James Dolan, Librarian Extraordinaire


Volume CVI, No. 5May, 2006

Kazue Asawa McGregor

For 11 years I worked side by side with a legend — someone who had worked closely with conductor Arturo Toscanini, someone whose twin children and wife were embraced by conductor Erich Leinsdorf as family, someone whose past employers included Richard Rodgers and Arthur Fiedler, someone who was completely trusted by music directors Carlo Maria Giulini and Zubin Mehta, along with scores of musicians, conductors and librarians in the symphonic world.

His name was James B. Dolan, or, as he always insisted everyone call him, “Jimmy.”

Jimmy passed away on Jan. 28, one day after his 91st birthday. His brilliant career included being orchestra librarian for the Los Angeles Philharmonic (1963-1995), Richard Rodgers (1960-1963), the NBC Opera (1954-1960), Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony (1942-1954), and as personal librarian to Arthur Fiedler in Boston (1934-1942).

He had been a member of Local 802 since 1944.

I first met Jimmy in 1984 when I was hired to be assistant librarian for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. There was a 40-year difference between us but I never felt it. He was young-spirited, curious, and always cheerful. He was open-minded about everything. He loved to seek new information as well as to provide answers to musical questions posed by others. He regaled us with true stories about the early orchestra days in the United States. He fondly talked about his cross-country orchestra tour with Toscanini by train (!) and was proud of the fact that a complete car was dedicated to the music library. He loved to serve people, always with cheer. I can only recall one day during the time I knew him in the library that he appeared without his usual smile and twinkle in his eyes. That was the day 11 years ago when his beloved daughter died unexpectedly while on vacation.

Jimmy amassed a large personal library, which after his retirement he and his wife, Helen, donated to the Philharmonic in memory of their daughter, Katherine Dolan. Both Kathy and her twin brother, Bob, followed their father’s footsteps and worked as orchestra librarians for organizations such as the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angles Chamber Orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, to name a few. Bob still continues that tradition. Jimmy was very proud of them.

I will miss Jimmy and his Twinkies lunch, his unique shuffle hurrying from the stage and back, his stories of conductors and momentous events, and most of all, his genuine love and spirit for his calling — serving as an orchestra librarian. That is what he taught me.

Kazue Asawa McGregor is a member of Local 47 (Los Angeles). This article first appeared in Overture, the newspaper of Local 47, and is reprinted with permission.