As the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal librarian, Nicole Jordan is a jack of all trades and, maybe, sort of a master at everything.
Her crucial role means she has to be a researcher, composer, and event coordinator, often all at the same time. She’s learned the basics of dozens of classical instruments, fine-tuning sheet music for performers. She’s done hours of research, often just to find a performance from decades ago. She’s even translated Italian sheet music herself, taking each musical nuance from one part of the world to the other.
And on Thursday, she added yet another skill to her resumé: She can play a pretty good Santa Claus.
As part of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s annual holiday performances, Jordan stepped into Santa Claus’ boots, as the original Santa was in quarantine for COVID-19 — a true sign of the season and of the times.
Though it was just a few minutes of performance, Jordan had to teach herself the slapstick, an actual instrument that sounds like a whip cracking and is heard during the iconic Christmas song “Sleigh Ride.”
Like so many other skills she’s taught herself, it went pretty smoothly.
“I got lost in the moment,” Jordan, 38, told The Inquirer. “I got those two whip cracks. And then the end one was not so successful: My beard got caught in the big whip. It kind of came off. It was really wedged in there.”'
Jordan has been the orchestra’s principal music librarian since September 2020. It’s a position she earned through competitive auditioning, much like those of her colleagues who perform. The Girls High and Temple grad was born and raised in Southwest Philadelphia and Germantown, and her hiring was a homecoming after years making her way through the musical world.
The annual holiday performance, running all weekend through Monday, usually has Santa come on stage and present conductor Bramwell Tovey with small presents, with Tovey rebuffing Santa’s gifts two or three times, Jordan explained. On the third or fourth try, Tovey will accept the gift and as a gift to Santa, allow the jolly immortal to “conduct” the orchestra for a bit.
Jordan didn’t get to practice much, due to the last-minute nature of the replacement. But she made do.
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“I’ve never had to engage or pay attention to ‘Sleigh Ride,’ ” Jordan said. “I’ve heard it maybe 30 times in my career. Never had to pay attention to it. … So I was very nervous.”
But, in keeping with the mantra of many orchestra librarians, Jordan took on another role to help out the ensemble, getting to be on stage and perform, while also highlighting the work that she and other music librarians do silently, in the background.
“Really it’s just about being useful where I feel I can,” said Jordan. “In the role of a librarian, most audiences don’t see us, even though they see my work, they hear the by-product of the months and hours and weeks we spend preparing music that my playing colleagues perform. And so to have an opportunity to — we can’t really find a Santa, it is dire straits — for me, I was in a place where I’m the one musician who’s not on this show tonight and I can go out there and ham it up for two or three minutes.”
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There are four more performances scheduled for the holiday show, though Jordan says she’s not sure if she’ll be suiting up in the red and white again. Apparently, another Santa has already been “engaged,” she said.
But, just as she does everyday for the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jordan is always ready to step up to the plate. Or to the slapstick.