Monday, June 6, 2016

Seattle Opera's very own music librarian

Emily Cabaniss. Photo by Genevieve Hathaway
Seattle Opera's Music Librarian Emily Cabaniss ensures that everyone who's part of creating an opera is well stocked with information. That way, we can all spend more time creating art, and less time trying to look up some obscure Russian libretto, for example!

What do you love most about your job?
I really enjoy the work that I do with our video archive. I’ve started an initiative to digitize our analog video that goes back to the founding of the company. Preserving that video and making it usable has been rewarding. Plus, it digitizes in real-time, which means at my desk I just have videos of old operas running during the day.

How does your work directly translate to what we see on the stage?
I provide scores and libretti to our production team before we get started. The lighting cues, entrances, etc. are all noted in the scores, and we do some planning based on our collection of audio CDs that I manage. Everyone has what they need to make this happen as far as three years in advance because of me.

What challenges do arts organizations face today, and how are you helping in your line of work? 
I think arts organizations are very prolific and numerous now, which is good because of this huge variety! But in other ways, the breadth of art available to us makes it harder to dig into our own artistic foundations. By preserving our work here and helping our staff access it, I like to think that I’m helping to keep us from reinventing the wheel, artistically. I am part of the equity team here at the Seattle Opera, too. Librarians are gatekeepers, in a way, but their job is to keep the gate open, so I see myself in that role as well.

Why does opera matter?
Opera is a great artistic home for the weird. Assassins and robot girlfriends and scheming manservants show up in opera and, because it’s so loud and grand, you’re just like, 'OK.' Opera teaches us how to say yes to what we’re seeing and be less cynical about the media we consume.

Why are you passionate about being a librarian? 
It’s my earnest belief that the cornerstone of a well-functioning democracy is an educated population. The library is a place where whatever your age, background, or current education, you can always learn. I think the most interesting thing about humans is that we never stop being curious. The library is free! The library will help you satisfy whatever curiosity you may have! And the public library is a place where no matter who you are, when you go there, you’re treated the same as everyone else, which matters a lot to me.

How did you get into this line of work?
I was born with a little gray bun and glasses on a chain and the nurse said to my mother, I’m so sorry, she’s a librarian.

Just kidding! Actually I started out shelving books at my local public library as a teenager, and when I went to college got my undergraduate degree with the intention of becoming a librarian. Right after my Bachelor’s degree, which was in art history, I went to the University of Washington and got my Master’s in Information and Library Science. This is my first job out of library school. I was working in the box office when I got hired!

What’s the most fun thing about going to the opera?
The music! I’ve loved seeing beautiful, well-known excerpts in their original context. When I was a teenager I would come to Seattle Opera all dressed up, with opera glasses, and use them to watch the orchestra.

Are people surprised to learn that the opera has a librarian?
Yes, both librarians and other opera companies are surprised at what I do here. I definitely have what’s known in the library field as a 'cool librarian' job.

What’s been the most memorable experience of your time here?
I actually can’t think of anything really interesting. Because so much of our archive is digital, I spend a lot of time banging my head against the wall messing around with video codecs. Sometimes I’ll spend days on a strange tech issue, then suddenly I figure it out. Those moments really make my week.

Anything else that’s neat that you have to say?
The first opera I saw as a kid was I Pagliacci and I pronounced it PAAG-li-akee and nobody said anything for days, probably because they didn’t want to embarrass me, but then I started working here and felt intense retroactive embarrassment so they did not succeed.