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PDX OPERAbeat | A Company Blog is the blog for all things Portland Opera, featuring a variety of guest contributors who will provide insider's tidbits on all we do to celebrate the beauty and breadth of opera.

Building a Gala

Also Known As: What Has Been Driving Your Music Librarian Bonkers

These past few weeks have found me hurrying to finish the orchestra parts for our upcoming Big Night Gala Concert. Galas are notoriously one of a music librarian's biggest challenges. My boss likes to tell the story of how she was on the phone with a colleague, asking for advice about the concert, and that colleague said, "Whatever you do, don't say the word 'gala' in front of your librarian."

What makes it such a challenge? Unlike an opera (or a symphony), where the piece you're playing is ONE PIECE, published and bound, already put together for you, a gala is by its definition a collection of many pieces, from many different sources, stitched together into one evening. For the librarian, a normal opera is as "simple" (haha) as ordering a set of parts, marking them, and giving them to musicians. But for a gala concert, it goes more like this:

1. Wait for the program to be finalized.
2. Reconfirm no fewer than 6 times that this is REALLY the program, right?
3. Figure out what opera the arias are from (if they're not listed) and then whether or not you have parts to that opera on your shelves.
4. Figure out whether you can rent or buy the arias you don't already own.
5. Figure out what to do if you can't rent or buy the arias by themselves. Borrow music from other organizations, if necessary; this likely includes promises of returned favors, brownies, or booze.
6. Confirm again that this is really the program.
7. Pull all the relevant vocal scores from the shelves.
8. Figure out where the arias start and stop, because while often there is a standard performance practice, more often than not there are two or three standard performance practices, and Murphy's Law dictates that if you pick one, inevitably you're supposed to be using the other one.
9. Painstakingly copy from each individual orchestra part the relevant page or pages from each individual opera for each individual aria or chorus.
10. Clearly mark all start and end places for the musicians.
11. Double-check with four people that you're really starting and ending at these places?
12. Buy a lot of fancy 10" x 13" paper -- did you know that's standard orchestra music size? -- to create a nice performance set.
13. Spend eight hours at the copy machine, putting the parts together, hoping you haven't blacked out and put them in the wrong order.
14. Run out of paper on the last page of Horn IV, and figure you might as well go home and eat dinner.
15. Order more paper the next morning, and then become DELIGHTED when the paper company hand-delivers it to you.
16. Copy and hand-bind all the remaining parts, only to realize that you've put the violin parts in the wrong order.
17. Fret over everything.
18. Check the program again, thinking it's probably likely at this point that you've somehow forgotten an entire selection.
19. Put the parts out for the orchestra, who are by this point foaming at the mouth to get them.

At the end of this process, your office probably looks like this:

Building a Gala Photo 1

Building a Gala Photo 2

Building a Gala Photo 3

Building a Gala Photo 4

Building a Gala Photo 5

Building a Gala Photo 6

Building a Gala- Recycling

But! After something like 300-400 hours (yes, really), you at least get to walk away with these:

Building a Gala- Finished Product

If you're looking for me in the next few days, I'll be inside the giant fort I built out of all those music boxes.