Case Study is a new series in which we ask musicians to tell us a bit more about their approach to music making—and life!—by opening their instrument cases to us and letting us peek inside.

Today, we're looking at an often-invisible force within the orchestra: the music librarian. From Japanese pencils to waxed Irish linen thread, the seemingly bottomless bag of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra's music librarian Michael McCoy is filled with carefully chosen treasures.

Case Study: Music Librarian Michael McCoy
Photo and graphics by Dan Gomes
The contents of Michael McCoy's bag, with numeric labels

1. Laptop – This is the primary tool in Mike's bag of essentials, and he has lovingly crafted a leather protection sleeve for it. So even though this particular laptop is now a decade old, it's still kicking.

2. Pencils & Pens – But there is still a lot of analog work to do! Mike uses a variety of pencils and pens. These Japanese pencils have the unique characteristic of making dark marks that are also soft on paper and easy to erase. For permanent writing, he prefers micron pens of different sizes, which give him the ability to fill in fine details. They are also resistant to smudging, which is great for left-handed people like Mike!

3. Sharpener – Mike isn't particular with his pencil sharpener. As long as it's sharp and gets the job done, he is happy. 

4. Rulers – Two styles of rulers: The blue ruler is flexible, which allows for drawing nicely curved slurs in the music. The metal one is your standard straight ruler for more common uses. 

5. Staple Remover – Used to remove staples from music. Mike prefers this style over the "jaws of death," which—as that sobriquet indicates—often tear and damage paper. 

6. Erasers – These are Mike's best friends. Whenever he makes an error, he has a variety of erasers and white-out tape to make the necessary corrections. 

7. Notebook & Photo Strip – Mike always has this specialized notebook, which includes staff paper, to jot down his notes and musical edits in rehearsals. He also keeps a set of photo booth pictures the he and his wife took. 

8. Sewing Tools – This isn't your average sewing kit. Mike's includes special needles, hooks, an awl, waxed Irish linen thread, a binder clip, and scissors. He uses these tools to sew music parts and bind his own books.

9. Tape – Mike carries three varieties of tape. He prefers to use surgical grade 3M tape, which is durable yet not too rigid for binding the edges of his books. He also carries removable tape for more delicate applications. Lastly, he uses correctional tape to mask over and rewrite music when need be.

10. Headphones – When listening to or transcribing music, Mike's noise-canceling headphones allow him to tune out the world around him as he works.

11. Bag – Mike's go-to bag for his gear is a large weather-proof bag. This keeps all of his equipment dry as he lugs it around NYC, and is large enough to store several 11" x 17" music scores. 

12. Coffee Mug – Mike's fuel of choice is black coffee. Lots of it.

Case Study: Music Librarian Michael McCoy
Photo by Dan Gomes
Michael McCoy

About the Artist

During the academic year, you'll find Michael McCoy on staff at The Juilliard School, where he is the orchestra librarian. During the summer, he is an essential member of the Mostly Mozart Festival family!