Freeway Philharmonic auditions part 2

September 15, 2016 at 11:31 PM · This is a continuation from the "Freeway Philharmonic auditions" thread: Part 1 link.

That discussion has sprawled quite a bit, across questions like:

What's the expected level of playing to be able to successfully audition for a professional orchestra?

How do you prepare for such auditions successfully?

If you fail an audition, can you re-audition again, and does the previous failure count against you?

is it possible to achieve two things at the same time: the most fair and unbiased audition process; and the audition process that results in the best selection?

What's the appropriate standard to judge amateur playing by, versus student playing, versus pro playing?

Someone also emailed me a question that they didn't want to post, and which wasn't touched on in the previous thread, which is: How do you discover the freeway philharmonics in your area, or other paid orchestral openings, and their auditions?

Replies (100)

September 16, 2016 at 01:28 AM · To answer your last question, professional orchestras advertise openings in the union newspaper, the International Musician. I strongly recommend that young professionals join the union (all us old professionals have been in it for decades--symphony orchestras are one of the most successfully unionized industries in the U.S.). Googling "symphony orchestra audition" will also turn up a lot of openings.

The freeway philharmonics in my area don't have auditions, as far as I know. There are contractors who hire for each group. The best way to get into one is to make friends with someone who is already playing with them and find out from that person who to contact. In my area, these smaller orchestras are non-union but I would bet money that the freeway philharmonics around Lydia are union.

September 16, 2016 at 01:47 AM · Some freeway phils do audition, and sometimes if you successfully audition into one or more of them, you're then "on the circuit" and will be called for the others without auditioning, even a state or two away in some cases. It depends on the area, really. Around here, it's a 50/50 split in terms of audition or no audition, but we have both IU and CCM within driving distance, so there is no shortage of good players.

September 16, 2016 at 02:38 AM · Around here (DC/MD/VA), many of the players are union, but not all -- specifically, there's a ton of military stationed here, and many of them are not union. As a result, the union is fairly weak here. That means many per-service orchestras do not pay union rates, and most gigs do not pay union rates. (When I lived in Chicago and in the Bay Area, pretty much everything paid union rate, other than a handful of pit-orchestra gigs that might pay a few pros union rate and fill out the rest of the orchestra with amateurs being paid "gas money".) However, that means that there's something of a tiering of the freeway-phils here.

As far as I can tell, around here, who auditions and who doesn't is somewhat random, as are how the announcements are posted. Community orchestras with paid principals normally hold auditions for those positions. The community orchestras turned professional -- basically semi-pro who have been working towards being all-professional -- generally don't seem to audition; you get invited to sub through contacts and then maybe you get invited to join. The more professional the orchestra, the more likely it does formal auditions.

My previous experience is that I played a few gigs, and people I knew would then recommend me to a contractor for further gigs, or suggest my name for a freeway phil's sub list, etc. Success with this method means two things -- obviously being a solid hire (on time, prepared, not a jerk), and there being enough work that they need to bring in people that they haven't used before.

(If you watched the film "Freeway Philharmonic", that was the Bay Area. The number of common musicians playing for the same scattered orchestras inevitably led to some schedule conflicts, which in turn led to the need to bring in people from outside that pool, but the unfortunate question of, "Do I really want to drive two hours each way for this gig?")

September 16, 2016 at 02:57 AM · Answering a comment of Karen Collins's in the previous thread, where she wrote: "I do, however, think that musicians should be judged on merit and not on status, It's depressing to see amateurs painted with such a broad brush. There are all kinds of people who play music, and even though it's easy and convenient to generalize, the generalizations don't always apply."

I don't think anyone is suggesting that they shouldn't be judged on merit. What they're saying is that a high-school student is judged by different standards than a conservatory student, and a college or grad student is judged by different standards than a pro, and adult amateurs are judged by yet a different standard. It's a practical reality. The more professionalized someone becomes, the higher the bar gets. Conversely, amateurs get some forgiveness. What's incredibly impressive in an amateur is often barely into the professionally acceptable.

Now, here we're talking about evaluation by other pros. The general public -- the audience, even a pretty educated audience of people who might be amateur players themselves -- can't really tell the difference between a competent amateur and an actual everyday pro (i.e., not a world-class soloist).

And remember that pros come in a lot of flavors. Your pro who can hold down a full-time orchestra job likely plays at a very different level than a pro who is teaching strings in a public middle-school. You can find a non-trivial number of amateurs who play as well as, or better than, music educators.

In the end, we are talking about a profession -- a profession that requires a huge amount of extremely specific training. We don't expect amateur anythings to be at the same standard as professionals in that field.

September 16, 2016 at 03:06 AM · About the scheduling, I don't understand why they don't all get together and make a team effort to hammer out the schedules. In most areas, the freeway phils are staffed by the same core group of people, so if three of the local orchestras schedule a concert on the same weekend (as they do) they inevitably run into hiring issues.

September 16, 2016 at 03:07 AM · "In the end, we are talking about a profession -- a profession that requires a huge amount of extremely specific training. We don't expect amateur anythings to be at the same standard as professionals in that field."

I dunno. I do a pretty bang-up amateur open heart surgery. :D

September 16, 2016 at 03:12 AM · "I dunno. I do a pretty bang-up amateur open heart surgery. :D"

Better than some student surgeons, I'll wager.

September 16, 2016 at 04:48 AM · As a musician, sometimes I wish I could bury my mistakes...

By the way, what do they call the worst doctor in the class?

"Dr."

September 16, 2016 at 07:48 AM ·

September 16, 2016 at 11:43 AM · Hmmmm...first I'll say that I am really enjoying this discussion. There are some really interesting points of view and responses.

That said, while I agree that there are things that absolutely do and should be first in a priority list before violin that is nevertheless prioritizing. You could make the argument that a student who was chasing a football scholarship "cant" practice the violin 2 hrs a night because he has previously decided to try for something else. That said there are absolutely people who are simply too busy to practice though I will make the argument that most of those are not the ones looking around for a hobby. People who take up a hobby generally have free time to begin with.

In the same way adults have priorities. If they decide to play the violin they prioritize it to the level at which they want to attain. If that means fairly low because of other higher priorities then that is fair and nothing wrong. A child (as an example) certainly should always be first. (also congrats on your baby lydia!)

If an adult takes up the violin with expectations of becoming good by practicing once a week they are clearly deluded. But there are many, many adults who do take up the violin and prioritize the practice very low in spite of (only) working 40 hours a week. Few adults, for example, would work the stressful job I have, go to school and then come home to practice all while living an hour from my job. Most would rather sit in front of the television and be content with the skill that playing once a week would bring.

As to what level I can achieve?? I have no idea and that is not why i play. I personally want to be good enough to express myself through my playing. I enjoy playing and I enjoy practicing. It is much easier than competitive kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu both at which I was very successful.

Thus far I am not a brahms fan. I like beethoven, I like tchaikovsky, Mozart, sarasarte... So when I get to playing those years from now will I be judged as an amateur or will I be held to a higher standard? I suspect the latter. I never see an amateur simply congratulated it is always caveat with the errors noted that a pro would not make. And that is fine, great in fact! That is how one improves. I do not, however agree that one's playing is judged by their contextual role in society. If you say one is "amazing for an an amateur" you have already judged them by the standards of a professional and found them wanting. That is why they are an amature. They are judged by the standards that it would take to be a pro and cannot make it.

Jessy

September 16, 2016 at 12:39 PM · People aren't amateurs because they're not good enough to be pro. They are amateurs because they play for love, not money. They are amateurs because their profession is in another field. The fact that the great majority of amateurs do not in fact play at a professional level is correlation, not causation.

The amount of time, effort, and focus required to achieve *and maintain* a professional level of playing is beyond the reach of nearly all who are gainfully employed in another field. That isn't a slam. That is a statement of fact. So it is very hard even for an amateur with professional training who ended up taking another path in life to keep his or her skills at the professional level. But again that is correlation, not causation.

Editing to add that one reason why people may choose not to become professional musicians is that they do not play well enough. But the amateur label isn't a negative label meaning "not good enough;" it is a positive label meaning "plays by choice."

September 16, 2016 at 12:57 PM · I think the military band/strings members may actually be prohibited from joining the union.

September 16, 2016 at 02:36 PM · "But the amateur label isn't a negative label meaning 'not good enough;' it is a positive label meaning 'plays by choice.' "

This is probably the first time I have ever heard "amateur" in a a non-pejorative way...thank you :-)

Like Jessy, I am really enjoying this discussion.

September 16, 2016 at 03:43 PM · It's probably worth noting that many pros don't manage to keep their skills at the maximum level they've ever attained, either. Players often peak technically in their 20s, even if they grow in depth of musicianship over time.

For many of the players that I've run into at the community-orchestra level, an hour or two of practice a week, spent on orchestra music and/or chamber music, more or less maintains a steady-state level of playing for them. Getting better requires spending money on weekly lessons, plus probably increasing their practicing by 5x.

That's a hard sell when you're an amateur who is good enough to play comfortably in a community orchestra and can play chamber music. That's still a hobby that consumes probably half a dozen hours a week (rehearsal commute, rehearsing, and practicing), which isn't entirely trivial.

Like all hobbies, there's a certain degree of tiering between the casuals and the obsessives. I know amateurs who have music activities pretty close to every day, in addition to practicing -- they play in multiple orchestras, multiple chamber groups, or also do other instruments and/or sing with other groups.

Serious amateurs will often point out that they actually get to spend a lot more time playing music that they want to play, in the circumstances they want to play it, than they would have if they'd gone into music as a profession.

September 17, 2016 at 04:16 PM · To go back to the orchestra topic - Lydia mentioned that a number of the orchestras in her area transitioned from being community orchestras to being per-service professional ones relatively recently. I know that many ensembles grandfather in original members, and the differences in skill between the old amateur players and the new trained ones may become more obvious over time. I'm curious what the experience is like during the transition. What drives a decision to transition? Has anyone sat in one of these orchestras during that time? What was the feeling?

September 17, 2016 at 08:51 PM · Around here, in general, community orchestras derive a significant portion of their budget (especially initially) from a grant from the county or city. Those organizations want to nurture orchestras to "grow up" into bigger better orchestras. One of the natural results of progression seems to have been a drive to professionalize.

In one case, the board of directors drove a professionalization -- causing the conductor and many of the musicians to quit and start a new community orchestra together. Of course this allow the board to then bring an almost purely professional group in, really an almost entirely new orchestra under the same name.

But others did a gradual transition -- starting by paying principals, I think, and then eventually others, and empty seats get filled by audition. Usually under those circumstances, you have union pros and non-union amateurs, but the gig itself doesn't operate under union rules (which among other things govern things like breaks), and with gradual professionalization I think you don't necessarily end up with a union shop in the end, so to speak. The conductors get used to not having to follow those rules.

I've only heard these tales secondhand though.

September 17, 2016 at 10:51 PM · When I was a kid I played in an orchestra that only paid the principals. The tuba player approached the general manager and said he should get paid too since he's the Principal Tuba. He was told no, and loudly enough that others could hear.

September 18, 2016 at 02:33 PM · But the tuba player is a principal; he was right and management was wrong.

September 18, 2016 at 04:08 PM · I joined a professional symphony orchestra here in the UK way back in 1964, having just left music college.

The management were paying 75% of the normal salary to new players from the music academies, and this was allowed by the union. (For about 3 years, when the increases would equal the full amount).

Of course, several of us complained, and one left immediately for another orchestra. The management caved in and gave us the full amount, before we all walked out. (The orchestra was only supposed to have a small percentage of players on the lower rates, and had actually breached this level, so they were in dire straights anyway). But I only stayed a short while anyway, as they were a pretty bad lot.

September 18, 2016 at 11:02 PM · The problem with the tuba player is that there was also only one First Bassoonist, one tympanist, and the like. The orchestra had no means to pay all those people. The "section" in which the tuba player was employed was the "low brass section" which had a (paid) principal, who was a trombonist. That's how they rationalized it anyway. Despite the proximity to Detroit, it wasn't a union operation.

September 19, 2016 at 07:15 PM · If they don't have the money, how they rationalize it doesn't matter, they can only pay out the funds they have; that's the reason for any pay decisions in the end for an industry that exists on subsidy.

September 19, 2016 at 07:42 PM · "They can only pay out of the funds they have"

It is the job of an orchestra management to go out and find those funds. That's what a development director does. It isn't a fixed amount, it is a goal that can be hit and then increased.

Orchestras are part of the quality of life of any city. Big businesses and small businesses as well as schools and universities benefit from their presence. It is the job of the orchestra management to point out to their community the value they bring and raise the funds necessary for the orchestra to survive and thrive.

It is not the job of a principal player to pretend he is not a principal player so that the management doesn't need to raise as much money.

September 19, 2016 at 08:19 PM · It's not always easy to know exactly how much money an orchestra has, even with the legal requirements of disclosure. Funds can get shifted around from here to there, , grant money can come in, expected donations can fail to materialize...

It seems like contract negotiations can resemble a game of chicken:

"We don't have one more cent to pay you guys"

Yes, you do"

"no, really, we don't."

"ok, we'll strike."

"well, ok then. Maybe we can dig up a little more."

I used to play a similar game with an orchestra concerning a sound shield:

"I need a sound shield."

"Sorry, we don't have any more."

"Well, I'm not going on stage. It's in the contract."

"Oh--guess what? We just happened to dig up the very last one..."

September 20, 2016 at 05:56 PM · "Orchestras are part of the quality of life of any city. Big businesses and small businesses as well as schools and universities benefit from their presence. It is the job of the orchestra management to point out to their community the value they bring and raise the funds necessary for the orchestra to survive and thrive."

I agree with what you're saying here completely. However, a development director can't singlehandedly change the culture and influence the demand for classical music--they are essentially begging for charity and almost the entire classical establishment exists because of charity and taxpayer-extracted funds.

Having a union and a contract creates a layer between the musicians and reality which obscures the situation, but in the end almost every professional classical musician today is a charity case (ironically, those that only teach private lessons are not, because there is strangely more demand for music lessons than professional concerts); even having a "contract" in that case is a bit ridiculous as I hope you can see, as it shows a very large disconnect between the realities management faces of constantly begging and musicians imagining they're like workers in economically self-supporting industries, industries which there are profits to be shared between the owners of capital and the workers themselves (the whole paradigm is silly--what is the capital of the orchestra? The musicians! So why is there even a contract with management, who doesn't even own the means of production?!... Or is the orchestra just selling donation prestige and tax deductions? If that's the case, then classical music is in even worse shape than it appears, and musicians have very little bargaining power because their product is mostly worthless economically speaking.). I wish it weren't so, and that classical musicians could support themselves economically like other musicians do, but that's the reality today.

I think if the large gap between economic reality and the current concert establishment could be closed that it would be better for the art in the long run as it would mean it is more plugged into the culture and could perhaps be more effective in shaping it instead of existing at the margins with little impact; musicians having a more realistic working relationship with their patrons would help, as would patrons finding more effective institutions to support than most orchestras as they are currently conceived and structured (although, if patrons donate just to look good and don't even much value the product, then I don't know what is to be done to improve the situation in the short run).

Classical music walled off from the world is no good for anyone, and it's not the way it was when the great works were written in the 17-19th centuries; why we continue to try to hold concerts based on a late romantic mold when the entire world has changed since then is a bit strange, and it's even more strange that this is subsidized in many cases by not just donations but taxpayer-extracted funds.

Anyway, to put is more succinctly: I think worrying about the terms of a contract in these cases is like worrying when dinner will be served after the Titanic has already hit the iceberg. That time and effort would be better spend focused on more fundamental issues. Yes, I know you have to earn a living, but the world continue to change and eventually reality will not be able to be postponed; an adversarial relationship between people who value the same things and should be allies just ties up resources that could better be focused on the fundamentals.

September 20, 2016 at 06:48 PM · You lost me when you used the phrase "charity case." That attitude is exactly what is characteristic of failed development campaigns.

Charity implies that one party is the giver and one the receiver, with nothing going the other way. Study after study has demonstrated the large and beneficial effect that the arts in general and symphony orchestras in particular have on their local economies. Symphony orchestras provide an outstanding return on investment to their business partners and their local governments.

Here are some links you may find of interest:

https://www.philaculture.org/why-arts-culture/supporting-arts-recession

http://www.ocaatlanta.com/arts-economic-impact-study-iv/

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/08/creative_placemaking_making_njs_communities_economy_stronger_through_arts.html

Incidentally, my orchestra just played two full young people's concerts this morning and have eight more scheduled in the next week. We will play for 40,000 schoolchildren this year--this is hardly being walled off from our community.

Editing to add that I don't know why the third URL keeps getting cut off but the end of it should say "stronger_through_arts.html"

I have to say, I am shocked to see such disdainful comments about professional musicians and contracts.

September 20, 2016 at 10:08 PM · A pro orchestra is a business, and its musicians are employees. It is a core fundamental obligation of the business to pay its employees and fulfill its contracts with those employees. Indeed, in many states, there are serious consequences for businesses that fail to make payroll.

Orchestras exist at different budget levels, and their operational conduct depends on what their budget is. Like any business, an orchestra can be horribly mismanaged. And unfortunately, like any business, the board of directors for an orchestra might not know very much about the enterprise, and/or be good at making the right decisions.

September 20, 2016 at 10:15 PM · Jason, orchestras are non-profits. Would you say the same about other non-profit workers, or is a for-profit business the only viable model to you?

edited to add the musicians aren't the product, the music is. It's a fairly similar model to sports teams, most of which also aren't sustainable based off of ticket sales but rely on donations and government subsidies.

September 20, 2016 at 11:27 PM · I did say this orchestra was in the Detroit area, didn't I? You know what happened there -- manufacturing collapsed and the entire region fell into recession. The group was originally called the Allen Park Symphony Orchestra (APSO), founded in 1955. They tried to expand their audience (and donor base) in 1995 by changing their name to Southern Great Lakes Symphony, but just a couple of years ago the organization finally folded. APSO was founded in 1955 and was the first community orchestra to play at Disneyworld.

September 21, 2016 at 12:25 AM · "why we continue to try to hold concerts based on a late romantic mold when the entire world has changed since then is a bit strange"

Come on that doesn't even make remotely any sense. It's because it's what people enjoy.

Why do people camp? Why do people eat? Why do people drink wine? Why do people ride bikes? Why do people sleep? Why do people make phone calls?

September 21, 2016 at 02:44 AM · "why we continue to try to hold concerts based on a late romantic mold when the entire world has changed since then is a bit strange"

Then explain why my orchestra sells out (hint: it's not because of me...).

You can't throw every orchestra in the same boat--some are doing well and some aren't.

I don't think we have to please the entire world. Just the people who like the music.

Every type of music can be captive to its past. If you go and see baby boom bands, their fans ONLY want to hear the oldies. It's all relative.

September 21, 2016 at 07:27 AM · I'm late to this discussion and frankly don't have time to read all from thread one, although I firmly intend to in the future when time permits.

As an amateur who is far more amateur than you Lydia,

I would recommend that you do two things:

Befriend anyone you can in that Orchestra so that you can find out the scoop on exactly what was on the audition list in previous years. If it is Prince Williams I may be able to help you out there...I know someone who knows someone:)

Suggestion 2: Find a community orchestra and find a way to turn it into a pro orchestra. This is what I intend to be my long term goal.

Good luck to you and keep us informed of the audition process and also with your results!

I hope to have something as interesting to contribute to the general discussion in the next year.

September 21, 2016 at 02:21 PM · It's closer-in. I have the excerpt list from a few different years from my previous contemplation of this audition, although I have to go dig up wherever I stored the files.

#2 is very interesting. I actually find that the community and pro orchestra differences are so significant that it's preferable to me to treat them as very separate experiences. Not just the musical experience, but the goals of the group.

My community orchestra emphasizes a learning experience and more of a relaxed collegiality, with an important component of outreach to less-advantaged kids in our community. By contrast, the goal of a pro group is generally to play music at the highest level that it can, maximizing the efficiency of rehearsal time; outreach is an important connection to the community but is generally seen as a sustaining activity that supports the core mission of delivering great music to an audience.

September 21, 2016 at 03:23 PM · "find a community orchestra and find a way to turn it into a pro..."

How would you go about doing this?

Why would you do this?

Assuming a good reason for doing this what would you think of displacing those individuals who only are good enough to play a community orchestra and now have no orchestra to join?

Lydia... I would be quite interested in an elaboration of this differences between community and professional orchestras... Especially given your stance (which I agree with) that the average concert goer cannot really tell the difference between a "good" orchestra community and a professional orchestra.

Jessy

September 21, 2016 at 07:28 PM · Some interesting points on the economics of the music industry. Hopefully we can all agree we're better off than in Bach's day when musicians were imprisoned or flogged for failing to humbly beg their noble employer to dismiss them, in order for them to take another job.... ;)

In general in the music business, live music is making much more profit than recording - the bottom has fallen out of the recording market thanks to youtube and so on (though if you ask some the trend for classical started around 1990 when Naxos started to flood the market with cheap-as-chips recordings of mixed quality by East European orchestras no-one had ever heard of ;) ).

So one would expect that orchestras who depended most on record sales would be doing the worst, while those dependent on live performance would be doing better. I think most are in the latter category - indeed in the last 10 years, London has gained one top-rate orchestra (Aurora) and lost none :)

September 22, 2016 at 03:47 AM · Hi Jessy Rinquist,

Nothing so onerous as you imply. No, I am specifically thinking of an area that is devoid of a professional orchestra and has a number of professionals who are not participating in the community orchestra.

Meanwhile, the community orchestra is much as Lydia describes, different goals.

I am simply saying there has to be a positive way to unite these two groups in music making while still emphasizing the learning and sharing aspect and excluding no one but escalating the status to semi-pro.

I think that there is a middle path and my mind has been actively exploring that theory.

It is only a concept but I think it is a good one.

While I have had no personal involvement in the Prince Williams Symphony (I simply have a friend there) that I mentioned above, if you read their history it went from community orchestra to professional. It is an inspiring story.

I don't personally believe that the transition from community to semi-pro would have to be exclusionary in any way.

I believe that problems were placed there for us to achieve greater solutions.

Maybe this is idealistic, but I am only fifty, and I am not ready to table my idealism or my problem solving skills just yet.

April Stevens

September 22, 2016 at 04:10 AM · Speaking from an entirely external perspective, as I have absolutely no experience partaking in any community/professional orchestra outside of just a high school orchestra, is a community orchestra more for the players or the entertainment of the community? Not that there should be any negative connotation with the former. Obviously people attend community orchestra performances for entertainment, and the orchestra only exists because people will pay to hear it. However, I would think the most enjoyment actually resides with the musicians. I see it as being one of the few opportunities amateurs have to participate in the "professional" scene. These are people who are simply playing with their community orchestra for the love of music (generally). It isn't like the pay is worth the hours put in in, and it probably won't hold an extreme degree of weight on a resume. I see community orchestras as an opportunity for amateurs to do what they love with other people, and the fact that people come to hear them is just a bonus (regardless of how good the orchestra plays). I know my teacher is concert master of her community orchestra and she gets tons of requests from people wanting to sub in whenever the major symphonies are announced for the season. Pieces that they wouldn't have the opportunity to partake in otherwise.

September 22, 2016 at 04:11 AM · Lydia,

I agree with your analysis re community vs pro completely.

But I also think there is a lack of outside the box thinking.

A few months ago, I looked up an orchestra which I auditioned for long ago when young and friends were members, and while they have improved in quality and pay, they now have auditioned volunteers, yet are solidly pro and well in the black.

I think there is a middle road and it is a matter of bringing together two disparate groups, pros and amateurs, into one entity, under circumstances agreeable to all.

Also, I was once a member of a "pro" orchestra, union wages and contract, long ago - only 5 concerts annually, not a living. The concertmaster recruited students and we had jobs and a paycheck in a small community.

Bottom line, it is a matter of finding the right location, getting the right people on board, and finding a way to include everyone in something that is bigger than the individual.

Just my two cents.

April Stevens

September 22, 2016 at 04:18 AM · If tickets are $5 it is no longer community.

It is pro.

It can still be a charitable organization.

It is all about billing.

Would you rather be an amateur or a pro?

I think a lot of community members would rather be pros.

If a community orchestra actually occasionally pays pros for certain missing seats or members (typically woodwind or brass)...

At what point is it community and at what point is it pro?

Things to ponder with the IRS.

April

September 22, 2016 at 04:19 AM · The Prince William Symphony Orchestra has been defunct for a few years, so I'd say the professionalization must ultimately not have served them well (although they went pro in the 1990s, so they did survive as a per-service orchestra for around two decades); I don't know the story behind their demise, though. The Manassas Symphony is doing fine, but it's an all-volunteer community orchestra.

Jessy: The fundamental difference between a community orchestra and a professional orchestra is the fact that a community orchestra is unpaid, and a professional orchestra is paid. Community orchestras sometimes do pay principals and may pay "ringers" if there are vital unfilled positions for specific concerts (say you really need a great harp player for a piece, but you can't find a volunteer). Professional orchestras might either be per-service or full-time; per-service orchestras may be union or non-union (and as far as I know, full-time orchestras in the US are always union), with a union contract normally resulting in better pay and better conditions.

Community orchestras can have very high musical standards, and a significant percentage of the members of such orchestras can actually be professionals -- they're just pros that don't primarily earn their living from performing, like public-school music educators (and for that matter, often many who earn their living from teaching privately). It's fairly common for the principals to be pros, even if they are unpaid.

However, in general, there's more slack in the expected standard of preparation for a community orchestra. Mistakes are usually tolerated, although it can depend upon the particular group -- I've been part of a community orchestra that's prided itself on pro-quality performances, and was accordingly selective with membership and up-front about preparation expectations. In a pro orchestra, you are expected to be prepared, period, no excuses.

September 22, 2016 at 04:37 AM · Lydia,

I still think that in the right place at the right time an orchestra could go from community to pro. I am not saying the orchestra would be any better before or after the designation had changed.

I wish you luck on preparing your upcoming audition. I think that you have only just started seriously contemplating such an audition, or you would have already been super-prepared long ago.

It is a difficult commitment to make, to go the audition path. If you choose that path, you cannot view one failure as anything but a bump in the road.

Best of luck,

April Stevens

September 22, 2016 at 04:50 AM · Lydia,

I also did not realize the PWSO was defunct. Obviously I do not keep in as close contact with old friends as I should.

How disappointing.

April Stevens

September 22, 2016 at 04:57 AM · Actually, a community orchestra can, and often does, charge for tickets. Tickets are generally only a small percentage of the budget (and that holds true for most pro orchestras as well). Both community orchestras and pro orchestras are normally non-profits. Community orchestras need to pay for music, may need to pay for the venue, and often compensate their conductor; they also usually compensate their soloists.

Orchestras that pay principals and/or ringers may classify themselves as semi-pro, although many such orchestras will classify themselves as community orchestras; sometimes you'll see a distinction of an "all-volunteer community orchestra" to indicate that everyone is unpaid. They are not professional orchestras until all players are paid. Orchestras that do not pay any players are definitely community, regardless of whether or not there are members who are music professionals.

Community orchestras exist for many different reasons. Some prioritize the needs and desires of the musicians; others exist more to serve the community. Usually there's a balance. Orchestras that depend a lot on grants from local government and the like may find it necessary to engage in activities that demonstrate benefit to the community. More populous areas are likely to have multiple community orchestras, each with its own expected playing level, culture, structure, and goals, thus enabling players to find a place where they feel at home.

Bailey, normally players in a community orchestras get paid nothing, and it's nigh-worthless on a performer's resume (unless you have nothing else of worth on your resume). If you are being paid -- paid principals and other ringers -- then it is a professional gig, and you are expected to come professionally prepared, and it's worth listing on a resume because it is an actual job. The Fox Valley Orchestra, where your teacher is the concertmaster, calls itself as a semi-pro orchestra; at least back when I lived in the area, FVO paid at least some of its players per-service.

September 22, 2016 at 07:18 AM · Chris

In general in the music business, live music is making much more profit than recording - the bottom has fallen out of the recording market thanks to youtube and so on (though if you ask some the trend for classical started around 1990 when Naxos started to flood the market with cheap-as-chips recordings of mixed quality by East European orchestras no-one had ever heard of ;) ).

So one would expect that orchestras who depended most on record sales would be doing the worst, while those dependent on live performance would be doing better. I think most are in the latter category - indeed in the last 10 years, London has gained one top-rate orchestra (Aurora) and lost none

Many of those Naxos unheard of groups (especially chamber and solo performers) are extremely good. I know some of the people who actually record them and the quality of the recordings is usually top rate.

And the Aurora orchestra is not well known and possibly not top rate (but I've never heard them so can't say for sure). However, some London orchestras are facing uncertain futures from what I hear, although this may also not be true. But I think the Tory Party would love to see them go, along with much of the Arts in London.

September 22, 2016 at 11:59 AM · In my area, there are multiple orchestras that began as community orchestras but were later professionalized. In fact, if you look at the history of orchestras in general, they very rarely (if ever) just spring up fully formed. Even the most distinguished orchestras of today typically began in a small and ragtag fashion.

Usually, as Lydia said, the step of hiring paid principals and ringers is the beginning of the transition to a fully-paid orchestra. If the community is small, then typically the majority of the paid musicians are commuting from a larger urban area, and the displaced community musicians will probably just form a new community orchestra. If the area is urban, then there are likely already a few community orchestras for them to play in.

September 22, 2016 at 03:32 PM · I agree with Sarah, but would add that paid principals and ringers can also be used to shore up an orchestra that would otherwise be shakier -- where there are no sufficiently strong volunteers to provide good leadership.

Going back to a comment of April's: "Would you rather be an amateur or a pro? I think a lot of community members would rather be pros."

I think the answer is, "It depends". Many unpaid members of community orchestras are music professionals, and many of them would probably prefer to be paid -- though not all do, since being paid comes with additional obligations which might not fit their current lifestyle.

The most skilled members of community orchestras may be capable of winning auditions for a freeway philharmonic. The fact that they aren't playing with one (or still playing with a community orchestra despite also playing with one or more freeway phils) indicates that the community orchestra fulfills a place in their life that is distinct from their pro gig.

Note that the professionalization of a community orchestra may have serious impact on the pros in that orchestra, as well, especially winds, brass, and string principals. What's good enough for an unpaid community orchestra is not necessarily good enough for a pro orchestra, and long-time players may find themselves pushed aside in favor of competitive open auditions for their seats.

September 22, 2016 at 04:06 PM · I'm sure most community orchestra players would like to be paid to do exactly the same thing they already do, but I'm not sure they would necessarily always like to assume the actual responsibilities of paid orchestra work. When you're paid to be in an orchestra, that means you're in your seat a minimum of five minutes before rehearsal time starts, regardless of how far away you live or whether your day job or your kid's soccer practice went late that day. It means that you don't chat with your friends during rehearsal. It means that you're told where to sit rather than sitting wherever you want. It means that break time is strict. It means that being unprepared or simply unable to play the part is actually unacceptable rather than mildly amusing.

For most community orchestra players, orchestra is a fun, relaxing time to unwind, not a workplace. That's great! It is different, though.

September 22, 2016 at 04:41 PM · Sarah gets it exactly.

It also means there's a little more flexibility for the music director. Works can be added or subtracted if need be, especially if the orchestra proves to struggle too much with something. Breaks can be lengthened or shortened. Rehearsal can run overtime. (If you've ever played a union gig with a conductor not used to conducting union orchestras, boy can they struggle with starting on time, giving breaks when mandated, and ending on time. I've seen conductors become shocked and offended when people just get up and leave after the conductor refuses to dismiss rehearsal on time. The musicians have another gig to go to, a lesson to teach, etc. I've seen conductors beg and plead with the orchestra to stay because the group really needs to rehearse something with, say, the chorus who hired the orchestra. I have never seen such pleas work.)

September 22, 2016 at 04:53 PM · April I think it would be amazing to have a place where anyone could come, gather, practice and perform. I just don't see how it is possible.

Professionals who would play would be constantly frustrated by the members who can't or don't prepare properly, while those people would be constantly frustrated by standards they can't hope to attain.

But the biggest problem as I see it is that in order to keep professionals coming to such a group you need some standard. Whatever that standard is creates an exclusion. This is the core problem.

I think the closest you could come is some sort of co-op Where a professional orchestra allows amateurs to sit in and practice with them if they want. The pros get paid but amateurs dont. Then, come concert time the amateur, if they want to play with the orchestra, they need to have two pros in their section sign that they have met a certain minimum criteria for those particular pieces. Perhaps each pro would be expected to meet a minimum number of amateurs per so many concerts that they have to sign for to keep the concerts inclusive of amateurs.

Naturally I can see numbers of problems that would crop up with this but no solution will have no problems. You have to start somewhere. In a situation like this only other professionals or dedicated concert goers might notice a difference in the performance and then that difference in quality will be quite mitigated by the requirements for amateurs who while they are permitted to practice with the orchestra as they like, must actually practice on their own and have skill enough to play the piece come concert time.

Just thoughts of mine as I have been contemplating how such a pro-am orchestra might function for a while.

Jessy

September 22, 2016 at 04:54 PM · By the way, for me, the desire to play with a freeway philharmonic has nothing to do with money -- and in fact it can actually be a money-loser (effectively) if I have to take a vacation day from my actual job to accommodate a daytime rehearsal. Rather, I'm interested in occasionally being able to make music at a higher level, and to learn, in a way that I can't get from any of the local community orchestras. (This is also why I want to sub, rather than being a regular member of a freeway phil -- it has to fit into the rest of my schedule.)

For a lot of the community orchestra members who are not pro musicians, per-service pay vs nothing does not make any real financial differences in their life. My community orchestra -- and indeed all the community orchestras I've ever played with -- is full of doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, etc. who make a very comfortable living in their day jobs. The union per-service rate of $75 is less than most local violin teachers charge for a 1-hour lesson, and it's less than a set of good strings. It's not worth it to them to get that money in exchange for pro-level demands.

September 22, 2016 at 05:07 PM · Jessy: The Baltimore Symphony runs side-by-side programs where adult amateurs get to stand-partner with BSO members. They've got a week-long academy along with single-day events. Some other orchestras, like the Buffalo Philharmonic, also have week-long side-by-side summer experiences.

However, here's the key thing: The amateurs pay for that experience. They pay a lot for that experience, actually -- for BSO, it's $150 for the half-program, or $300 for the full program, on a single night. Basically, the amateurs are funding the orchestra for that evening.

September 22, 2016 at 05:26 PM · Which is not unreasonable I think...that is really cool! And a great idea...I know the conductor is a TED speaker right??? I really like his masterclass videos... If it is him the passion of his is inspiring!!!

Jessy

September 22, 2016 at 09:30 PM · I don't think so? BSO's conductor is the exceedingly fine Marin Alsop -- afaik, the only woman to hold the music director position in an orchestra of that stature.

By the way, any experience of that sort will put into sharp context how much better those pros are than even the best of the amateurs.

Your earlier suggestion, by the way, is impractical. Any player who isn't nailing all the notes is fundamentally marring the texture. One of the hallmarks of a better orchestra is the clarity that comes from perfect synchronization. If you are deviating -- a note not placed just so -- you are immediately spoiling what everyone else is doing.

September 23, 2016 at 03:08 AM · Our local youth orchestra charges for tickets, as do some college orchestras. Paid admission doesn't mean a professional orchestra.

BTW the pro-am concept is great as an annual one-off but Jessy's proposed "co-op" setup is absolutely not realistic for the compelling artistic reason given by Lydia as well as a host of other reasons. The standard expected in a professional orchestra is, I think, very hard to conceive of if your orchestral experience is limited to high school, college, and/or community orchestras. It really is a huge difference, and the presence of even one person in the ensemble who doesn't meet that standard can wreck a rehearsal.

September 23, 2016 at 03:49 AM · To be fair, not all freeway phils are all that good. I've certainly heard such orchestras perform at a lower level than my outstanding high school youth symphony -- although of course the youth symphony needed a full semester of weekly rehearsals to reach that point, whereas the freeway phil is doing it on a handful of rehearsals.

A freeway phil might very well still be at the level where you hear intonation errors, missed notes, etc. in performance. There's greater consistency, but not perfection.

September 23, 2016 at 03:53 AM · I can't imagine any amateur enjoying the prospect of enduring a pass/fail situation from other adults in his spare time, nor would I envy the professional who had to decide which amateurs "deserved" to be there and which didn't!

September 23, 2016 at 04:07 AM · "A freeway phil might very well still be at the level where you hear intonation errors, missed notes, etc. in performance. There's greater consistency, but not perfection."

True...I was thinking of my own orchestra. But I think mixing amateurs in with a freeway phil would have a similarly deleterious effect even if the bar is set a bit lower. And I can't imagine it being enjoyable for the amateurs either. Pro-ams and their younger sibling, the youth orchestra side-by-side, are fun because they are NOT like our every day working rehearsal. They are a lot more relaxed. There is nothing enjoyable or relaxing about being on the receiving end of a conductor's glare, or worse, public scolding. Not that that is a daily occurrence but it is always a possibility.

September 23, 2016 at 04:28 AM · An orchestra is an expensive thing to operate. Even community orchestras and youth orchestras have to rent parts, pay for rehearsal space, pay the conductor *something*, advertise concerts, hold auditions and/or recruit new members, keep the board running and so forth, and ticket sales don't even put much of a dent in those expenses. In fact, I'm not aware of any orchestra, anywhere, that keeps its doors open solely based on ticket sales, so I completely agree that charging admission has nothing to do with professionalism.

September 23, 2016 at 05:50 AM · I volunteered for a non-music nonprofit before, and for them, charging admission was a way to get people to attend events or use its services. They had tried offering services for free in the past but found people were much more likely to come if they had paid a modest fee. Their budget was from grants, not admission.

One instance I can think of where admission is really about revenue is with those fundraising gala concerts, which can cost hundreds or even thousands per ticket.

September 23, 2016 at 08:15 AM · Sarah Skreko

September 22, 2016 at 04:06 PM ·"When you're paid to be in an orchestra, that means you're in your seat a minimum of five minutes before rehearsal time starts, regardless of how far away you live or whether your day job or your kid's soccer practice went late that day. It means that you don't chat with your friends during rehearsal. It means that you're told where to sit rather than sitting wherever you want."

If I'm paid to be in an orchestra I thought that being in the orchestra is my "day job"...or do you have 2 full-time jobs?

Chatting with friends during rehearsal and sit whereever you want in Community Orchestra? I don't think so..

September 23, 2016 at 08:35 AM · April Stevens

September 22, 2016 at 04:18 AM · "If tickets are $5 it is no longer community.

It is pro.

It can still be a charitable organization.

It is all about billing."

Hmmm no, some Community Orchestras have expensive tickets without being any professional at all. Sometimes they have a soloist that is well-known and brings audience or they play Christmas Music, requiems and such things that everyone likes etc.

"Would you rather be an amateur or a pro?"

I don't know, I can be whatever. I would rather play good than bad though.

September 23, 2016 at 11:56 AM · "If I'm paid to be in an orchestra I thought that being in the orchestra is my "day job"...or do you have 2 full-time jobs?"

There are different levels of professional orchestras, and in some of them the musicians have other jobs too. That is the nature of freeway philharmonics--many of their players are school orchestra directors or band directors or, as in Lydia's (hopeful) case, something else entirely. That's why they rehearse in the evenings, typically for the week preceding their concert. The musicians are all paid, which is what makes the orchestra professional, but if they tried to live on what they were paid from their one freeway philharmonic gig, they would starve to death.

September 23, 2016 at 12:00 PM · There's every different kind of orchestra, each with its own traditions, culture, pay structure, and skill distribution.

September 23, 2016 at 12:50 PM · o, i see. they rehearse in evenings after another job. hard to be in your best tip top shape after a whole day in another job...

September 23, 2016 at 01:06 PM · On other threads, it's been noted many times that the life of a freelancing musician is a tough one. Cobbling together a living out of multiple freeway philharmonics, random other gigs (weddings et.al.), and teaching can be exhausting.

September 23, 2016 at 02:13 PM · Which is exactly what I tell those of my students who express an ambition to be a professional musician, that is, that's what I tell those students whom I believe to have a chance in the first place. They are looking at me, and seeing that I have a good life doing what I love, which is something they love too. They don't see the other talented people that I went to school with for whom things shaped up a little differently.

Actually I think that the freeway philharmonic musicians who rehearse in the evening after their day jobs as music teachers or something else have it a lot better than the freeway philharmonic musicians who support themselves by playing in several such orchestras, along with private teaching and other gigs. The former players have benefits and a guaranteed income outside the freeway phil. The latter are at the mercy of multiple small-time boards and managements, students' whims, etc., with no benefits and little guaranteed income--students quit, wedding fashions change, and so on.

For our young aspiring musician friends reading this thread, everyone thinks they're going to be a soloist or get into the Chicago Symphony or similar big league orchestra and live a glamorous life of music. A vanishingly small number will make it as soloists, a nearly vanishingly small number will end up in New York/Boston/Chicago/Philadelphia/Cleveland/LA/San Francisco, and a few more will end up in another 52-week orchestra that pays relatively well. A slightly larger but still not encouraging number will end up in other fulltime orchestras lower in the food chain, where it is theoretically possible to live on one's orchestral salary but wiser and a lot more comfortable to add summer festivals, teaching and/or gigging to the mix (this is where I am). Below that are the A/B orchestras with a small fulltime core that add freeway phil-type players for their masterworks concerts once a month or so (the core players also do educational concerts, chamber orchestra concerts, maybe are divided up into chamber groups), and below *that* are the pure freeway philharmonics that prompted Lydia to start this thread. And the overall level of professional musicianship is so high that it is hard to get into the core of an A/B orchestra, and shockingly hard to get into an orchestra at the level of my own. You would not believe (addressing our high school v.com members who want to know if they can become a soloist) how well you must play just to get a slightly better than part-time gig.

The upside of all this is for the communities that support these small orchestras. You don't necessarily have to go to the big city to hear symphonic music played at a high level, and students can find excellent teachers nearly everywhere.

September 23, 2016 at 02:34 PM · It's worthwhile to add that "soloist" has many different tiers, as well, to judge by the way that I read it on the bios of musicians.

At the top are the soloists who really make a full-time living from just playing concertos and recitals. That's what most students are thinking of when they say "soloist" -- Perlman, Hahn, Vengerov, and so forth. This number is miniscule.

Then there are the soloists who play a more modest number of concerts, and also hold down teaching positions at one or more institutions, which gives them a steady income in addition to their concert fees.

Drop down another tier and you'll get soloists who play some concerts but whose primary income is from teaching, probably a mixture of a job at some institution, and private teaching.

(And then below that, you'll get people who claim they're soloists on their bio, but are really teaching for income, and occasionally playing free recitals.)

This intersects with orchestras in an interesting way, because an orchestra's budget determines what soloists they can afford to hire. Community orchestras tend to use local soloists, but if they have more budget, they may fly in bigger-name soloists, since soloists draw an audience. Freeway phils will sometimes use local soloists also, but are more likely to bring in soloists. As the orchestra's budget grows, big-name soloists become more and more likely.

September 23, 2016 at 03:18 PM · Lydia... Benjamin Zander is who I was referring to...it says he is the director of the Boston youth symphony. You should check out some of his videos if you have not seen them.

Jessy

September 23, 2016 at 04:11 PM · I thought he was fired for shenanigans...

September 23, 2016 at 04:25 PM · God I hope not...sheesh.

Editing to add that if he was involved in shennanigans I hope he did get fired.

Jessy

September 23, 2016 at 04:32 PM · http://archive.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/02/05/fired_from_new_england_conservatory_benjamin_zander_considers_what_happened_and_what_the_future_holds/

September 23, 2016 at 04:38 PM · I believe he was let go from NEC (after a 45 year career) for hiring a videographer who was a registered sex offender. It demonstrated extremely poor judgment on his part. Here is a fairly balanced article that presents the situation: Boston Globe

FWIW, I participated in an orchestra workshop that Zander led many years ago, and he was a fantastic teacher and conductor.

September 23, 2016 at 05:48 PM · Ben Zander has led a workshop here too and I agree, he was fantastic. The NEC episode was very disappointing.

September 24, 2016 at 12:11 AM · "And the overall level of professional musicianship is so high that it is hard to get into the core of an A/B orchestra, and shockingly hard to get into an orchestra at the level of my own. You would not believe (addressing our high school v.com members who want to know if they can become a soloist) how well you must play just to get a slightly better than part-time gig."

This makes me wonder: if all these A/B orchestras are composed of really great players, why are they A/B orchestras, and do they remain that way? In other words, doesn't the quality of musicianship help raise the caliber of the orchestra itself?

September 24, 2016 at 02:11 AM · They aren't all great players but the core players tend to be solid. As for why they remain A/B orchestras? Money. Smaller cities cannot raise as much money as larger cities.

September 24, 2016 at 03:13 AM · There's a lot more that goes into the quality of an orchestra than the caliber of the players. One of the greatest frustrations of playing freeway phils for me is that the whole is usually a lot less than the sum of its parts. Some of the players are not that great, but others are pros that regularly sub in full-time orchestras and audition often. Sometimes they go on to win full-time jobs and sometimes they don't--for a whole host of reasons--but either way, even if the caliber of players in the freeway phil is high, there's a ceiling to what can be achieved as an ensemble on such limited rehearsal time.

September 24, 2016 at 04:01 AM · What is the hiring process in the professional orchestras? I'm assuming community orchestra's rely on auditions and then make judgments about the player during rehearsals?

In a professional orchestra is there more to a seat selection than just the blind audition? For example, do the players have to go through formal interviews, multiple stages of auditions, and/or be put "on the spot" in some way? I know that once hired the player is on probation and will be under constant scrutiny until he/she makes it to tenure (if he/she makes it at least). But, how does the selection process very across the different levels of orchestras?

September 24, 2016 at 04:11 AM · Community orchestras might or might not audition their string players. (Wind and brass players are often auditioned because the number of openings is small.) Players whose playing histories suggest that they'll fit the orchestra may be admitted without an audition, and 1st vs. 2nd violin might be decided on the basis of that playing history. However, it's more common for the conductor or the concertmaster to hear a violinist play at least briefly in order to do section placement (assuming there's no rotating section). The more serious the orchestra or the fewer openings there are, the more likely it is that openings will be filled by audition.

Community orchestras may separate entrance auditions from seating auditions. There may be some softening of the way this is phrased because many community orchestras like to position themselves as non-competitive.

Freeway phils may fill seats entirely through word of mouth -- generally word of mouth gets people in as substitutes, and substitutes may eventually be offered permanent positions. Freeway phils that do auditions may do them for sub positions (with subs eventually being offered permanent positions), or for permanent positions. Auditions for freeway phils might or might not have a resume screen, but they might charge an audition fee. As far as I know, most freeway phil auditions are single-round -- you come in, play a bit of your concerto and excerpts, and that's it. If there are two rounds, the first might be a taped round -- basically a preliminary round.

Full-time orchestras generally have a multi-round audition that begins with a resume screen, and may include a taped round before the live rounds. Most offer probationary positions. In theory, that probationary period is one year, but I've heard that some major symphonies actually keep players on long-term probation in order to avoid offering them the full pay and benefits of a tenured position. Principal player auditions generally have higher requirements. There are orchestras that require, for instance, a chamber-music round for principals.

Usually pro orchestras hire for "section violinist", which means that you can be placed in 1st or 2nd violin largely on the whims of the current openings, and where you sit in the section is also subject to the whims of availability and/or longevity.

No doubt Mary Ellen can provide a more thorough and accurate response though. :-)

September 24, 2016 at 06:47 AM · Strange that it is nearly impossible to make a living as a professional player but at the same time there is a huge gap in level between professional and the best amateurs.

Shouldn't there be a large number of really talented, good players that don't get work and thus are amateurs?

September 24, 2016 at 12:16 PM · I don't agree that there is a huge gap between professionals and even the very best amateurs. Off the top of my head I can think of three former colleagues or classmates who changed careers by choice, not necessity. One is concertmaster of his local community orchestra; I'm not sure how much the other two are still playing but they were quite good. And "professionals" also covers a lot of ground. There may not be much overlap between the two groups but there's not the empty set, either.

Lydia gave a pretty good description of how to get a job in a professional orchestra. I will fill in more when I'm not on my phone. Too much typing for that.

September 24, 2016 at 12:36 PM · There are both players who change careers because they become interested in doing something else (or always intended to use their training as a stepping-stone to something else, such as medical school), and there are players for whom musical life did not turn out as planned (usually because they didn't win the big orchestra job they'd hoped for, or have the solo career they hoped for) and switch professions. Some of those players quit playing. Some of them become amateurs. From what I have seen personally, for the second category of disappointed pros, quitting is more common than becoming an amateur; I am occasionally surprised by the number of tech-industry professionals with music degrees.

Amateurs with a performance degree tend, in my observation, to be more confident, polished performers, with more reliable technique -- i.e., less likely to falter under the stress of performance -- and better musicianship. But they are not necessarily more technically adept or better musicians than amateurs without a performance degree.

All violinists who don't play for a living struggle to maintain their technique in top shape, I think; indeed, arguably many players can't do so even if they perform for a living, with peak virtuosity close to their student years. What you have to do to win a pro orchestra job is different from what you have to do to keep it.

September 24, 2016 at 11:19 PM · It is true that it's harder to win a pro orchestra job than it is to keep it, but the required level is still quite high.

When a professional orchestra has an opening, they place an ad in the International Musician (union newspaper) and, these days, usually online as well. People who are interested in the job send their resumes to the personnel manager and the resumes are screened by the audition committee to determine who to invite and who not to. The latter is a kindness; if your resume can't even get through the screening, you are most likely much less qualified than the other candidates and would be wasting your time and money. Some orchestras will ask for a recording, or sometimes just in the case of borderline resumes.

While there are a few orchestras (Toronto comes to mind) that rotate between violin sections, most specify in the ad whether the opening is in the first or the second violins. In other words, you are assigned to the section that you auditioned for, because that's where the opening is. Some orchestras will audition for a specific chair but it's very common for there to be rotation within a section--my orchestra does this--so other than titled players, people move around within sections and everyone is equal.

At the audition itself, the first round is behind a screen and candidates are identified by number. There is a monitor behind the screen with the candidate so if any questions arise, the candidate can whisper the question to the monitor who then repeats the question for the committee without using pronouns that give away gender. Orchestras vary when it comes to removing the screen; in my orchestra the committee has to be unanimous in order to take it down in later rounds. I won my job by playing four rounds, all behind a screen, the first around 9 AM and the last around 9 PM. That was a long day.

After each group (five or six, usually) of candidates, the committee votes on who to advance--the survivors stick around and everyone else (the great majority) is excused. After prelims are over, there are semifinals and finals for a diminishing number of candidates until there is one winner, or sometimes no winner if nobody is meeting the standard the committee seeks.

Assuming there is a winner, that player is probationary for a certain length of time. In my orchestra, the probationary period ends with the offer of a third contract. After that it is still possible to be fired for lack of artistic proficiency, but the process is much more difficult. It is always possible to be fired for cause, tenure or no tenure, and I have known a few people who lost jobs that way--in those cases, it's usually substance abuse and it's very sad.

Auditions are a brutal way to get a job and I am so thankful that part of my life is over.

September 25, 2016 at 06:32 AM · Lydia, I don't mean to hijack this thread to push a semi-pro agenda, but...

I'm thinking of a scenario the opposite of Jesse's although I do appreciate the brainstorming on how a community orchestra could turn pro and the actual function, how it could all work...

I think Jesse's thought process came from the pro orientation.

My point is that the definition of what is pro and what is community and what is semi-pro and what is freeway are all the worst sorts of in the box thinking.

I know that currently the community orchestra I am in pays the occasional ringer.

It seems to me that the real problem is that you have a community where a significant number of pros (teachers) are choosing not to participate in the orchestra, meanwhile, they are not in any orchestras.

I think this is the group (non performing pros) that needs to reshape their thinking and become a part of their community. I also think that the orchestra could find a way to pay these people and that they, in the community spirit, could make half of the rehearsals.

Meanwhile, there is no need to exclude anyone. Our conductor tells us, when it gets to the tough spots and the concert is approaching, (in the strings) if you cant play the part drop out. Someone will be there playing the part correctly and he trusts us as individuals to make that decision.

I think it all works as long as there is GREAT TOLERANCE FROM ALL.

Maybe the orchestra plus twelve more pros is not the pro dream of so many, but the relaxed approach plus professionalism and an ongoing goal of paying most or perhaps all, I don't see how this approach could go wrong, except that a community orchestra could still continue to simply be what it has always been and the impact (upon orchestral quality) might be too minimal.

April STevens

September 25, 2016 at 09:32 AM · I think if you are a little serious with playing and music, when you are being put in an orchestra, whether amateur or professional, you will learn your part carefully and come prepared to rehearsals etc. Then you might feel used to keep doing that for free for a longer period of time.

It may be Ok for a while (you'll get some training in things such as how to learn a large amount of notes in short time, write fingerings etc although this actually is your own work too), but as to polish your own playing I don't think it is very giving.

They get a lot from you, and you not so much back.

September 25, 2016 at 04:03 PM · "Strange that it is nearly impossible to make a living as a professional player but at the same time there is a huge gap in level between professional and the best amateurs."

There is a continuum between "professionals" and the best amateurs.

September 25, 2016 at 04:37 PM · The purpose of coming to a rehearsal is not to rehearse getting the notes. That might true at the lowest level of community-orchestra proficiency, but it gets less and less so as skill increases. The purpose of a rehearsal is to work as an ensemble, and you can't do that if a bunch of your members are randomly missing. Strings can cope with this better than winds/brass/percussion, since the string sections are larger, but nevertheless, attendance matters.

Also, money creates an imposition of obligation. Teaching pros who play in community orchestras tend to treat it as fun, which means casual preparation. If you pay, then there's the obligation of playing at a pro level, which means a lot more preparation. Playing fewer rehearsals is worse than playing more rehearsals, because then you have fewer services to be paid for, which means your practice time has less return per-hour.

September 25, 2016 at 05:17 PM · April: Ringers are trained to do the job with a couple of rehearsals. Even if they were in a community orchestra for fun, for most adults, committing 1-2 evenings a week is not a trivial thing. Music teachers often teach privately at the same time as community orchestra rehearsals. It’s a lot to consider, if it means foregoing income and time they could be spending on other projects or family.

I think most people are seeking a musically fulfilling experience. If a group isn’t a good fit, people will prefer to do other things with their time. It’s not just pros. A lot of skilled amateurs don’t play in community orchestras either.

For some reason, what you’re describing (regarding tolerance or exclusion) reminds me of the feelings surrounding why youth orchestras in the U.S. often require students to be enrolled in their high school ensembles. They have to, or else the better players might not enroll in a strings class where most of their classmates are barely at Suzuki book 2. It means passing up a school period to take French or history. There are a lot of civic reasons to contribute to a school group (which I agree with), but I can also see the other side. How far should this extend once we're talking about adults and their time?

September 25, 2016 at 06:36 PM · I don't really understand the thinking that music teaching professionals should play in a community orchestra as some kind of community service. For one thing, teaching school is a huge job and a lot of teachers don't have much energy left. For another, there are other performance outlets besides orchestra. They may prefer to play in a string quartet or other small ensemble and there's no reason why they shouldn't.

September 25, 2016 at 07:33 PM · It's also worth thinking about skill levels involved here. By and large, people tend to want to play with other people around the same skill level. A pro who is playing at about the same level as a good amateur (which is often true of music educators) is not unlikely to join the local community orchestra for fun, if they can manage the time. A pro above that level will probably find it a lot less rewarding.

And then there's the role of the conductor. Some community-orchestra conductors run great, enjoyable rehearsals, and do a great job of picking repertoire. Not all do.

September 25, 2016 at 09:12 PM · Right. People who are used to playing in freeway phils or better, or even who were part of a conservatory orchestra in school, are probably not going to have a lot of fun regularly playing in a section where people are dropping out of the music.

September 25, 2016 at 09:45 PM · I'll note that the situation is somewhat different for principals, whether paid or not. You have a "job" (whether a volunteer duty or something you are being compensated to do) to lead and to help the section play better, and that means you rehearse from a different mindset. So you're getting something out of the experience that is not just the pure fun of music-making. That's why you can sometimes find rather good pros enjoying their section-leader roles in community orchestras even when they're not paid.

You could make an argument that pros embedded in an otherwise-amateur section could be encouraged to contribute similarly, but I think that starts getting you into side-by-side instruction, rather than fun.

September 25, 2016 at 10:59 PM · There are people who do that, though. Particularly pros who have retired from their full-time gigs. You'll often see them playing principal in the community orchestra just to keep a hand in the game. Where April lost me was the idea that professionals morally *should* do this. I think that's a bit too far. :)

September 26, 2016 at 02:07 AM · Indeed, I agree. But that's for the joy of it. I don't think pay would make a difference to their choices.

September 26, 2016 at 03:18 AM · I'm generally familiar with the level of violinist in the community orchestras in my area. The established violin teachers in my area would be wasting their time there.

Two evenings a week for two hours each, plus at least half an hour of lost time for travel, etc. Even at the low rates that teachers get paid around here (about $60 per hour), that's $300 a week that the orchestra would have to pay them to compensate their lost teaching time. Plus you have to get there, park your car, etc. Is there a community orchestra in the world that could afford those wages?

September 26, 2016 at 03:19 AM · I don't think it is fair to pay music teachers to play in orchestra for the mere fact of them being teachers.

Some teachers are of course good players but that is also true for amateurs with other occupations.

September 26, 2016 at 03:23 AM · Fideli I agree. If you're going to pay ringers, fine, but pay them for their ability, not for what they do during the daytime.

September 26, 2016 at 03:35 AM · The point, though, Fideli, is that community orchestra rehearsal tends to happen during prime teaching hours. A lot of musicians face the question of whether or not to even bother performing in orchestra for that exact reason, because generally it is more lucrative to teach. When I was teaching (and performing) much more--in other words, in my pre-baby life--I did lose money when I played freeway phil gigs, even though the ones that I accepted always paid both mileage and per-service.

It's kind of the same reason why business professors get paid so much more than literature professors. They're doing the same work, but the university knows what the business professors are able to earn in industry jobs, and there has to be some incentive other than the love of teaching to stick around the university. Similarly, if the community orchestra wants to add professional players, then they need to be compensated at least enough so that they don't lose money by accepting the job. Otherwise, they won't come. It's about market value, not fairness.

September 26, 2016 at 03:35 AM · Your community orchestras meet twice a week? I've never encountered that at the community level before.

September 26, 2016 at 03:47 AM · "Similarly, if the community orchestra wants to add professional players, then they need to be compensated at least enough so that they don't lose money by accepting the job. Otherwise, they won't come. It's about market value, not fairness."

Yes, Teachers are not per definition professional orchestra musicians though. If they are, they can audition to take orchestra jobs.

September 26, 2016 at 03:51 AM · They do! Trust me. I know plenty of graduates from IU, Eastman and even Curtis who take freeway phil and community orchestra ringer gigs in between auditioning for full time orchestras. Auditioning is expensive, and they can't afford to show up at the community orchestra out of the goodness of their hearts.

September 26, 2016 at 03:51 AM · But, do most teachers actually have a full time load of students? I think that factor is being overlooked. Yes theoretically it costs $300 to have a professional sub in, but does it really cost the teacher that much or is it really just a side job only impacting her personal time?

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