All About The Schermerhorn Symphony Center Part 1

Regular Adaptistration readers know that the Nashville Symphony’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center (SSC) project has been the focus of several articles here since 2003. Those articles have examined just about everything there is to know behind how and why their new facility’s evolution. Now that the SSC is a reality it is time to take a detailed look into as many nooks and crannies as we can to see exactly what those labors have produced…

In particular, most articles about new concert facilities focus on only the concert hall and some of the spaces directly connected, such as lobbies and box offices. But wouldn’t you rather learn about everything else? Wouldn’t it be a treat to actually see what the administrative offices, backstage facilities, and musician spaces look like and learn more about why they were designed the way they are?

This series of articles is going to deliver answers to all of those questions and the subject for this first installment is the SSC’s music library.

The Show Doesn’t Go On Without The Librarian

The art of music librarianship has progressed exponentially in the past decade, fueled by an increased level of professionalism and technological advancements. At the same time among all of the components within an organization, music library facilities are often the most varied and least likely to reflect those recent advancements.

Additionally, music librarians are among the more unique of St. Cecilia’s servants. St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music and the blind and this particular combination works well for music librarians since the best of them are accomplished musicians and they are often forced to toil away in dark, dingy facilities.

In the case of the SSC’s music library, they’ve been able to elevate the status of the facility to a key element contributing to operational efficiency. I stopped by the library facilities to talk to the Nashville Symphony’s music librarians; principal music librarian Wilson Ochoa and assistant music librarian, Jennifer S. Goldberg.

Wilson said the new facilities are everything he could have hoped for.

NSO principal music librarian Wilson Ochoa
NSO principal music librarian Wilson Ochoa

“Mark Blakeman, our general manager, approached me when we were in the design stages of the hall to get my input on what our music library facilities needed,” said Wilson. “He expressed that they already wanted to design something that allowed us to grow with the future since we entirely ran out of space in our old music library. Now we have our music and the entire chorus library housed in this single facility and we only have three out of four storage shelves filled.”

NSO music librarian Jennifer Goldberg

Those main storage shelves are one of the most unique components within the music library. Standing 10′ tall, each of the four shelves are mounted on motorized carriages, allowing them to butt against one another when not in immediate use.

“Even though the library is a 600 square foot room, the unique design of these shelves gives us a lot of useable space,” said Wilson.

Motorized Shelves
Motorized Shelves

It only takes a few seconds for each carriage to move into place and the librarians use a nearby step ladder to reach the top shelves. The library will need the additional room since the organization has expanded their service count by 44 in the first year alone. The photo to your right shows a fully loaded motorized shelf (click to enlarge).

Let There Be Light

let there be lightGone are the days of being relegated to subterranian quarters, the new music library features an ample amount of sunlight. Both Wilson and Jennifer were quick to point out that the new library has seven windows, all facing north and if they have the entrance door open a window on the other side of the hallway brings in even more light from the south. The photo to your left shows the two different window sizes (click to enlarge).

an office with a viewTo emphasize how important windows were to Wilson, he said the motorized shelves were #2 on his priority list and windows were #1. “It’s a real thrill to have a workspace where you can see the weather and the world,” said Wilson as he pointed out the view of the SSC courtyard from the window next to his desk, as shown in the picture to your left (click to enlarge).

Nashville_Muisc_Library_11_resizeThe room is configured to maximize surface area as both librarian stations are located on the west wall adjacent to each other. One of the features Wilson believed might be cut from the final construction phase was the multiple levels of built-in cabinetry. Nevertheless, Wilson walked into the library one day during the construction process and found them waiting for him, exactly as he asked them to be built.

Library workstations
Library workstations

“I got everything I asked for in this library, nothing was left out,” said Wilson. “I have enough modular shelving space to lay out an entire season at once and we even have under-cabinet storage space to keep shipping boxes out of our way but on hand as needed.”

Location, Location, Location

Nashville Symphony Music Library
Nashville Symphony Music Library

When I asked Wilson why the library wasn’t located in the same wing as the rest of the administration offices he said it was more important for them to be close to the stage so they can be on-hand as soon as possible when needed.

Another key point about the library’s location inside the building is minimizing transportation issues. Currently, the librarians don’t have a single stair step or elevator ride to contend with when moving music to the loading docks for run-out programs or to deliver music to the musician’s lounge. All the librarians have to do is load the music onto a rolling cart and they’re off.

Even though the library is apart from the main administrative offices, Wilson said keeping in touch about logistical issues is working out wonderfully.

“Communication here between the library and other administrative components is great,” said Wilson. “Our artistic operations department is comprised of 12 people and we have weekly meetings to make sure everything is on-track and taken care of.”

Musician music storage drawers
Musician music storage drawers

Another time saving feature Wilson asked the designers to incorporate was separate drawers where they can file individual music folders for upcoming services. The built-in drawers are located directly behind the stage and mere steps from the musician’s lounge and locker rooms.

“The Seattle MOLA conference showed me how useful having built-in drawers by the players lounge available to them 24 hours a day would be,” said Wilson. “The only thing the players have to approach us for is anything not in the folders already.”

Jennifer agreed that the thoughtful design of the library facilities allows them to operate as efficiently as possible.

“It’s a great place to work and the facilities are first rate,” said Jennifer. “Having windows is wonderful and being so close to the musicians allows us to do our job well.”

A serious copierOf course, what music library photo tour wouldn’t be complete without a picture of one of the most important pieces of equipment in the music librarian’s arsenal.

I invite you to return tomorrow for Part 2 where we’ll continue our tour of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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