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  • Writer's picturemissy curl

5 Questions with a Musician: Lisa Shiota

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Hi everyone,

Welcome to the INAUGURAL “5 Questions with a Musician” blog post! I have had the absolute pleasure of interviewing a really special musician and music librarian: Lisa Shiota!

I know Lisa through my research internship at the Boulanger Initiative. Lisa is the Director of Research at the Boulanger Initiative and she is a Music Cataloger at The Library of Congress (probably one of the coolest jobs on the planet!) She is also a clarinetist and an incredibly kind and intelligent person. Here’s what she has to say (well, really, type, since she answered these questions over email):

1) When did you discover your passion for Music Librarianship, and how did your journey lead you to becoming a Music Cataloger at the Library of Congress?

It's funny-- I majored in music, and I worked in a library for one of my work-study jobs in graduate school, but it didn't even occur to me to put the two together until well after I had graduated! After graduate school, I taught private lessons in clarinet and saxophone part-time at a community music school in the Philadelphia area while I worked full-time at a music store. I then worked as a temporary administrative assistant for various organizations, including the American Musicological Society. One of my duties for AMS was to help with their annual meeting. While I was in the exhibit area, I met a music librarian at the Music Library Association table, who told me that music librarianship was a possible career option. I later applied to a master's in library and information science program, worked as an administrative assistant at the school during the day, and took classes at night. I graduated after two years and landed my first library job as an electronic resources librarian. A couple of years later, I accepted a job as a music cataloger for the Curtis Institute of Music. I would have stayed there, but I was encouraged to look for other jobs. In 2009, I started a position as a Reference Specialist in the Library of Congress's Music Division, and then in 2015, transferred to music cataloging.

2) What do you believe are the most important skills and attributes that you possess that have led you to success in your life as a musician and a music librarian?

One of the common attributes between a musician and a music librarian is the desire to share with people. As a musician, I want to share the music I play with other people. As a music librarian, I want to help others find what they need so that they can perform, study, or research music. Both musicians and librarians need to know how to work together and listen to each other-- musicians with other musicians in an ensemble, librarians with other librarians in a library, and even musicians with librarians to learn more about music. I try to listen and engage with people as best as I can.

3) How do you strike a happy and healthy balance in your life between your work as a Music Cataloger, your work with the Boulanger Initiative, and making time for performing as a clarinetist?

It's a delicate balance! Right now, I'm trying to stick to a schedule of doing my cataloging work during the day, my work with the Boulanger Initiative in the afternoon, and practicing music in the evening. Sometimes projects and deadlines change my schedule quite a bit, but I do my best to make sure I devote some time to all components, as well as making sure to give myself some downtime!

4) Which parts of being a musician have served you the most in your life? (I know, super open-ended!) 

Being able to listen analytically and noticing patterns, I think, help me a lot with critical thinking and decision making. Spending time in the practice room has helped me become disciplined and focused on tasks at hand. I've been told I'm a good judge of character, and I think much of that comes from picking up non-verbal cues, which musicians are trained to be sensitive to.

5) What advice might you have for a young person who is pursuing music as a career (music librarianship or otherwise)?

With the recent events surrounding COVID-19, a word I'm hearing a lot of is "pivoting." I think that really applies to anyone who is looking to start a career. There are many ways of making music as a career-- have an idea of what you'd like to do, but be open to other ideas and opportunities that present themselves that you may not have considered at first. Talk to people in different fields. Learn and do as much as you can, as deeply as you can. The one thing I've learned late in life is that you don't need to be doing music full-time in order to be a musician. You just need to keep doing music consistently, in addition to the other things you're doing. I realize that I am lucky that I can support myself financially and am also able to do something I love.

**Bonus: Is there anything else that you would like to add?

More recently, I've been learning how to play musical instruments of my Japanese/Japanese-American heritage. I've been learning and performing on taiko (Japanese drum) and shinobue (Japanese transverse bamboo flute), and have started learning shakuhachi (Japanese end-blown bamboo flute). The last one has been a real challenge-- it is deceptively difficult to play-- but it's been good for me to learn (and relearn) patience.


Thank you, Lisa, for your time and willingness to be the FIRST interviewee for this blog!

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