Excerpt for Mastering the Orchestra Audition by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Roger Frisch

Associate Concertmaster, Minnesota Orchestra


Roger Frisch
Associate Concertmaster, Minnesota Orchestra
Artist-in-Residence, University of Northwestern – St. Paul

Copyright © 2017 Kairos Publications
Minneapolis, Minnesota
All rights reserved.

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Part I. Finding Your Audition

How to find available positions

Letter of interest

Preparing your résumé

Recording for acceptance to an audition

Who will I play for?

What will I be expected to play?

Do I need an accompanist?

How many rounds should I expect to play?

What music will I play?

Where will I play the audition?

Warm-up room

What type of player are they looking for?

Should I memorize the music?

What should I wear?

Who will pay for travel expenses?

Are auditions uniform in format from orchestra to orchestra?

How can I be less intimidated by others?

How to find out who won an audition

The most common mistake in an orchestral audition

Part II. The Preparation: A Six-Week Step-by-Step Plan

Emotional assessment

Stage I (Week 1)

Organization of the music

Stage II (Weeks 2 and 3)

Pre-performance mental checklist

Stage III (Weeks 4 and 5)

Stage IV (Week 6 – the final week)

Part III. Athletes and Musicians

Finding a coach


Part IV. The Mental Process

A list of mental exercises

Mental exercises you can do without your instrument

Part V. Performance Anxiety

Being nervous: advantages and disadvantages

Performance psychology

Types of anxiety


Calming and focus techniques

Before you play a note, think of these crucial points

Audition preparation for the younger student

Part VI. Conclusion

There is no substitute for hard work

Most Commonly Asked Orchestral Excerpts





English horn

Bassoon Vol. I

Bassoon Vol. II


French horn

Trombone Vol. I

Trombone Vol. II

Bass trombone, Tenor tuba, Bass trumpet


Violin list 1

Violin list 2





A Word of Thanks

About the Author


There are few things that compare to sitting in an orchestra and being part of the massive, rich sound of a tone poem of Richard Strauss, with volumes that can range from the nearly imperceptible to the almost ear-splitting thunder of the orchestra. Imagine the thrill of playing a melody-laden Brahms Symphony with its lush, full, orchestral sonorities, or a Mozart Symphony full of beautiful lyricism and rhythmically driven energy. There is a countless wealth of orchestral literature that evokes these tangible, yet moving sensations.

After more than 30 years of playing professionally, I’m still enthralled with this profession – I love playing in a symphony orchestra. To be able to perform this repertoire, inspired by both the music and my colleagues in the orchestra, continues to give me a thrill. It has remained my passion.

And now it’s your turn!

You’ve studied your instrument for years. More than likely, you’ve spent thousands of dollars on private lessons and countless hours practicing and rehearsing. And now you’ve decided you want to play professionally in a symphony orchestra. It’s time to make your dreams a reality. If you’re taking the time to read this book, you will probably not be satisfied until that dream is fulfilled.

There is now only one thing standing between you, your talent, your desire and your dream to play professionally: THE AUDITION. Few words spoken to a musician seem to have as daunting an effect as the mention of an audition. As a music student, you endured the experience many times and are familiar with the pressures involved in auditioning for an amateur orchestra. Not knowing for whom you will play. Not having a guarantee of the outcome. Not knowing how your competitors will perform. Not knowing if you will have a good day or bad day. Not knowing if you will be derailed by nervousness. A broken string, a stuck valve, a crabby person on the audition committee, there are so many uncontrollable variables, and so much of each audition left to luck or chance – or so it may seem!

Now the stakes are much higher. You’re not auditioning to win a contest or a higher seat. This audition is going to be for your livelihood, your career, your dream.

I know how you’re feeling now, because like you, I have survived my share of auditions, and have judged many more. I have seen musicians simply stop on their own accord in the middle of a concerto and walk off stage for no reason. I have watched musicians crumble in tears in the middle of an audition. I even remember one person who started laughing so hard that going on was simply not possible. However, an audition doesn’t have to be a scary experience. There are steps you can take to prepare for your audition and optimize your playing where and when it counts the most. It can even be an enjoyable experience and in the process, greatly increase your odds of winning the job.

I’ve had the privilege of sitting on countless orchestra audition committees and have helped hundreds of musicians prepare. I’ve also learned the most common mistake that musicians make in orchestra auditions, and I’ll tell you so you can avoid it. So, whether you are completely new to the process or just need another perspective, this is my attempt to share some of the lessons I’ve learned from my students, my personal experiences and my observations of those auditioning over the years.


How to find available positions

There are some old tried and true ways to find auditions, namely The International Musician magazine and the European version, Das Orchester magazine. I’ll go into detail on both of these in a minute. But first, since this book was originally published, many more options for finding openings have emerged online.

1. One source of openings around the world is www.orchestraplayers.com. Orchestraplayers lists openings from all countries. The navigation on the far left of the home page allows musicians to search by instrument. This site often offers many details regarding the specific position, including salary.

2. Auditioncafe.com is another wonderful source for openings around the world, as well as helpful tips and other useful information. The site is cleverly designed and easy to use.

3. Of course, you also can simply use Google.com, Bing.com or another search engine and enter “orchestra auditions” in the search window.

The more traditional ways to find openings

The best and most comprehensive place to find current openings for symphony orchestras in the United States is from the American Federation of Musicians monthly magazine, The International Musician. You will automatically receive it if you join the union, which you can do by going to www.afm.org and looking for the listing of locals. Each local varies as to the initiation cost and annual dues, but you can expect to pay an average of $100 for the combined federal and local union initiation fee and an average of $100 to $200 per year in annual dues. Joining the musicians union gives you many benefits such as contracts, collective bargaining, pension, health insurance and instrument insurance.

If you are not a member of the musicians union, you could always stop by your local union office to read their copy of the magazine or borrow a copy from a colleague who is a member. Orchestras of all sizes advertise openings in this publication, usually allowing two to three months’ notice before the actual audition. You’ll want to find out:

• Position(s) available

• Audition date

• Start date

• Salary/benefits

• Length of performance season

• Résumé/application due date

• Contact information

If you are looking for openings in your specific area, you might also want to get a copy of your local musicians union publication, available at the local union office or from a member.

Openings in European orchestras are most often advertised in Das Orchester, a monthly publication of the German orchestra musicians union. You can often find this magazine in university music school libraries or subscribe at www.dasorchester.de. There is an option in the upper right of the home page to display the site in English.

Letter of interest

Your initial communication with an orchestra will probably be an email to the contact person listed in the notice of the opening. If you feel more comfortable doing this by mail, it is perfectly acceptable. Remember: This is your first impression, so treat it like it may be the ONLY one. As in every step in the audition process, the impression you make here needs to have a positive impact. Your letter should be short – only a few sentences – while reflecting your enthusiastic interest in the position. Unlike a business format cover letter, save your detailed professional credentials for your resume.

A suggestion from the Minnesota Orchestra personnel manager, Kris Arkis: Double check the spelling of the name of the contact person you are sending the letter to, and make sure you have the gender of the contact person correct. It’s hard to make a good impression with a letter or email with the contact person’s name spelled incorrectly, or addressing a woman as Mr. or vice versa. If in doubt, look up the person’s gender online.

Here is an example of a letter of interest to the orchestra:

Ozzie Piper
432 56th Way
Fort Wayne, Indiana 34221

Joan Smith, Orchestra Personnel Manager
Montana Philharmonic Orchestra
1234 Noteworthy Way
Pleasantville, Montana 35221

Dear Ms. Smith,

I would like to apply for the Associate Principal Flute position with the Montana Philharmonic. I have many years of experience as an orchestral and chamber musician, as well as soloist. Please refer to my attached resume for more details as well as my contact information.

I would like to request the audition excerpts and application at your earliest convenience.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to receiving further information for the upcoming audition.


Ozzie Piper
Professor of Flute
Stanton College

Preparing your résumé

Almost every orchestra requests a résumé before inviting you to attend an audition. Take care that your résumé is easy to understand and accurate. A poorly organized and sloppy résumé can make you look like a poorly organized and sloppy musician. Be honest and don’t exaggerate your qualifications; the people who will be looking at this document usually can sniff out embellishments. If you are early in your career and don't have multiple years of experience, resist the temptation to “pad” the résumé with non-professional activities and accomplishments.

Unless a form is provided by the orchestra, include your résumé. Check for spelling and grammatical errors and avoid any distracting fonts. This is a business document, not an advertisement, so resist the urge to be too creative here – you will have a chance to show your artistic side later, once you are accepted to audition. If you need help with the format, consider using a résumé template. If you are using Microsoft Word, go to FILE then NEW, and you will find a variety of templates to follow.

Your résumé should be one page long and include the following details when applicable:

• Name

• Address

• Phone number

• E-mail address

• Educational institutions and degrees

• Teachers studied under

• Professional experience

• Relevant extra instruments that you play, i.e. bass trumpet, contrabass trombone

• Competition prizes

• Faculty affiliations with schools

• Recordings that you have made

• Important recent and/or upcoming concerts

Remember: Your letter of interest and résumé will create your first impression to the auditioning orchestra – make it a good one. This is your first step in getting invited to audition.

Recording for acceptance to an audition

Record your audition pieces and excerpts until they are your finest playing quality, then record them on the best equipment you can obtain and have them professionally edited. This is how professional orchestras produce their CDs; why not use the same technology to demonstrate your best qualities for an audition recording?

If you are recording the excerpts yourself, use the best and latest digital-recording technology equipment that you can obtain. As of this writing your best choices would be Direct-to-Disc CD recording, or a DAT recorder. A smartphone typically does not have high enough recording quality for this purpose.

One of my favorites is a recorder called The Zoom H4 Pro Handy Recorder. Its important features are:

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