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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: Is an audition worth taking, if you don't get the gig?

October 7, 2012 at 10:48 PM

There's nothing like practicing for three hours a day for several months, polishing Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream," Strauss's "Don Juan," etc. etc. to a shine, then being dismissed after seven minutes of playing at an orchestra audition.

I daresay that nearly everyone who has played a successful audition, though, has also had his or her share of experiences like this. Once I asked a section leader -- one I respected very much -- how long it took him to land his orchestra job, and he said, "Twelve years and a lot of failed auditions." I was astounded that a musician of such high caliber had ever been rejected -- not to mention for that long!

The audition process reminds me of a diagram I keep seeing on Facebook, showing success not as a straight line, but as knotted mess that curves around, doubles back on itself, doesn't seem to have any direction, yet at some point lands at "success." You have to take your chances and risk the wrong turns along the way.

Sometimes an audition is a great experience, whether you win it or not, because it forces you to practice and to push yourself. If you can play well and keep your cool while negotiating this rather cruel process of putting yourself up against 100 other well-prepared musicians, you have certainly accomplished something that can help you in the future.

However, there's another side to it. Too many auditions can wear a person down. It's possible to reach the point where "one more audition" might just be a physical and emotional drain. Sometimes you just need to stop, to re-focus, to play some music that you love -- and give those same 10 orchestral excerpts a rest!

What are your current thoughts on the matter? Is an audition worth taking, even if you don't get the job?

From Corwin Slack
Posted on October 7, 2012 at 11:23 PM
I voted even though I am not a professional musician and have never taken a professional audition. (Back in the day I played in the Charleston West Virgina Orchestra but, though I was paid, the real professionals were mostly ringers brought in from Dayton. My audition was nothing like a typical orchestral audition. I am sure that this orchestra has better players now.) But my theory is that you can't win the job without an audition so if you expect to get a job you take all the chances you can get.
From marjory lange
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 1:36 AM
Even losing, you gain the experience.

When I interviewed for professorships (English) I always lost the first of each level I tried, then won all the rest at that level--there's a learning curve to interviewing, auditioning, test-taking of all sorts.

If you don't try, you CAN'T win.

From Paul Deck
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 2:50 AM
It's like a job interview, right? I totally agree with Marjory. My first academic interview was kind of a disaster. But I learned a lot from it, and the second interview landed me a job with the "dual career" problem solved (I was very very lucky, I know, you don't need to tell me).

So TAKE THE INTERVIEW. You learn a lot about the process and about yourself. And (at least in the case of professional job interviews) at someone else's expense.

Only after you've done a dozen or more does it pay to start being selective about what interviews / auditions you'll accept. That's my take on it.

From Corwin Slack
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 3:04 AM
I know of an orchestra that had national auditions but usually hired locally. (This was many years ago and there was a certain logic in it.) I have heard that some orchestras allow the concertmaster to bully his way to hiring friends especially for contracted subs. I have also heard of orchestras where auditioners could take "lessons" from the concertmaster. I imagine that well networked musicians could find this out but perhaps not. I lived in Japan years ago and know a conductor (not Japanese) who had a lot of aspirations but little funding. He toured Europe and Canada auditioning and offering positions to musicians to staff his chamber orchestra that never materialized. I wonder how many turned down other opportunities for the glamour of Japan.

In any event auditioners should study the opportunities well and weigh the cost benefit of taking the audition. I can imagine that in a major market with multiple orchestras and a low cost to audition that the bias would be to audition. It could be different for auditions that required expensive travel.

From Scott Cole
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 4:31 AM
There's an inherent logical fallacy in your question: you can't know whether you will win the audition unless you take it first. And you can't know whether you really want a job unless you've been there a couple of years.

If you are prepared for an audition, can afford the time and money to travel, and plan to accept the position if you win, then it's not a waste of time. If, however, you know that you are not prepared to begin with, then you will be wasting not only your time and money, but that of the committee as well (trust me, as one who has to listen to auditions, I don't appreciate applicants who have not fully prepared).

If you go and play a poor audition, you'll just beat yourself up. That's not the kind of experience you want under your belt.

From Gene Wie
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 7:09 AM
I think what many players find frustrating are the auditions that are held where a candidate is not hired.
From Paul Deck
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 1:23 PM
The similarities between the auditioning process for an orchestra and faculty hiring in universities are shown by the preceding posts to be manifold.

* Senior professor and research star who gets to "hand pick" a couple of hires in his/her area (or at least influence the selection process strongly). Probably less prevalent in the US than elsewhere (Europe, Britain, Japan) because the system is less blatantly hierarchical, but I don't know for sure.

* Interview four or five people but don't make a hire. Sometimes it's because the two that you made offers to received better offers elsewhere, or because you couldn't find a job for their spouse, or some other detail.

* Candidates wondering if they were qualified, not applying to positions for which they think they have no chance. (Although from what I've seen, interviews are not turned down that often, but all expenses are paid.) There were certainly institutions to which I did not bother applying (e.g., those where "nobody gets tenure"). One wants to feel well matched. I applied to one very prestigious institution because I was at a conference mixer where one of their senior professors invited me to apply, but I should have realized it was just the liquor talking (he was completely smashed).

In short the business of applying, interviewing, and hiring is complex and maddening from both sides of the table, so if you can't get comfortable with a fair amount of ambiguity, opacity, and sometimes outright unfairness, then you're in the wrong business.

From Matthew Grogan
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 6:39 PM
Go for it every time, the main thing is to have realistic expectations so that when you don't get the gig (which is 99% of the time) it doesn't kill you emotionally. There are so many factors, other than you and your playing, that can influence an audition very often it's just pure luck if you get it or not. The more opportunities you put yourself in the luckier you're going to be. Also the more auditions you do the more practice of auditioning you'll get, which is never a bad thing. If you come away having learnt something new about you and your playing then you have gained something even if you don't get the gig! The best way of learning is failure (but only if you're open to honest feedback and are prepared to change)

This is a link to

From Scott Slapin
Posted on October 8, 2012 at 7:48 PM
My wife Tanya and I spent a little over a decade in the orchestra world. I wrote about it (along with the audition process and a little rant about semi-conductors) if anyone is interested:

I'm glad we did it, but by the end we had also really had enough for various reasons. I agree with the previous posters though that you just have to keep hitting the auditions. You can't win if you don't show up.

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