during the war years when so many men were at war that there was a shortage of musicians. If Prager didn’t have enough bassoonists, for instance, he created parts for saxophone or bass clarinet to fill in.

MSO: What do you like best about being a music librarian?
Taylor: I like being able to collaborate with the artistic vision of the music director and guest conductors to provide them and my fellow musicians with the best tools so they can do their jobs well. Music that is well-prepared, marked and distributed in advance of rehearsals means that individual musicians can master their parts, leaving the Music Director free to use rehearsal time to bring the artistic vision to life.

Through my involvement in the Major Orchestra Librarian’s Association (MOLA), the Symphony and our collection get worldwide acknowledgment.

MSO: What was it like to move the collection?
Taylor: I’ve actually moved this collection twice; it was housed at the MATC downtown campus and was moved to a different room before it came to the Symphony office. Part of the collection is housed in large movable shelving units; they’re more than nine feet tall and they move along rails installed in the floor to allow access. So the room here was specifically designed to house it.

There were just a few glitches when we moved to this location: first the shelving would not fit in the elevator and had to be carried up four flights of stairs. Then, the shelving would not turn the corner out of the stairwell, so a large hole was cut in the wall, and the shelves were hoisted from the stairwell through the wall into the library. It was fortunate that the stairwell door was directly across from the library wall. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise.

MSO: What else can you tell us about music libraries?
Taylor: The artistic visions and interpretations of famous conductors are preserved in orchestral collections. If a conductor, say Leonard Bernstein, had very specific markings, those are kept intact as a reference for researchers who are studying his interpretations. And it’s not just bowings that are marked; articulations for winds and brass, dynamics, tempo and other interpretative musical indications are also marked by some conductors, so when a music director comes back to a work, all those are preserved, and the musicians know what to expect.

MSO: What is the collection worth?
Taylor: That’s almost impossible to answer. I can tell you that owning symphonic works is an investment in the future of the Symphony; it saves future rental fees. Right now, works tend to enter the public domain after 75 years. We have to rent works that are still under copyright; they’re not available for purchase. For instance, we had to rent the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for our season finale concert in 2009-2010. In general most 20th century works are still under copyright; for instance, the works of Stravinsky are just now coming into the public domain. Music costs are always rising; a Mozart overture might cost around $175 while a major symphony can cost almost $1,800 and a choral work might cost more than $2,200.

The MSO Music Library collection had its start in the 1920s and found a home at MATC in 1927. In 2007, our partnership with MATC came to its natural close, and the care of this fragile and dynamic resource became the sole responsibility of the Symphony. Our founders, a group of civic-minded music lovers, believed that a well-maintained library is the cornerstone of orchestral presentations; without printed music, there can be no performance. As a result of this belief and more than eighty years of growth and maintenance, the library has become a core asset of the Symphony.

The music library collection is a repository of great art. The souls of some of the greatest artists ever produced by western civilization live in the thousands of pages housed at the MSO Library. It is an enormous task to maintain this collection. The artistic vision of the music director expresses the notation of the printed music for the orchestra. While the library holds many musical compositions, the collection is constantly growing with new acquisitions made each season. The choices regarding the purchase of music are made very carefully. Editions are researched and purchase is often determined by the Music Director, guest conductors and/or soloists. These acquisitions are processed and carefully cataloged. The integrity of music sets must be preserved with all instrumental parts remaining complete.