Librarian’s Corner: Photoshop Friday

Jo Groh and Ali Verderber working in the orchestra library

Known for its powerful image editing and design capabilities, Adobe Photoshop is commonly thought of as a tool for photographers, designers, and jokesters. Few might guess, though, that modern orchestra librarians also work the program’s magic to get music on stands.

“We use Photoshop for real, not just for ridiculous inspirational photos that I make,” Jo Groh assures me as she pulls up various “Photoshop Friday” projects that she and Alison Verderber, our orchestra librarians, work on to practice their Photoshop skills.

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most frequently used tools in the librarians’ arsenal, next to the plethora of pens, pencils, and erasers that they use to clean, erase, and mark scores.  They use it for three main things: cleaning, making errata fixes [publisher errors in scores], and rearranging parts.

“The first thing I usually do is adjust the brightness and contrast,” Ali explains. “If you set the brightness down and the contrast up, it’s easier to see where you need to fill things in. Then I use the marquee tool to take out the biggest chunks of things that need to be removed, like all of the edges. Then I usually straighten it using the crop tool, and go through and erase and darken things. I also use the pen tool to make straight lines if I need to fill in any staff lines. Sometimes if a note is really messed up and it occurs somewhere else in the music, I just copy it from where it’s okay and paste it right on top.”

She goes through this process on each page of a score she prepares, individually adjusting notes and lines of music so that they are clean, straight, and easy to read.

“There is a super fancy way to clean everything at once that I haven’t quite figured out yet,” Jo adds. “If you make multiple layers of the same terrible scan, you can fiddle with the pixel recognition and have it remove all the pixels that aren’t ink, so that it’ll take out everything that’s graphite. But it’s a little above my head right now; I need to sit down and learn it.”

As Jo notes, Photoshop’s intended use isn’t music prep and editing. Since Photoshop is a fairly new tool in the orchestra library field, classes aren’t yet offered specifically geared towards librarians’ everyday work. For our librarians, this means that they need to spend time learning on their own.

“We watch a lot of YouTube videos and look stuff up on Google and post to forums asking questions. That’s part of the reason we do Photoshop Fridays, even though they’re not serious. It really helps because we can apply the tricks we learn on those projects to what we do for part prep.”

Part of the reason for the lack of educational materials is the field’s slow adaptation to technology. However, many librarians are starting to incorporate technology into their work.

“I think as a profession, it’s changing. With everything that’s happening with technology in general and how music is being written, we need to adapt. A lot of music now is born digital, so we need to know how to manipulate it digitally because that’s just how it exists. It’s gaining momentum so it’ll be interesting for sure to see what happens. I’m excited for it.”

“More and more of us are going to have to learn how to use Photoshop and become comfortable with it,” Ali jumps in. “I had no Photoshop experience before working here, and Jo had minimal experience on a much older version, but now we use it nearly every day. Once you get used to it, it becomes so second nature and it makes such a cleaner product that you ask yourself, ‘Why would I not use this?’”