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A coffee with Austin Symphony Orchestra librarian Jeanne Rogers

Luke Quinton

Judging by the view from her office above Waller Creek, this is one of the better librarian gigs that Jeanne Rogers has had.

As the new full-time librarian for the Austin Symphony Orchestra, Rogers, with short, cropped hair and a reflexive grin, is excited about settling into the job as the orchestra celebrates its centennial year.

Cabinets in the triangular room conceal stacks of bulky manila envelopes. Each one holds all the musical parts for a single piece.

It's a job with peculiar challenges. There are small heaps of music on the countertop, waiting to be sorted. Rogers opens a cabinet with a single bare spot. "That's all the space I have," she says. The stacks are about to shift to a brightly lit room that Rogers hopes will be more accessible.

Not all libraries are this charming.

Earlier this decade, Rogers was cloistered below Bates Recital Hall, in the University of Texas music school's Performance Library.

"Every morning, for five years, some little organist would get up in Bates and turn the organ on full power and start practicing organ for four hours. So I don't like organ music anymore," she says, laughing.

A symphony librarian is an invisible cog in the orchestra's wheel. But "librarian" is a bit of a misnomer. Rogers isn't just locating the right music. She's also curating it: procuring the most accurate score, correcting errors, adding rehearsal marks and bowings, and transcribing handwritten scores on the computer.

Over the tortilla soup next door at Serranos in Symphony Square, Rogers begins talking about her path back to Austin.

She followed a friend to São Paulo, Brazil, where she taught English and later spent three weeks hiking through Patagonia. "The people are so vibrant," she says, adding, "Stay away from the gangs, and you're fine."

Rogers was raised in Houston and trained as a violist. When the family moved to New Braunfels, Rogers rode to San Antonio every day with her father to attend a school with a string program.

"Once upon a time I used to be a good violist," Rogers says. "I never hit the big time." Still, she was good enough to play in San Antonio, then the ASO and Austin Lyric Opera for eight years, when she first worked as the symphony's librarian.

Her first crack at the stacks came about 20 years ago, in Napa Valley, where she was principal violist for a small orchestra. The librarian position opened and paid a little extra, so she took it on. "I have enjoyed the money ever since — not like a Rockefeller or anything," she says, with a musician's sense of humor.

Rogers also lived in Mexico, where she auditioned — on violin — for an orchestra in the Yucatán peninsula. From there to the Seattle Symphony as substitute librarian, she received real instruction on the craft.

Perhaps it has never occurred to you to ask how a conductor's score comes to be waiting on the podium. It turns out that the librarian is tasked with transporting the score from dressing room to the stand. This job led to her zipping up the dress of singer Marilyn Horne (who gave her an autograph) and catching one conductor off-guard and under-dressed.

It varies for each piece, but for a standard concert, "I'm probably looking at about 30 hours of prep work," Rogers says. High school concerts take even longer to prepare. Operas require knowledge of Italian, German and French.

After making do without a full-time librarian for some time, it seems the ASO is just happy to have her back. "Somebody even brought me chocolate yesterday. I had taken care of a part for her that was completely falling apart, and she needed it transposed."