THE ORCHESTRA AUDITION
Associate Concertmaster, Minnesota Orchestra
MASTERING THE ORCHESTRA AUDITION
Associate Concertmaster, Minnesota Orchestra
Artist-in-Residence, University of Northwestern – St. Paul
Copyright © 2017 Kairos Publications
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I. Finding Your Audition
How to find
for acceptance to an audition
Who will I
will I be expected to play?
Do I need an
rounds should I expect to play?
music will I play?
Where will I
play the audition?
type of player are they looking for?
memorize the music?
What should I
will pay for travel expenses?
auditions uniform in format from orchestra to orchestra?
can I be less intimidated by others?
How to find
out who won an audition
most common mistake in an orchestral audition
II. The Preparation: A Six-Week Step-by-Step Plan
Stage I (Week 1)
of the music
Stage II (Weeks 2
Stage III (Weeks 4
Stage IV (Week 6 –
the final week)
III. Athletes and Musicians
IV. The Mental Process
list of mental exercises
exercises you can do without your instrument
V. Performance Anxiety
advantages and disadvantages
you play a note, think of these crucial points
for the younger student
is no substitute for hard work
Commonly Asked Orchestral Excerpts
Bassoon Vol. I
trombone, Tenor tuba, Bass trumpet
Violin list 1
Violin list 2
Word of Thanks
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.
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.
now it’s your turn!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
FINDING YOUR AUDITION
find available positions
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.
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.
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.
course, you also can simply use Google.com,
or another search engine and enter “orchestra auditions” in the
more traditional ways to find openings
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
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.
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
• Position(s) available
• Audition date
• Start date
• Length of performance season
• Résumé/application due date
• Contact information
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.
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.
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.
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.
is an example of a letter of interest to the orchestra:
432 56th Way
Fort Wayne, Indiana 34221
Smith, Orchestra Personnel Manager
Montana Philharmonic Orchestra
1234 Noteworthy Way
Pleasantville, Montana 35221
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
would like to request the audition excerpts and application at your
you for your consideration. I look forward to receiving further
information for the upcoming audition.
Professor of Flute
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.
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.
résumé should be one page long and include the following details
• Phone number
• E-mail address
• Educational institutions and degrees
• Teachers studied under
• Professional experience
• Relevant extra instruments that you play, i.e. bass trumpet,
• Competition prizes
• Faculty affiliations with schools
• Recordings that you have made
• Important recent and/or upcoming concerts
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.
for acceptance to an audition
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?
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.
my favorites is a recorder called The Zoom
H4 Pro Handy Recorder. Its important features are: