As the principal orchestra librarian, Paul Beck’s job is to make sure that the Juilliard Orchestra, Opera, New Juilliard Ensemble, AXIOM, and Wind Orchestra have accurate and easy-to-use music for their rehearsals and performances. Born and raised in Wisconsin, he spent two years at the University of Milwaukee before transferring to the Manhattan School of Music, where he earned his bachelor’s in bassoon performance. Along the way he developed a passionate interest in baseball, and he played catcher—alternating with props mistress Kate Dale—on Juilliard’s division-championship softball team this year. Paul started working at Juilliard in 1999 as orchestra librarian, and then left to take a job as assistant librarian for the Metropolitan Opera Association in 2002, returning to the Juilliard fold in 2011 in his current job.
How does one become an orchestra librarian?
The orchestra librarian is almost always a former (or current) instrumentalist; it’s the best way to know and anticipate the needs of a performer. Attention to detail and a good memory are important assets for this type of work, as is a good knowledge of foreign languages, music theory, and music history. We are the second-best score readers, second only to the conductors, so we must be familiar with all instruments of the orchestra. We are exacting problem solvers, and our crusade is to make sure the printed music is never a hindrance to a performer. My job includes quite a bit of administrative work—renting and purchasing music, researching editions, and correcting or improving parts.
How did you prepare for the recent Juilliard Orchestra concert in which Edward Gardner conducted works by Knussen, Vaughan Williams, and Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2?
Maestro Gardner had heard from another conductor that there were copies of the string bowings for the Rachmaninoff in an archive at the Philadelphia Orchestra where the composer conducted the U.S. premiere, in 1909, and he asked me if I could track down the copies. (Orchestra librarians are responsible for copying the bowing indications for the strings into each part by pencil prior to the first rehearsal). I contacted colleagues in the Philadelphia Orchestra library and sadly couldn’t find these original bowings from Rachmaninoff’s own performance but it was fun trying to locate them. In the end we transferred in bowings from an earlier performance by the Juilliard Orchestra.
Another interesting fact about the Rachmaninoff Second Symphony is that it is so long in its original form (60 minutes) that the orchestra librarians are frequently asked to mark in cuts removing up to 20 minutes of music. The composer himself sanctioned the cuts. For the Juilliard Orchestra performance, however, Maestro Gardner performed the complete work without any cuts.
What’s the most memorable job you’ve had?
I worked as librarian for the house band for Sting’s last three Rainforest benefits at Carnegie Hall. In that capacity, I was in rehearsals with my favorite singer of all time, Elton John. I was also librarian for the first YouTube Symphony Orchestra, in 2009, which was quite a media frenzy.
What’s the craziest day at work you’ve had?
When I worked at the Met, sometimes the singers would change the key of certain arias. Within my first few weeks of work, Plácido Domingo called to advise which key he wanted, and I must say I was quite surprised to be speaking with him personally.
What has surprised you most about working at Juilliard?
That there are so many opportunities to
add value to the education of the students here from the vantage point of the orchestra library. I regularly work one-on-one with composers, conducting students, and instrumentalists.
What’s one of your favorite Juilliard memories?
In 2001, talking with Marvin Hamlisch (Pre-College ’63; faculty) about the Yankees for a while when he was here conducting our gala.
How do you balance your job and your artistic endeavors?
Although I don’t play bassoon any more, I find a creative outlet in the kitchen, and enjoy preparing elaborate dinner parties for friends—ideally with Italian ingredients I’d buy on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
I spent a lot of time detailing my classic car, a 1987 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham named Norma Jean, but, alas, I had to part ways with it in June. Another pursuit is that in the summers, I tour with the National Youth Orchestra of the United States and we recently started a vibrant apprentice program geared towards librarians and orchestra managers, which I am deeply connected to.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
It’s the best and worst of everything.
What are you listening to?
I’ve been revisiting Elton John’s double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. It’s one of the classic rock albums.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I seriously considered becoming a professional baseball umpire before my music industry career started. In both jobs, the person is a big part of the final product but not what the audience has paid money to see. In both jobs, the “talent” (baseball players and orchestra players) know the quality librarians and umpires. And on a few occasions, both umpires and librarians have a “solo” moment such as a called third strike in baseball, which can often be quite dramatic, or for orchestra librarians, when the conductor asks something of us in front of the orchestra during a rehearsal, such as making a cut change or a correction.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Everyone who works in the orchestra department is not only a skilled administrator, but is also passionate about educating the students and preparing them for professional orchestral jobs. We all encourage students to use us as a resource as they hone their skills on their instruments—but also in their networking and people skills.