April 2022 post “Business of Music”
February 2022 post “Orchestration 2”
January 2022 post “Orchestration”
December 2021 post “Music Manipulations”
November 2021 post “The Instruments of an Orchestra”
October 2021 post “Orchestra Types”
September 2021 post “Soloists”
July 2021 post “Programming”
June 2021 post “Good Performance/Bad Performance”
May 2021 post “Good Music/Bad Music”
April 2021 post “Meaning of Music”
March 2021 post “Hearing 3”
February 2021 post “Hearing 2”
January 2021 post “Hearing 1”
December 2020 post “What to listen for in music”
November 2020 post “Early History of Conducting”
Arriving for an audition…
Is one calm and collected….?
Or a nervous wreck???
For performing musicians, competition for one single place in an orchestra is a challenge! Athletes, Scholars, Business Managers and many others are not unfamiliar with the pressure experienced when attempting to demonstrate one’s abilities in the hopes of gaining a coveted position in a corporation, university, sports team or… an orchestra. This brief article attempts to share some of the varied levels and types of musical auditions orchestral musicians may encounter.
At the high end, professional orchestras will obviously post job openings (yes, these would be full-time positions), accept resumes and audition videos, have a search committee review all applicants, request in-person auditions of the most qualified (sometimes two or three tiers of auditions), before hiring someone.
Now-a-days, the in-person auditions are often done behind a screen. The search committee can hear the auditionee but not see the person. Not infrequently, the top two or three candidates for a position (especially if it is a non-string position (i.e., not a “sectional” position, but a more soloistic position)) are invited to rehearse with and sometimes perform with the orchestra before a decision is made.
Music-making is such a collaborative activity that it is impossible to audition for the necessary abilities of “ensemble” (playing together). The rest of the woodwinds or French horns want to get a feel for how the individual performs within and with the section. Are they a team player, or do they have difficulty navigating the musical nuances of ensemble phrasing and voicing of chords?
In preparation for most orchestral auditions, instrumentalists purchase “excerpt” books. Music publishers have produced books for each of the instruments of the orchestra which contain some of the most famous AND most nasty (difficult) passages within the orchestra repertoire. Often, the search committee will have a mandatory repertoire list for each auditionee to perform. This repertoire would include some solo repertoire of varying styles and it would often contain some excerpts from orchestral repertoire. That is why those excerpt books are so helpful for aspiring orchestral musicians.
It is also quite common for the audition to include some “sight-reading”. The auditionee is provided one or more pieces to play which they have not seen previously. To prepare for this, musicians commonly add to their practice time brand-new pieces and attempt to read them perfectly – “cold” – never having seen nor heard the music before.
If all of this sounds daunting, it IS!!! Performing at this level is a high-wire act, not for the faint of heart.
As you might imagine, as the level of the orchestra diminishes, from professional, to semi-professional, to amateur/community orchestras, the demands upon auditionees are often similarly reduced.
What prohibits acceptance
What would prohibit someone from passing an audition even for an amateur / community orchestra? Many things! Here is a partial list I use: cannot read music, cannot play in (relatively) good intonation, cannot keep a steady pulse (beat), has difficulties with various rhythms, cannot play through a passage without stopping (due to mistakes or nerves), lack of basic musical skills (to play correct dynamics, to observe musical notations, to understand and demonstrate various musical articulations, etc.). If I encounter such a person in audition, I gently interview them to discern their intent. If they are serious, I always suggest that they try doing a full year of private lessons with this goal (to play in an orchestra) in mind, and then to re-audition. Sometimes that does work. Sometimes, it does not.
How about you?!?
Playing in an orchestra is not for everyone. But many people CAN play and DO enjoy the thrill of playing in an orchestra. How about you?!?
© Copyright 2022 Michael Kamenski, Milwaukee, WI. All Rights Reserved.