Temple alumna to ‘shine a light’ as Philadelphia Orchestra librarian

Nicole Jordan will begin as the principal librarian in the 2020-2021 season.

Nicole Jordan, a 2011 music history alumna, will be the new principal librarian for the Philadelphia Orchestra beginning this 2020-2021 season. | PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA / COURTESY

Despite just packing up and heading to Atlanta, 2011 music history alumna Nicole Jordan is once more on her way back to Philadelphia. 

“I feel like the universe kind of guides you to where you’re supposed to be,” Jordan said. “My life has just weaved me in and out of Philadelphia.”

This time, she’ll be coming back as the principal librarian for the Philadelphia Orchestra, and will be the first Black woman to have a full-time member role. 

The orchestra announced her appointment on June 16. She will transfer from her role as the principal librarian for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in September as the 2020-21 season begins.

As principal librarian, Jordan, who graduated with a master’s in music history, will make sure every musician on stage gets the correct piece of music at showtime, as well as maintain the orchestra’s music library.

“I want to show that people who look like me, who are African American, can do this role, too, that there is nothing really to stop you except maybe your belief that it’s not for you,” Jordan said.

“You would probably be insane to not want to at least try,” Jordan said.

Jordan didn’t think she would be coming back home to Philadelphia for her career, but when the position opened and an opportunity at the orchestra presented itself, she took it, she said.

During her graduate school years at Temple, Jordan was introduced to the Orchestra’s fellowship program and music librarianship. She was a librarian fellow for the Philadelphia Orchestra from 2008 to 2011, learning how to gather, organize and distribute the music every performer in the orchestra requires at showtime.

“Once I got into the position and really got to explore it, I knew right then and there, this is what a career calling is,” Jordan said.

She coupled her fellowship work with graduate classes in music history and research, covering various eras and genres, like baroque and opera. Music studies professors like Steven Zohn and Stephen Willier taught her to appreciate the high level of scholarship they offered, she said. 

“It’s immensely gratifying to watch a student spread their wings and grow to be so successful,” said Zohn. “She’s worked many years and very hard to be where she is.”

But Jordan’s initial time working closely with the Philadelphia Orchestra was during her senior year of high school, when she got the chance to play in a side-by-side performance. She remembers Judy Geist, the first woman to chair the Philadelphia Orchestra’s viola section, leading their sectional practice and sitting next to violist Che-Hung Chen.

“I remember being overwhelmingly happy that I got to have this experience,” Jordan said.

Due to Philadelphia’s ordinance to cancel large gatherings in response to COVID-19, all orchestra events and performances scheduled for the 2019-20 season have been canceled. Because of these circumstances, Jordan’s auditioning process for the role was done virtually, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Willier, who taught Jordan’s opera based classes, remembered the “enthusiasm and pride” Jordan took in her work, he wrote in an email to The Temple News.

As a librarian, Jordan will work to integrate more technology into their system to help the orchestra evolve and grow, she said.

“I want to shine a light on some of these roles that are behind the stage and no one knows anything about, and how critical they are to a performance,” Jordan said. “Orchestral librarians, you don’t know we exist, and I really would like to have the opportunity to showcase that a little more and put it out in the open.”

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