November 2012

Orchestral Research Interviews and Surveys Updated

November 28, 2012 12:49

Hello Friends,

Just a quick note to let you know my orchestral research has been updated. I think the surveys and interviews are really interesting! Hope you enjoy them too.

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Orchestral Research PART 2B: orchestral surveys for violin sections in orchestras

November 6, 2012 16:47

Time for another orchestral research entry!

This part of my research entails violin sections in orchestras completing the survey below. It is my goal to obtain surveys from six orchestras ranging in level. So far, two orchestras have completed these surveys, and two are on their way to completion. As with the interviews, I will add more results as I receive them.

The survey lists a series of statements in which the person taking the survey may answer in multiple choice fashion from one of the following answers:
a) strongly agree
b) agree
c) no opinion/neutral
d) disagree
e) strongly disagree

The survey covers three topics: Audition Preparation, the Actual Audition, and Matters concerning Concertmasters. After the surveys were complete, I tallied up the results as to how many picked which answer. Not all orchestras had the same amount of surveys completed, as I could not require a certain number of volunteers should not all want to participate.

The statements are shown below:

9 questions in regards to audition preparation:

1) When looking for auditions a violinist should audition for any job opening,
even if their level of playing is slightly below the orchestra’s level.

2) When preparing for an audition, it is acceptable to ask a violinist for
coaching from within that orchestra you are auditioning for.

3) A violinist should only chose to play a concerto within the standard
romantic/contemporary range.

4) Most orchestras do not provide their own edited excerpts for the audition.

5) Violinists should listen to recordings (if there are any) of the orchestra they
are auditioning for, so that they know how the orchestra sounds and can
try to emulate them accordingly.

6) When no measure numbers are given for the excerpts in an audition, a
violinist should learn the entire piece/movement for an audition.

7) In an audition a violinist should use bowings that are comfortable for
him/her, regardless of any standard bowings that might exist.

8) Mental preparation is as equally important for taking an audition as
physical preparation

9) Before choosing to audition for an orchestral job, it is important to first
take into consideration how much the audition costs, location, and other
aspects not having anything directly to do with the orchestra.

10 questions in regards to the actual auditions:

1) When listening to violinists audition, committee members want to hear
soloistic dynamics over orchestral dynamics, so the musicality of the
violinist is fully represented.

2) Even though most of the audition process takes place behind a screen,
what a person wears is crucial.
3) Screens are used for all rounds of auditions.

4) The sight-reading part in an audition is not as crucial as the actual

5) During the audition it is common to be asked to play an excerpt at
different tempi.

6) When a violinist is auditioning for a section chair, the audition committee is
comprised of only string members of the orchestra and the conductor.

7) When a violinist is auditioning for a concertmaster, principal, associate
principal, or assistant principle chair, the audition committee is comprised
of all principals within the orchestra and conductor.

8) Recordings that are sent in for auditions are not taken into serious

9) The list of excerpts changes depending whether the audition is for a
concertmaster, principal, or section chair.

10) After winning an audition, a violinist can expect to own a seat until
he/she decides to audition for another open seat and move accordingly.

10 questions regarding concertmaster matters:

1) During rehearsal, it is appropriate to address your section often with an
issue in the music (bowings, what part of the bow to play in, etc.)

2) When in rehearsal, the concertmaster should wait until the break
before making any inquiries to the conductor about the music.

3) Concertmasters determine all the bowings that are unified among the
strings and the first violin bowings, and then principals complete the rest of
the individual section bowings.

4) The concertmaster should have all bowings ready before the first rehearsal.

5) The concertmaster should take into consideration the other string
principals’ thoughts and ideas on bowings, phrasings, etc.

6) It is appropriate to change bowings before the dress rehearsal, but not at
the dress rehearsal.
7) When new on the job as concertmaster, is it not appropriate to immediately
begin vocalizing thoughts and opinions. Instead, one should wait awhile to
get the “feel” of the orchestra and patiently observe the group.

8) When a concertmaster leads the orchestra, it is important he/she moves so
that the violinists in the back can see the gestures.

9) Concertmasters have a large part in choosing violin audition winners.

10) The concertmaster is an ambassador to the community, and expected to
play for various events within and outside of the community.
Here are the results:
Yakima Symphony (13 surveys):

Audition Preparation:

1) a) 0 b) 1 c) 1 d) 11 e) 0

2) a) 1 b) 1 c) 0 d) 8 e) 3

3) a) 2 b) 4 c) 2 d) 4 e) 1

4) a) 0 b) 5 c) 1 d) 5 e) 1

5) a) 0 b) 0 c) 4 d) 3 e) 6

6) a) 0 b) 0 c) 1 d) 7 e) 4

7) a) 1 b) 5 c) 2 d) 5 e) 0

8) a) 1 b) 0 c) 0 d) 4 e) 8

9) a) 1 b) 1 c) 0 d) 7 e) 4

Actual Audition:

1) a) 3 b) 5 c) 3 d) 2 e) 0

2) a) 0 b) 3 c) 3 d) 5 e) 2

3) a) 6 b) 6 c) 1 d) 0 e) 0

4) a) 2 b) 6 c) 1 d) 3 e) 1

5) a) 0 b) 2 c) 2 d) 7 e) 2

6) a) 3 b) 7 c) 2 d) 1 e) 0

7) a) 0 b) 3 c) 1 d) 7 e) 1

8) a) 2 b) 5 c) 1 d) 4 e) 1

9) a) 0 b) 1 c) d) 7 e) 5

10) a) 4 b) 4 c) 1 d) 4 e) 0

Concertmaster Questions: (one person did not answer this section…)

1) a) 2 b) 2 c) 1 d) 5 e) 2

2) a) 3 b) 7 c) 1 d) 0 e) 1

3) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 10 e) 2

4) a) 1 b) 0 c) 0 d) 4 e) 7

5) a) 0 b) 3 c) 1 d) 6 e) 2

6) a) 0 b) 1 c) 0 d) 8 e) 3

7) a) 1 b) 2 c) 0 d) 9 e) 0

8) a) 0 b) 0 c) 1 d) 8 e) 3

9) a) 0 b) 1 c) 0 d) 10 e) 1

10) a) 0 b) 0 c) 5 d) 3 e) 4
Spokane Symphony (14 surveys):

Audition Preparation:

1) a) 0 b) 4 c) 2 d) 7 e) 1

2) a) 0 b) 1 c) 0 d) 6 e) 7

3) a) 1 b) 1 c) 1 d) 6 e) 5

4) a) 1 b) 3 c) 6 d) 4 e) 0

5) a) 2 b) 0 c) 2 d) 8 e) 2

6) a) 0 b) 0 c) 1 d) 4 e) 9

7) a) 2 b) 3 c) 1 d) 6 e) 2

8) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 4 e) 10

9) a) 0 b) 2 c) 2 d) 4 e) 6

Actual Audition:

1) a) 3 b) 1 c) 3 d) 4 e) 3

2) a) 1 b) 4 c) 5 d) 4 e) 0

3) a) 4 b) 7 c) 1 d) 2 e) 0

4) a) 3 b) 5 c) 0 d) 5 e) 1

5) a) 0 b) 1 c) 3 d) 6 e) 4

6) a) 2 b) 2 c) 4 d) 5 e) 2

7) a) 3 b) 1 c) 5 d) 3 e) 2

8) a) 1 b) 4 c) 1 d) 7 e) 1

9) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 7 e) 7

10) a) 2 b) 4 c) 1 d) 6 e) 1

Concertmaster Questions: (one person did not answer this section…)

1) a) 2 b) 0 c) 2 d) 5 e) 4

2) a) 4 b) 6 c) 2 d) 0 e) 1

3) a) 2 b) 1 c) 2 d) 6 e) 1

4) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 0 e) 13

5) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 6 e) 7

6) a) 0 b) 2 c) 2 d) 5 e) 4

7) a) 0 b) 5 c) 4 d) 4 e) 0

8) a) 0 b) 0 c) 1 d) 2 e) 10

9) a) 3 b) 1 c) 3 d) 3 e) 3

10) a) 1 b) 1 c) 3 d) 5 e) 4

Pacific Northwest Ballet Symphony answers: (8 surveys)

Audition Preparation:

1) a) 0 b) 4 c) 1 d) 3 e) 0

2) a) 1 b) 0 c) 1 d) 5 e) 1

3) a) 1 b) 3 c) 2 d) 2 e) 0

4) a) 0 b) 4 c) 2 d) 2 e) 0

5) a) 0 b) 1 c) 2 d) 3 e) 2

6) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 2 e) 6

7) a) 0 b) 3 c) 1 d) 3 e) 1

8) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 2 e) 6

9) a) 0 b) 1 c) 2 d) 3 e) 2

Actual Audition:

1) a) 2 b) 2 c) 2 d) 2 e) 0

2) a) 1 b) 3 c) 2 d) 1 e) 1

3) a) 1 b) 6 c) 1 d) 0 e) 0

4) a) 1 b) 4 c) 1 d) 2 e) 0

5) a) 0 b) 2 c) 2 d) 3 e) 1

6) a) 4 b) 2 c) 1 d) 1 e) 0

7) a) 1 b) 2 c) 3 d) 2 e) 0

8) a) 0 b) 6 c) 2 d) 0 e) 0

9) a) 1 b) 0 c) 1 d) 3 e) 3

10) a) 2 b) 2 c) 3 d) 1 e) 0

Concertmaster Questions:

1) a) 0 b) 1 c) 0 d) 5 e) 2

2) a) 2 b) 5 c) 1 d) 0 e) 0

3) a) 0 b) 1 c) 3 d) 2 e) 2

4) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 4 e) 4

5) a) 0 b) 0 c) 2 d) 4 e) 2

6) a) 0 b) 1 c) 2 d) 3 e) 2

7) a) 0 b) 1 c) 5 d) 2 e) 0

8) a) 0 b) 0 c) 1 d) 5 e) 2

9) a) 0 b) 1 c) 2 d) 4 e) 1

10) a) 0 b) 2 c) 4 d) 2 e) 0
Oregon Symphony results:

1) a) 1 b) 2 c) 4 d) 3 e) 3

2) a) 0 b) 1 c) 0 d) 8 e) 4

3) a) 0 b) 2 c) 4 d) 7 e) 1

4) a) 0 b) 4 c) 2 d) 6 e) 2

5) a) 0 b) 3 c) 4 d) 5 e) 2

6) a) 0 b) 0 c) 1 d) 7 e) 6

7) a) 0 b) 6 c) 2 d) 5 e) 1

8) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 3 e) 11

9) a) 0 b) 0 c) 3 d) 8 e) 3

10) a) 3 b) 4 c) 2 d) 5 e) 0

Actual Audition:

1) a) 0 b) 1 c) 5 d) 6 e) 0

2) a) 0 b) 5 c) 2 d) 5 e) 2

3) a) 5 b) 8 c) 0 d) 0 e) 1

4) a) 2 b) 6 c) 0 d) 5 e) 0

5) a) 1 b) 0 c) 2 d) 8 e) 3

6) a) 7 b) 6 c) 1 d) 0 e) 0

7) a) 4 b) 5 c) 1 d) 3 e) 0

8) a) 5 b) 6 c) 1 d) 1 e) 0

9) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 7 e) 6

10) a) 3 b) 7 c) 1 d) 1 e) 0

Concertmaster Questions:

1) a) 1 b) 2 c) 0 d) 8 e) 1

2) a) 3 b) 9 c) 2 d) 0 e) 0

3) a) 0 b) 3 c) 0 d) 9 e) 2

4) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 7 e) 7

5) a) 0 b) 0 c) 1 d) 13 e) 0

6) a) 0 b) 2 c) 1 d) 8 e) 3

7) a) 0 b) 5 c) 4 d) 4 e) 1

8) a) 0 b) 0 c) 0 d) 10 e) 4

9) a) 0 b) 2 c) 4 d) 7 e) 1

10) a) 0 b) 0 c) 3 d) 8 e) 3

2 replies

November 6, 2012 15:22

Back by popular demand (thanks, friends :D ), here is the article again on some of the true statements that have been made and have been experienced within my and my colleagues studios. This was written in, well, two minutes. I couldn't help myself but recognize the irony. Please let me make a disclaimer, however: This does not represent any one entire studio, nor does it presume to cast stereotypes, nor does it intend to deem all other activities ridiculous. Let it be known the author of this article would like to state that she is extremely blessed to have parents in her studio that do not state the following, that she understands not everyone thinks like this, and that she encourages ALL her students to stay physically and mentally sharp in various ways including not least of all sports.

For those of you who are new to this article, this is a small demonstration of some of the ironic differences in thinking some people have when it comes to music vs. other activities~

Oh we have a game this weekend and it's three hours away
Drive 20 minutes to a lesson? Forget it!

We are planning a family vacation in 6 months
We can't plan for a recital 6 months.

We have to drive an hour and a half to buy some sports equipment today
There's no way I am driving an hour and a half to get my instrument fixed

The coach says we have to be there at this time on this day
Sorry, we can't make rehearsal

Oh my student didn't go to school today because he/she is sick
But I brought him/her to the lesson! I figured you don't mind getting sick

They practice swimming 5 hours a week!
You mean I need to practice my instrument more than 10 minutes a day?

Well, this club isn't turning out to be exactly what my child expected, but we'll stick with it
Well, after a few lessons we decided it's not going how we like, so we'll quit

Well, we are sick so we can't go to the special event even though we paid for these tickets. Guess that's money down the drain
I demand a refund!

We decided to take up "x" activity and it happens at this time on this day
Please private teacher, switch around our time~we are being flexible with you by allowing you to still fit us in somewhere else in YOUR schedule

Let's buy a new car...
Sorry, I can't afford to by him/her new strings

We need to make sure we are on the field by 5pm!
I'm sure if we are late to the lesson it will be ok...

There's a fee to pay every time I get a haircut
You mean I have to pay for the lesson the same time I receive it??

The irony folks. That's all I am pointing out. The irony. And this irony comes from a lack of understanding. Perhaps also a lack of communication on my part from time to time. It is a personal goal of mine to educate people as much as I respectfully can on the topic of music lessons. It's not to believe the worst of people, it's not to preach at them; it's to gently guide their misunderstandings about music lessons.

Thank you again to those who wrote the last time. I respect your thoughts, ideas, and advice greatly.

7 replies

Orchestral Research PART 2A: Interviews with violinists on topics of orchestral playing

November 5, 2012 11:03

Dear friends,

Here's another part of my research! It is not yet complete, as I have other violinists who are still responding to this interview. As the interviews come in, I will add them to this blog. I believe this is extremely helpful for violinists wishing to pursue the orchestral career, and hopefully will encourage other violinists to seek out advice from others who have experience in the field.

The interview entails seven questions, though two of them are related to my process of research, so I will leave those out.

The five questions in the interviews are:

1) If a violinist does not have the opportunity to study with a professional violinist with an orchestral background and wants to become an orchestral violinist, what advice would you give them?

2) What are your top five pieces of audition advice you would give to violinists?

3) What are your top five pieces of orchestral playing advice you would give to developing orchestral violinists?

4) What are your top five pieces of advice for new concertmasters?

5) What is your view on the future of the orchestra?

INTERVIEW 1 with Stacey Wetzel, violinist of the LA Philharmonic:
1) Any serious student of the violin with ambitions to play professionally in an orchestra needs to, first and foremost, find and study with the best possible teacher. Learning the craft from one who is absolutely qualified to teach it is 80% of the process. Whether or not he or she has an orchestral background is not critical or relevant at this point. Studying to perfect the art of violin playing is.
2) 1 - Listen to as much diverse orchestral repertoire as possible - with scores, if they can be obtained - and imagine what it’s like to be playing in the section; then, attend as many LIVE orchestra concerts as possible, observing all sections of the orchestra and their conductors; finally, download excerpts and play along with your ipod (or Cds) to mimic the experience of actually playing in the orchestra.
2 - Learn from the audition process, whether the outcome is positive or negative. Go back, review and record the whole experience and be constructive and honest about changes or adjustments that need to be made - then go right back to the drawing board and get ready for the next audition!
3 - Do at least 3 mock auditions one month to two weeks before the actual audition. Identical or similar comments, observations or suggestions by 2 or more people serve should serve as a common denominator - they should be considered and listened to.
4 - Four practical tips for the audition process:
- before, during and after you play,relax your knees, breathe deeply and remember to smile and loosen your jaw; you’re probably behind a screen!
- If nerves grip you, focus on your breathing!
- have tunnel vision - do not be aware of the other competitors; you can’t do their best - they can’t do your best.
5 ALWAYS remember how much you LOVE playing the violin!
3) 1 - The best audition preparation for me was continually preparing for recitals and competitions
2 - Learn to embrace a wide category of musical genre (classical, romantic, impressionistic, contemporary, et.), regardless of your preference; you’ll be that much more rounded and marketable
3 - Keep standard excerpts in your fingers and use as warm-up exercises
4 - Be flexible and forgiving, especially with conductors - you will live longer!
5 - Always remember, the orchestra experience is a collaborative experience; if you don’t enjoy blending and matching your sound and technique, this may not be the field you should pursue.
4) 1 - Always remember what it was like to sit in the middle or back of the section, if you ever did!
2 - You are not just leading your section; you are an advocate for the entire string section and a moral compass for the entire orchestra; consequently, you should be aware of and protective of our needs at all times.
3 - Make sure all the bowings are in at the first rehearsal and DO NOT change bowings at the dress rehearsal, unless it is absolutely necessary!
4 - While the section may be counting vigilantly, we are still counting on YOU to come in correctly and to clarify any fuzzy entrances created by a less than decipherable downbeat from the podium - that’s why you get paid the big bucks!
5 - Listen to and compliment both 1st and 2nd violin sections regularly; it builds confidence and moral and gives you the best support team you could ever ask for!
5) There is still nothing to replace the experience of listening to a live orchestra, but with technology advancing so rapidly, our art form must keep up with and meet all these changes in a very relevant way. That being said, keeping classical music alive still relies on EARLY exposure, continues with good programs at the elementary level and must constantly be nurtured by a unified and well-informed community.
INTERVIEW 2 with Denise Dillenbeck, former concertmaster of orchestras across the US and England; former violinist of orchestras such as Philadelphia and Oregon Symphony; studied with Jorja Fleezanis:
1.) There are things you can do to get to work on your skills if your goal is eventual orchestral playing, but if you really want to succeed you actually need to plan a route in life that does allow you to study with an orchestra player at some point along the way. There is simply no other way to really get the knowledge and facility of technique required specifically by orchestral playing than by receiving it first hand from someone who knows it. And they will give you feedback on how you are doing, if you’re getting it, which is invaluable. This is more important than any other step you can possibly take, so I can’t stress it enough. Whether it’s a summer camp, or a college experience, or simply moving to a city where you can work some job while you practice and take lessons, this needs to happen if you are serious about your goal.

Prior to or in addition to studying with an orchestral player, though, you can go to as many concerts as possible, watch live performances recorded on places like youtube, scower youtube for other resources (there are lots of videos of people playing excerpts, for instance), find as many online tools as you can—masterclass videos,, etc. Begin to build your orchestra part library, purchasing or copying violin parts from the repertoire as you are able. See if you can get/share fingerings and bowings with anyone you possibly can—the more information you have, the more informed your technical choices can be. Educate yourself about the styles of different composers; what kind of vibrato/articulation/phrasing is appropriate for Schumann, but not for Mahler, or Mozart, etc.

2) *Prepare thoroughly and solidly. That goes a long way toward deflating nervousness; if you know the pieces backwards and forwards, and can play them upside down and in your sleep, then you don’t have to worry about weak spots where nerves can sabotage you in performance.

*Know the score. As much as possible, listen to works with the score in front of you, not just your own part. Make sure you can sing whatever is happening in the music that is important at any moment, not just your own line. Knowing your place in the big picture of the music will change how you play your own particular line or excerpt.

*Play as much as you can. You need experience, so play in every orchestra setting you get a chance to, even if the group doesn’t feel like the perfect match for you—you are learning repertoire and ensemble skills.

*Play as much as you can—same goes for mock auditions. Play your concerti and excerpts every chance you get for everyone you can get to listen to you. Play in different locations, so your nervous system doesn’t get too comfortable with just one setting. Play for wind players, pianists, singers, string players—and take feedback from everyone. Not everyone knows how to play the violin, but most everyone knows whether something simply “sounds good” or not.

*Know your convictions. When you play for an audition committee, you have to completely believe in the interpretation you give them of each musical excerpt. This means getting as much information from as many sources as you can, and then digesting it all until you come away with your own individual idea about the music. Commit to it, and play from that musical passionate commitment, rather than from any feeling of “this is how my teacher says to do it” or “I hope they like this”.

3) *Practice scales. Every day. When we play in groups a lot, we don’t hear ourselves as clearly. So we need to take extra care with our individual practice time that we are cleaning the gears and keeping the machine pristine, so to speak.

*Get obsessed with your bow. The most highly sophisticated orchestral playing comes from the abilty to have a variety of color and articulation with control and ease in the RIGHT hand.

*Listen to as much music as you can. Get scores to listen with as often as you can too, but listening is key. You are learning a language, and there’s nothing like immersion to make it click.

*Sightread a lot. In a full-time orchestra, you’ll often be doing more than one challenging program every week—that’s a ton of music to be cycling through, and when you’re young that can be especially challenging and tiring. Your body and brain begin to pick up really fast on patterns and ways of reading as you sightread more. Plus a lot of auditions will have a sightreading component, and there’s no way for that to get easy besides just doing it every day.

*Know what the great orchestras are, and what makes them great. What is the difference between the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, for example—how do they sound? What conductors over their histories made an impact on the development of the big orchestras, and contributed to why they sound the way they do?

4) *Again, listen and watch as much as you can. Watch videos of concerts, and see how the cm leads; compare how they play orchestral solos differently.

*Find out what all the famous cm solos are in the rep. Buy, beg or borrow them. Listen to them with scores and parts. Practice them.

*Identify places where you see leadership you feel is effective. It doesn’t have to be in music—anywhere you see it work, figure out what you like about it, and why it seems to rally the troops.

*To quote author Eric Booth, 80% of what you do is who you are. In the end, we have to know all the notes, etc., but it’s not really about that—it’s about what music means to you and how you want to share it with your colleagues and audiences. Knowledge of music that comes from love of music has great impact, and the same is true with leadership.

*Again, know the score. As cm, you don’t just do bowings or tell your section when they’re not together! Your job is to embody the music in a way that is compelling for the whole orchestra to see, and to dialogue with every member of the orchestra to some extent when the group plays. Know the clarinet part, so you can react to it when you play the 1st violin line, and the orchestra will see it and also respond.

5) It’s a powerful art form, so I think it is unlikely that it will every truly die out. But I am sad for the way it is losing relevance in our culture. If we want it to remain vital, we need to all become educators to some extent, to be able to talk and demonstrate to the larger world whenever we can about why this musical ensemble can be such an amazing experience. We need to engage with our communities in new ways if we expect them to engage with us. (El Sistema in Venezuela is the absolute master of this.)
INTERVIEW 3 with Jason Bell, associate concertmaster of Spokane Symphony and graduate of Cincinnati Conservatory; former violinist of orchestras across the US:

1) Learning the trade of playing violin in an orchestra will at some point require the assistance of learning from a professional. Going to school for music does not guarantee a job, nor does getting a job require a degree. While it is true from time to time you will encounter a composer who has no formal training, an artist who cannot read music, a musician who is self taught, these are the exceptions and not the rule. If a student is serious about obtaining a job in performance, they will at some point in their life become friends with someone who can mentor them in the art of professional musicianship. It takes a lot of sacrifice and along with alienating your friends and family to sit in the practice room and become what you aspire to be. Isaac Stern was told at one point that his playing was "just not good enough". Itzhak Perlman was told to get an orchestra job because "no one would pay to hear a soloist sit while playing". We all have to start somewhere, learn to take constructive criticism and make conscious decisions that lay a clear path to our end goal.

2) - Practice
- Listen to recordings
- Listen to yourself
- Play for other people
- Repeat

3) - Don't be a hero. You know when you're right and when the leader is not. Pick your battles carefully.
- Come prepared, especially if you are a title chair. And that does not mean just your own solos
- Avoid gossip at work. Save it for the bar.
- Recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your colleagues. It is entirely possible they are unable to play offbeats or count correctly, no matter how much they practice. They also may know the score better than you do.
- Do not warm up on solos, excerpts or other repertoire at full volume. Scales, exercises, and the repertoire you're being paid to play at a medium volume are the only acceptable sounds.

4)- Learn the score
- Respect the elders of the orchestral tribe
- Be open to other people's ideas, turn them down respectfully if you have to.
- Have a sense of humor and good work ethic.
- Don't buy an expensive car. Show people you care about your position/opportunity and invest in your artistry.

5) The orchestra as a unit will survive - somehow. Orchestras have always been under financial stress and it will take innovation to keep it moving forward as a business model. Community orchestras will also thrive because as people age they want to explore new and exciting areas of life.
INTERVIEW 4 with Erich Lear; violist and friend of Jorja Fleezanis; has played in orchestras all across the US:

1) Ask for help from the teacher you have in contacting orchestral violinists – especially concertmasters – about workshops, master classes, and opportunities to take at least one lesson from more than one concertmaster. This will involve travel, but the cost will be worth it.

2) a) emphasize rhythm, dynamics, intonation, and note accuracy; b) take tempi you can play well and let them ask for faster tempi (these will be your second try then so nerves will play a lesser role); c) whenever possible play from complete parts not from excerpt books and also, if possible, from parts that reflect the orchestra for which you audition (using their bowings will make it more likely that you play their interpretation); d) speak only if asked to speak (you will often be behind a curtain); e) tune before going on, but retune quietly before you play (hall conditions are usually different warm-up rooms, and loud tuning is not professional), and recheck how tight your bow is (again due to differences between warm-up rooms and the hall or audition room).

3) a) listen to yourself and adjust quickly (if you know it is wrong, change it quickly); b) be sure that dynamic differences are followed and audible to the listeners; c) stay on the string or close to it unless the style clearly calls for playing off the string; d) avoid rushing at all times, fill every beat; e) play to resonance of your instrument and focus vibrato on the pitch you wish to project (discussions of whether vibrato is above, around, or below the pitch are not pertinent in an audition – project the pitch you want to hear).

4) a) be prepared – never go to a rehearsal without having a set of fingerings (where these are critical) and bowings and whenever possible have these copied in all other first violin section parts and communicated to the principals of the other string sections; b) listen to more than one version of any solo passages as part of your preparation of concertmaster solos; c) respect the players in the section, encourage them to route questions through you (direct questions to the conductor are not good form); d) when possible participate actively in seating order of the section; e) determine early your approach to blending with the section or leading through a bigger sound and clear this with the conductor.

5) Since music is a more varied enterprise, the orchestra will also be more varied in size, repertoire focus, role in the community (is there more than one orchestra for ballet, opera, concert music, theatre, etc.?), and community outreach. The members of the orchestra are ambassadors and will help the orchestra survive and flourish the more they reach into the community. Income to be earned is certainly connected to a community’s sense of its orchestra’s contributions. Make a list of all the entities who have employed small to large orchestras in the area – these are your constituency.
INTERVIEW 5 with Mateusz Wolski; concertmaster of Spokane Symphony; has played with orchestras such as New York Philharmonic (this interview was done via phone, so my apologies if it sounds a little broken up~I'm not a professional like Laurie is :D) ):

1) I would say that the best thing to do would be to spend a lot of time studying scores and recordings. Because when you are playing in the orchestra, the dos and donts are logical. Blending is important, so understanding the music is best by playing along with recordings to simulate playing in the orchestra.

2)-most important is having fantastic rhythm…use the metronome! Everything else changes, but rhythm is constant.
-have beauty of sound on small notes. Every note must shine. There is a big jump between those that pay attention to every note, and those that don’t.
-once one is familiar with music, the gestures are important (phrasing). Where is the music going? It must have ebb and flow. Know where to lean into a gesture or where it is propelling us.
-sell yourself. Practice performing under pressure to keep yourself from crumbling. Do mock auditions. Give yourself deadlines.
-Try to have a backup plan for audition….give yourself something else to work on so you don’t focus on just one thing. Don’t treat it like life or death. Give a recital, another audition, etc.

3)-every group of people has it’s own dynamic. Tread carefully. Honor the long time members. Be quiet and mind your place. Ask for feedback.
-have true work ethic. If you are being observed, tread carefully. BE PREPARED! Prepare like you would for Cleveland and Philadelphia. If it’s not at that level, you aren’t prepared. No matter what level of the orchestra is.
-Be punctual. Be too early rather than too late. Be at least a half hour early.
-Don’t get caught off guard by unusual concerts (timing, etc). Look for any irregularities in the schedule. Be friends with someone to double-check the schedule.
-pay attention to dress code for performances. Be conservative. Avoid perfume.

4)-understand the dynamic of the orchestra. You are the go-between. Be gentle and decisive when you make decisions.
-be careful when you pick your battles with bowings. Do few bowing changes as possible.
-should demand quality from sections. Be honest and have integrity to the music
- Get to know the people you work with well. Show that you care about them and their wellbeing.
-trust yourself and be confident. Watch other concertmasters.

5) The orchestra is very sophisticated type of entertainment. And there will always be people who will want that kind of entertainment. Like good cuisine. Orchestras need to not lose their identity. People need to see how to appreciate it.
INTERVIEW 6 with Philip Baldwin, former professor at various schools in the Pacific Northwest such as Eastern Washington University, current professor at Whitworth University; former violinist of symphonies such as Spokane Symphony:

1) I would suggest that they purchase the William Preucil CD called “Orchestral Excerpts for Violin” published by Summit Records and available on Amazon. Then, I suggest purchasing all the orchestral parts recorded on the CD and begin learning the passages most commonly requested by orchestra audition committees. (Parts can be purchased through Luck’s and Kalmus, the International Music Excerpt books edited by Gingold; downloaded at IMSLP; or purchased at This can be determined in a number of ways, but is a good starting place. Then start practicing and listening!!!

2) • Practice your excerpts with at least as much care as your solo.
• Study recordings for style, tempo, bow strokes, sound, and nuance; have good fingerings and bowings!!!
• Watch the many masterclasses available for free at
• Play for conductors, your friends, teachers, and local symphony musicians
• Take as many auditions as you can afford

3) • Be sure you really want to play in an orchestra—it’s not a “fall-back” for people who don’t know what else to do with their skill. It takes tremendous dedication and perseverance to win a job and then you have to have the constitution to withstand the rigors of such a life.
• Play with as many conductors and groups as possible to learn the repertoire
• Keep an open mind and a forgiving nature.
• Study the scores, not just your own part. Listen continuously to the great recordings and the great works.
• Study with the best teachers you can find.

4) • Become proficient at sight-reading
• Become excellent at memorizing your music so you can look at the conductor, other section leaders, and hear the group behind you.
• Build your confidence through skill and learn to be a good communicator
• Play chamber music every chance you get
• Build relationships with conductors and your fellow musicians. You won’t be respected if you are not respectful.

5) It’s going to be hard to sustain charitable funding for orchestras in the future. I think there will always be a need for the orchestra within society, but orchestras will probably have to change their attitudes toward popular music and alternative styles.
INTERVIEW 7 with our very own Laurie Niles!!! Thank you Laurie! "A professional symphony violinist and former newspaper journalist who interviews top violin performers and pedagogues, as well as reports on her experience in violin music and education." :)

1) It's important to study with someone with a high level of expertise, whether you wish to be an orchestral violinist or a soloist. I think that if you wish to be an orchestral violinist and your teacher is not a professional violinist or a violinist with university-level training in music, you will eventually have to find a teacher who has more expertise. The teacher doesn't necessarily have to be currently playing in an orchestra, but the teacher should be familiar with the repertoire and how to play at a professional level.

2) 1. Practice and prepare the orchestral excerpts as much as you practice the repertoire. That is, to an extremely high level of perfection!
2. Start preparing early, and be ready a full month in advance, as if the audition were tomorrow.
3. Listen to the orchestral excerpts and know well what they sound like in context.
4. Don't listen to anyone else in the warm up room before the audition, just keep playing! Know there will be a lot of other great players there and plan to ignore that.
5. Keep yourself in good physical and mental health

3) 1. Count every rest (This is by far the best advice, believe it or not. Get into this habit very early on and you will be valued greatly)
2. Be prepared for rehearsal, but not afraid to sight read.
3. Don't talk during rehearsal unless it is necessary and related to the task at hand.
4. Have a good attitude toward your stand partner and fellow musicians, approach this like a mutual effort, not a competition
5. Keep practice copies of the music you use (which have fingerings, bowings, etc.) Just file them away. This helps for future auditions, or if you have a last-minute gig call and they can't give you the music in advance.

4) 1. Be kind to your colleagues, but authoritative
2. Have the bowings ready as far in advance as possible for your fellow section leaders
3. Work on having a good relationship with the music director and administrators
4. Know that you will be called upon to do some public appearances on behalf of the orchestra, and be okay with that. You are an ambassador to the community and have to embrace that role along with the other responsibilities
5. Be very prepared for the first rehearsal

5) The more students we teach, the better orchestras will fare in the future. Classical music is fascinating and stands the test of time -- it's not like other forms of music that can feel overplayed. Given musical education, people discover the worth in this. I have great faith in classical music, it's up to us, though, to allow new generations of people to understand and appreciate the long-lasting benefits it can bring to their lives.
INTERVIEW 8 with Libby Poole-Presley, assistant concertmaster of Yakima Symphony Orchestra, violinist with various orchestras in Seattle:

1) To use whatever resources they can: recordings, youtube,, books, playing in community orchestras...
2) a) To know the music so well "you can play it in your sleep" b) to play for other people c) to record yourself d) to study the music with someone who has won auditions e) ?
3) a) be thoroughly prepared (notes, rhythm, style, tempo) b) watch the conductor c) watch the section leader d) inside players, be a good page turner (no sense in having BOTH players drop out) e) ?
4) a) get to know your section and the whole orchestra b) treat everyone respectfully c) be available to questions about the repertoire d) try to make positive statements instead of negative ones e) ?
(I seem to have only 4 answers for everything! So much for top 5!)

2 replies

'The things we music teachers hear' update

November 4, 2012 19:02

It seems the entry "The things we music teachers hear" has been taken in a way in which I have not intended. There are situations and circumstances I have faced which were not specified in that blog. It was never my intention to stir up negative feelings. I was looking for advice, and I received some (wonderful at that). I do not wish to go into details of my private studio. In fact, I truly did not think that blog would get so much attention!

Since I have not made myself clear and do not wish to come across as rude, uncaring, or act like I "hate" parents as one person alluded to (which I don't ever hate people) and think they're all the same (which I don't think they are all the same), I have deleted this entry. Please forgive me for coming across in a manner that was not intended. I will be more careful next time.

Best to you all, as always~

10 replies

Orchestral Research PART 1. Music Schools and Conservatories that Offer Orchestral Repertoire Classes

November 1, 2012 18:25

Hello friends,

I've been trying to figure a way to post this orchestral information/research I've been doing. There's not an easy way to do it really since it's formatted to a lot of Word documents, but if you don't mind the constant barrage of blogging I'll do my best to post the information in the most viable way possible. So here it goes!

This part is the easiest to post. I perused 100 four-year accredited university/conservatory music programs in the USA. They had to have either a B.M. and/or M.M. I looked for three things: firstly, which schools required orchestral excerpt classes for the B.M/M.M degrees? Then, of those schools that didn't require any excerpt classes, I looked at which ones offered them in the B.M./M.M. curriculum. Then, of those schools that neither required nor offered excerpt classes, I emailed one professor from each school and asked them if they taught orchestral excerpts as part of their standard private lesson curriculum. I received quite a few answers. I also asked some professors from some of the "offered in curriculum" schools just for some comparison.

**Notes: Firstly, actual names of professors in this document will not appear. Secondly, a few schools did not have the most recent information posted online, but no program was more than a couple years behind in this way. Thirdly, keep in mind I chose 100 programs and did not look at every single program, but tried to hit the most obvious ones. However, this is in no way a representation of all the USA university/conservatory programs.**

So, here are the schools that REQUIRE excerpt classes for the following degrees:

Juilliard, Boston Conservatory, Shepherd School of Music, University of Austin, Lamont Denver School of Music, Hartt School of Music, DePaul University, Cincinnati Conservatory, Boulder University, Vanderbilt University, Chicago Performing Arts, St. Olaf College, Eastern Washington University, Brigham Young University, Duquesne University, and University of North Carolina.

Juilliard, Boston Conservatory, Northwestern University, Shepherd School of Music, University of Austin, Lamont Denver School of Music, Hartt School of Music, Longy School of Music, Cleveland Institute of Music, Bowling Green University, Florida State University, Manhattan School of Music, Brigham Young University, and University of North Carolina.

Here are the schools that OFFER excerpt classes for the following degrees:

Eastman School of Music, San Francisco Conservatory, New England Conservatory, Northwestern University, Curtis Institute of Music, New York University, University of Washington, Jacob School of Music, Peabody School of Music, Long School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory, Cleveland Institute of Music, Bowling Green University, Lawrence University, Mannes College, University of Maryland, New York State University, University of South Mississippi, California State University LA, and California Long Beach.
Eastman School of Music, San Francisco Conservatory, New England Conservatory, New York University, Jacob School of Music, Peabody School of Music, Longy School of Music, DePaul University, Oberlin Conservatory, Cincinnati Conservatory, Mannes College, University of Maryland, New York State University, University of South Mississippi, California State University LA, California Long Beach, University of Memphis, and Virginia Commonwealth.

Here are the schools that neither require nor offer but have at least one professor that TEACHES excerpts in the private lesson capacity (in this list the B.M. and M.M. are in one list, because I assume the same teacher would teach excerpts regardless of level):

Urbana-Champaign, Ohio State University, Ithaca College, Michigan State University, University of California LA, California State University (Northridge), Iowa State University, University of Maine, Louisiana State University, University of the Pacific, Virginia Commonwealth, Oklahoma City University, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Illinois Chicago, University of Alabama, University of Louisville, Appalachian State University, University of Memphis, University of North Texas, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Houston.

As part of an experiment, I came across one school who had two professors who, by their profile, both seemed like good people to inquire about teaching excerpts in lessons, and I couldn’t decide which one to email. As it turns out, both professors answered, and one of these professors does teach excerpts and another does not.

Here are the statistics on the 100 schools:

Among 100 schools, I found only 9% actually required the classes for both the B.M. and M.M degree. The percentage of schools that required orchestral classes for the B.M degree was 17%, while the schools requiring orchestral classes for the M.M degree was down to 14%, equaling a total percentage of 31% schools requiring classes for either the B.M. or M.M. degree.

Of 100 schools, only 14% offered orchestral rep classes for both the B.M and the M.M degrees. 20% of schools offered the classes for the B.M. degree, and 18% of schools offered the classes for the M.M. degree. It should be noted that because it is acceptable in most programs for a masters student to acquire a few undergraduate credits, most of the percentage of classes offered for the M.M. degree were assumed upon this understanding. The reason for there only being 18% as opposed to 20% were because some programs did not have a M.M degree. Very few schools actually explicitly listed an offer for orchestral rep class for the M.M. degree.

After surveying the schools for their degree programs, I contacted the violin instructors who had email addresses at the schools that neither required nor offered orchestral repertoire classes. This is 59% of the schools. I chose one professor from each school carefully by reading their profiles. I chose the instructor with the most orchestral experience to email. I sent each chosen professor an email inquiring as to whether they taught orchestral excerpts as a part of the regular lesson curriculum (undergrad or grad students). Many responded, and if I did not receive a response I chose another professor from the school to email. Some schools of course only had one professor, and if they did not respond I did not send another email. So far, 33 professors out of the 59 schools that did not require nor offer excerpt classes responded, and the answers were varied. Out of the 33 that responded, 42% they did not teach excerpts in the lessons. While the question was stated so the answer would be a yes or no question, I invited the responder to elaborate should a more thorough answer be of better help. The responses were everything from “yes this is crucial” to “no, there isn’t enough time” or “my students are still working on basic techniques”. Some simply responded yes or no. I also asked a dozen other professors who teach at schools where excerpt classes are offered the same question. I did so because it was not always obvious from the program if a class was offered. Some of their answers verified they did indeed offer orchestral excerpt classes at that school. An important note is that while many professors answered “no”, they stated that they did teach them if an audition was pending, the student expressed desire, if an excerpt helped with technique, and for various other reasons.

While some schools did not have excerpt classes specifically, they had orchestral musicianship classes, orchestral techniques class covering a wide variety of topics, and orchestral seminars (not to be confused with orchestral or symphonic literature). There were other schools that not only had required/offered excerpt classes, but had an orchestral instrumental performance degree (Jacob School of Music) and a Concertmaster Studies diploma (Cleveland Institute of Music). Also another interesting note is that some schools, while not offering orchestral training to violinists specifically, offered classes to other instruments, strings and non strings alike.

WHEW!!!! that was the easy blog. This must be a total of a couple hundred hours of research. Enjoy!

4 replies

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