Melissa McCarthy Steinberg

Melissa_McCarthy_SteinbergMelissa McCarthy Steinberg

Principal Librarian

Hometown: North Easton, Massachusetts
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 2016
Where did you work prior to joining the Nashville Symphony?
I was performance librarian for New England Conservatory for 10 years. Before that, I was the principal librarian of the Virginia Symphony. And prior to that, I had various freelance jobs as a cellist and librarian, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra library for 15 years and the Orchestra of Indian Hill in Littleton, Mass., where I played and was librarian.
What made you want to be a musician?
I’ve always wanted to be in music. I started very young, singing in choirs, and by age 10 I was organist for my parents’ church. I played violin for a couple years — which was horrible — and switched to cello when I was 11. I heard a recording of Rostropovich playing Dvořák’s Cello Concerto and told my teacher, “I’m not going to quit until I play that piece.” And my teacher said, “Good, because you’re going to be playing for a long time.” I went on to get two performance degrees in cello.
How did you wind up as a music librarian?
I always wanted to work in a library because I love reading and music. My freshman year at Boston University, I needed a work-study job, and the closest library was in the music building. I spent six years at BU and worked in the orchestra library from day one.
What is the role of a music librarian?
A librarian makes sure that the right piece of paper is in front of the right person at the right time. But to get to that point, any piece of music onstage has to go through the library. The music doesn’t come to life until it comes through the library and through our hands. You couldn’t have a concert if you didn’t have the music, so you need someone who really understands the score and the different needs of the composer, conductor and players.
What do you like about your job?
I like putting things in order. Even back in high school, I wanted my music to be cleaned up and written on the way I wanted to see it. When I was discovered there was a whole career path involved with that, it was very exciting. I love just physically handling the music and making it look as beautiful and as clear as you want it to sound. As a musician, it’s really fun and satisfying to go through that whole process, from finding the right version and getting it cleaned up, copied and marked, to getting it out on the stage and getting to hear it played — or sometimes getting to play it myself.
What interested you in the Nashville Symphony?
New England Conservatory is a very exciting place to be, but we do a lot of standard repertoire, and I missed doing other kinds of music. So I’d been wanting to branch out and find a position where I could flex a different set of chops. It’s one thing to do Brahms symphonies. It’s another thing to do Brahms one week, the Cinderella ballet another week, and then Ben Folds another week. To do all different kinds of things as a librarian, you get to use different skill sets for each kind of music. And Nashville’s a great place to be for music in general, so that was really appealing.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I love to read, cook, crochet and go out and explore stuff with my family. But being a musician, my work and life are all tangled together. I like to go to concerts, but I like to play concerts and I like to work concerts. If I’m working a concert, I might be making a scarf or a hat or a blanket, or if I’m at home cooking, I’ll listen to music that I need to be practicing.
Why does classical music matter?
Classical music is the foundation of all Western music. It comes from the same 12 notes, which is amazing to me. You can follow it back through history and up to modern times, and it’s all from the human experience. That makes it so breathtaking in scope when you look at how much music there is and how many different styles. I can as easily jam out to Mahler’s First on the stereo as I can listening to Hamilton with my kids. It’s all based on the same thing, and it’s all human expression. It’s beyond words to me.
What something people might not know about you from reading your bio?
I tend to unconsciously sing along to whatever I’m listening to when I’m working. I’ll be working in the music library, and I’ll be belting out something and not realizing I’m doing it. My eldest son does it as well.
Favorite composer: It depends on the day. Today I’m listening to Mahler and Stravinsky, so I’ll say Mahler and Stravinsky!
Favorite piece of music: My list would be endless. Today it includes Schubert’s Trout Quintet, Mahler’s Second and The Rite of Spring. I can get into any Stravinsky Ballet at any moment, and Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin is amazing.
Favorite non-classical musician: Ella Fitzgerald
First concert you attended: Boston Symphony Orchestra youth concert at age 10 or 11
First record you owned: The Muppets Christmas album or the soundtrack to Annie
Favorite venue: Probably Jordan Hall in Boston, where I worked for the last 10 years
Favorite sports team: Red Sox — that’s required if you’re from Boston!
Favorite movie: The Sound of Music and The Blues Brothers
Favorite book: Impossible to name, but I’m a huge Harry Potter fan
Favorite food: Chocolate, coffee and tea
Favorite TV show: I probably know every word to every Friends episode, and The Simpsons, but only seasons 1-10