November 14, 2007 at 2:01 AMEarlier this week I posted a New York Times article that featured Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. In the article she speaks of many things, including the audition process. While there have been many discussions about one particular aspect of the process - that being more often than not that auditions for orchestral positions are held with a screen, with the candidate on one side and the audition committee on the other - Drew McManus of www.adaptistration.com has written an incredibly enlightening article about auditioning that appears today at his website. Do feel free to read.
But representation of women and ethnic minorities in orchestras has climbed since the introduction of screened auditions.
This article by Georgie Binks in CBC news describes that phenomenon. A couple of quoted paragraphs from the article:
"If you look at a 1997 study conducted by two American university professors, Claudia Goldin of Harvard and Cecilia E. Rouse of Princeton, you can see why the blind auditions are vital. In 1970, before blind auditions were held, fewer than 5 per cent of players in the top five orchestras in the United States were women. Once blind auditions were used that number jumped to 25 per cent and now stands at about 50 per cent.
Trombonist Abby Conant is well known in the battle for equality in the treatment of female musicians. In his latest book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how Conant auditioned for the Munich Philharmonic in 1980. It was a blind audition pitting Conant, who the orchestra believed was a male, (her audition letter was addressed to Herr Abbie Conant) and 32 men. When the finalists’ numbers were called, there was amazement that she had been chosen. Initially Conant was hired, but then was demoted to second trombone, beginning years of battles."
I guess I don't really understand what Alsop is getting at.
But at least in some cases, screened auditions also benefit ethnic minorities. For example, see this article by William Osborne,"Why Did the Vienna Philharmonic Fire Yasuto Sugiyama?"
Here is a relevant paragraph from that article:
The memoirs published in 1970 by Otto Strasser, a former chairman of the Vienna Philharmonic, illustrate the attitudes Asian musicians have confronted:
“I hold it for incorrect that today the applicants play behind a screen; an arrangement that was brought in after the Second World War in order to assure objective judgments. I continuously fought against it, especially after I became Chairman of the Philharmonic, because I am convinced that to the artist also belongs the person, that one must not only hear, but also see, in order to judge him in his entire personality. [...] Even a grotesque situation that played itself out after my retirement was not able to change the situation. An applicant qualified himself as the best, and as the screen was raised, there stood a Japanese before the stunned jury. He was, however, not engaged, because his face did not fit with the ‘Pizzicato-Polka’ of the New Year’s Concert.”
It's actually not completely clear to me where Strasser stood on this, whether he thought it was grotesque that a Japanese man won the screened audition or whether he thought that it was grotesque because the Japanese man was not hired because of his race.
Either way, these kinds of arguments have been around a very long time.
Now are we saying that the quality of the playing is to take second place behind the race or gender of the applicant?
What will the affect of this be? Will we start eliminating Asians from our orchestras because they are over-represented? Perhaps we can also start eliminating Eastern Europeans and other overrepresented ethnicities.
In many orchestras women are overrepresented. Should we move them out?
I have heard people argue with conviction that western music is the product of white European men and that they are its best exponents. Its kind of like saying that Korean music is the product of Koreans and they are its best exponents.)
If we were to take this line of reasoning seriously (and I hope not) then we would have to extol the Vienna Philharmonic for its position on women etc.
I am sorry: I vote for the screen. Color-blind, gender-blind etc.
And is there anything in the process like an interview (perhaps separated from the audition)? How do they make sure the person will be easy to work with? Basing a hiring decision purely on a screened audition seems to me a lot like hiring someone purely based on a writing sample or piece of computer code. Ability is certainly the most important part of the process, but I don't think it's the only one.
I guess the consolation is that the vacated chair would be awared to second place.
It seems like affirmitive action goes down one of two tracks. One, the expectation of eventually producing qualified people among the traditionally disenfranchsed by end-running less qualified people (via no screen in this case). The second track looks more like getting the people you want in the positions you want, with maybe less of a grand strategy behind it, realistically. Either one translates to somebody more qualified who doesn't eat. The question is does what you're trying to accomplish justifiy that.
To clarify, in Chicago: preliminary rounds are held behind a screen. There are exactly 9 committee members. There is a secret ballot for each candidate (yes/no) and a candidate must have at least 6 yes votes to advance to the finals.
In the finals, the screen comes down but the procedure is the same. In order to be offered the job, the candidate must have at least 6 yes votes PLUS the yes vote of the music director. In other words, a no vote from the music director is a veto.
Special cases: 1) members of the orchestra are automatically invited to the finals of a title audition. In such an audition, if there is an internal candidate, the screen stays up for the first part of the finals. Only after each candidate has been voted on does the screen come down.
2) for a title chair, up to four external candidates may be invited by the music director alone. These invitees must play a "pre-final" round, behind a screen, for the 9-member committee. The same 6-yes-vote majority is needed to advance to the finals with the other candidates.
Tenure process: within the first 2 years of a member's hire, the music director must inform the member whether he/she receives tenure. It is the decision of the music director alone.
As I say, each orchesra is different. We aim to provide each candidate with the chance to play his/her best.
Also, some finals include chamber music with other members of the orchestra, in order to gauge how well someone plays in an ensemble.
-It doesn't really matter whether there's a screen or not: teachers will still be able to pick out their students' sounds.
-How somebody looks while playing the instrument is very important in deciding whether to hire them. Somebody who moves excessively won't fit into a still section, or may even be distracting. Bow distribution is a huge question when hiring a section leader.
-In Germany, audition committees consist of the entire orchestra - or at least of all those who come to the audition. In order to win a job, you need a majority of all votes, and of the votes in your future section (sometimes it's a two-thirds majority, sometimes simply 50%). This does help avoid any rigging by committee members, though it certainly doesn't exclude it.
-There will always be prejudices: racial, sexual, ethnic, teacher/school of playing etc. etc.. And just because somebody's made it into the orchestra doesn't mean that their trial period won't be sheer hell - or that they won't be turfed out as soon as it's over.
I can't imagine doing a completely blind audition with a screen for all the rounds, just like I can't really imagine hiring a colleague without having seen him/her play.
Affirmative action is a difficult one, and I think programs like the Sphinx competition, scholarships or the Detroit Symphony residency are probably better ways to go there.
This is interesting. Laurie, can we make it a discussion thread?
In regards to players moving, Greg Sandow has written a pretty amazing article about both the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic. Many of us, I'm sure, have watched both the Vienna and Berlin videos and marveled at the level of playing as well as the total physical involvement of the players.
Read on: artsjournal.com
Auditions one facet of the process of hiring good colleagues and should be approached as such. Some orchestras also invite finalists to play a week or two with the orchestra before making a decision. In all cases you have the tenure process to compete the hiring process.
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