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Meet the Musicians

Meet a Musician: Eric Sjostrom

Eric Sjostrom standing in Orchestra Hall.
Eric Sjostrom | Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash

Minnesota Orchestra musician since: 1978
Associate Principal Librarian
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Curtis Institute of Music

How do you find your way to a career as a music librarian?

The first thing to know about orchestra librarians is that we generally start out as performers. During high school, while I was studying at the Settlement Music School in Philadelphia, I played bassoon in a woodwind quintet, and the oboist connected me with a part-time job in the Philadelphia Orchestra’s library. I went on to Curtis to study bassoon with Sol Schoenbach, along with music theory, but after I graduated there weren’t any full-time bassoon jobs available. I interviewed for a librarian position at the Milwaukee Symphony and didn’t get the job—but the winner was Paul Gunther, who came from the Minnesota Orchestra, which freed up that position, and I won it in 1978. Eight years later Paul came back to Minnesota, and we worked together in the library for about three decades until his retirement.

Tell us a bit about the Orchestra’s other current librarians—Maureen Conroy and Valerie Little.

We’re a great team because I have a woodwind background, Maureen played a brass instrument, horn, and Valerie is a violist—so we have three major areas of expertise covered. But we have no qualms about going to our performer colleagues who are best able to answer questions about their particular sections.

How have developments in technology changed the work of the librarians?

A big part of the job is copying and preparing musicians’ parts and putting in things like string bowings, and computers are a great tool for that. We can work with Photoshop and music notation software to fix things instead of the old method: using whiteout, one part at a time. Photocopiers are also much more sophisticated than they used to be, and the sharing of files via PDF makes things so much easier.

What’s it like to work directly with contemporary composers on their scores and parts?

Many composers are very gracious about receiving help in translating what they write to make sure, for example, that all the page turns work, and they haven’t unknowingly written a note that’s not playable on a particular instrument. So we remind them about those things. Someone like [Dessa and Nur-D arranger] Andy Thompson is great to work with since he’ll remember these tips and the next time we see his music, the score and parts come in just the way we want them.

Sometimes at concerts a librarian will come onstage between pieces. What are you doing then?

Often one of us will pick up a score from the conductor’s dressing room and put it on their stand at transition moments like intermission or while stagehands are moving a piano. It’s a simple but important task. Once while Leonard Slatkin was conducting the Orchestra at O’Shaughnessy, he went onstage, one of my colleagues hadn’t brought out the score yet, and Leonard turned to the audience and explained that although he could conduct many pieces from memory, this wasn’t one of them.

Do you have any other standout concert memories?

I like to say that I once conducted part of the Orchestra at St. Benedict’s with Neville Marriner doing Mahler’s First Symphony, which calls for three offstage trumpet players. They were supposed to follow along on a closed-circuit camera, but it had been knocked out of position, so I peeked through a shell and mirrored Neville’s conducting so the trumpet players could see the beat for their entrance. Situations like that are one more reason you need to have a performance background to do this job.

What do you enjoy doing for fun?

I like to cook all the food in our house, which my wife really loves. She’s an active outdoors person and an avid bird watcher, so we do a lot of birding together. We also like to travel, sometimes to meet extended family members I’ve learned about through online ancestry sites. My paternal ancestral roots come from Åland, an autonomous region of Finland, and I’ve also connected with ancestors in Scotland on my mother’s side. I met a cousin for the first time at a concert on the Orchestra’s 2016 European tour, and that was really cool. I also listen to several podcasts about mysteries and spies.

From a librarian’s perspective, what makes a great concert?

It’s very different from other viewpoints: for the audience, a great concert is when it’s exciting and they’re just on the edge of their seat. For a librarian, a great concert is when nothing of note happens—that means we’ve done everything right in advance!

Speaking of audiences, what do you think makes Minnesota Orchestra concertgoers special?

When I look out, it seems we have a generous percentage of young people, and that bodes well for the future. There also seems to be a wide mix of some people who are very knowledgeable about the music and others who are just open to everything, and that’s really good too. We’re fortunate to live in an area where the public appreciates the quality of music. It makes us feel that what we’re doing is worthwhile.