Concertmaster Conundrum

January 21, 2008 at 01:23 AM · Alright, so I'm stuck in kind of an awkward position. I just auditioned for my college orchestra, for which I had to play Tchak 5 excerpts and do a little sight reading. The audition was blind, and was judged by our conductor and violin professor. Well, the results were posted today, and . . . I'm concertmaster. On the one hand, I'm flattered and all that, and willing to step up to the responsibility. However, I feel just a little awkward taking the position. I'm only a freshman. Last semester, I was principle second, and the concertmaster was a senior, and his stand partner, a doctoral student. For this semester, I'm listed as concertmaster, and he is associate. He is certainly capable of the job, and has much more experience than I do. I'm also not the best with sight-reading. I just don't know what to do. Should I just leave things? Or should I talk to him, or to our violin professor, or maybe the conductor?

Replies (30)

January 21, 2008 at 01:30 AM · Greetings,

take the job and do it well. Viewing yourself in relation to others is pointless if experts have already decided they wnat you to do the job.



January 21, 2008 at 02:19 AM · Freshmen concertmasters unite! BE WARNED: the upperclassmen may well hate you, try to tear you down, slam you, happened to me and might well to you. Ignore it, they're just bitter. You deserve the spot and should be proud to have earned it.

January 21, 2008 at 02:44 AM · Despite the technical results of the auditions, the conductor could nonetheless have changed his mind about whom he wished to be concertmaster, correct? His decision to go ahead and give you this position reflects his confidence in your abilities. There's nothing to be ashamed of!

January 21, 2008 at 03:28 AM · They posted you as concertmaster for a reason.

January 21, 2008 at 03:51 AM · lol, shall we assume that the reason is technical proficiency? Maybe the conductor has a grudge against another of the auditioned violinists and wants to engrange him/her!? This could be a great soap opera…All My Violinists…I would watch.

January 21, 2008 at 03:37 AM · Prob a mixture of technical proficiency and musicality.

January 21, 2008 at 03:51 AM · *hits forehead

January 21, 2008 at 04:27 AM · Probably everyone else already knew you were at that level. Students know what one another sounds like, even as they focus in their own playing on their own flaws in order to improve, so no one else is probably as surprised as you, least of all the best students.

I might add that the difference in ability among students is often greater than the amount of progress one makes in four years, so I see things like this a lot at Illinois. It's not uncommon for competitions to be won by the youngest person eligible.

In this case, that would be you. Congratulations!

January 21, 2008 at 04:52 AM · Oh, they're all gonna hate you now! I was concertmaster over a bunch of upperclassmen, too. Looking back, I think I should have been more confident about my position and taken authority and been more directive during sectional rehearsals. My advice to you is, be confident in yourself, and don't take crap from anyone. You have been assigned your seat because you are the best one for the job. Period. Now, it's your job to fulfill your duties to the best of your abilities.

Good job!

January 21, 2008 at 05:10 AM · You're right to think that things are a little different now that you're concertmaster. But as everyone else says, it's probably for a reason - you're the right person for the job.

It does seem to me that it wouldn't hurt to talk to your teacher and the conductor about what sorts of things they'd like to see you do as concertmaster. They might be able to contribute something helpful.


January 21, 2008 at 05:31 AM · You have been accepted into the realm.

Do not EVEN imagine non acceptance !!!

January 21, 2008 at 01:52 PM · hey, it is a blind audition. and you are never really ready for anything unless you believe you are. get on with it.

hurting others' feelings? do you really care or is it a fleeting thought?

January 21, 2008 at 04:43 PM · just take the post! i was concertmaster as a freshman in high school, and honestly, when you're playing as concertmaster, you can really care less about the upperclassmen hating you. congrats, btw!

January 21, 2008 at 05:35 PM · Congratulations! It's funny, if these auditions had not been blind and you were still concertmaster, people would be complaining that they should have been behind a screen so they could be really fair. Well, guess what -- they were! So don't doubt yourself -- your playing is the only reason you could have won. I agree with Christopher: the conductor could have changed his mind once he realized who he'd chosen. "She played the best audition, but she's too inexperienced" could have made sense as a rationalization, if he really wanted someone else, right? But he didn't.

You might also want to remind yourself that the other people's auditions are the reason THEY are NOT concertmaster. Ahem.

I'd say definitely ask the conductor what he wants from his new concertmaster. Sometimes they like the person to move like a leader when they play, make a lot of suggestions in rehearsal, demonstrate new bowings, etc., and sometimes they prefer for the person to just sit there and not do anything. Also ask your teacher. S/he probably knows a thing or two, either from being a concertmaster or trying to follow one, and may know something about how this conductor's mind works.

January 21, 2008 at 08:29 PM · That's wonderful to hear Ruth. Great job! Definitely grab it. The jurors felt that YOU were the most capable of the people auditioning.

January 21, 2008 at 10:00 PM · Take it and have fun! Remember, however, that you are about to get an education in the practical politics of being in an orchestra. Try to be sensitive to the need to learn how to deal with the older students who lost out to you. But do not hesitate to make clear that you are in charge. Good luck!

January 21, 2008 at 10:19 PM · Tom is absolutely right - you played the best audition, it was blind, and you came out on top. What better way to learn those skills than to be the leader.

This again is something that should not be taken personally, by anyone, but if you do have those concerns then by all means talk to those who auditioned you. However, should anyone give you a hard time then rest assured that more than likely you are being attacked by someone's ego - and by all means take any problems like that to the orchestra director.

Good luck and congratulations again!

January 22, 2008 at 12:27 AM · The blind audition and the fall-out from an unanticipated outcome are all part of your and the other students' education. Not by design, but lots of learning is serendipitous. If I were that teacher/conductor I would be put out at the "winner" who tried to dispute my expertise/decisions by trying to decline. Sue

January 22, 2008 at 03:42 AM · Congratulations. Now some advice: I was never a

CM, however I was an airline captain flying with

some copilots and flight engineers who used to be captains. (They had to give up captaincy at age 60 and fly as F/E's until 65.) Many of these people were superb captains I flew with as their young and inexperienced copilot. I had Air Force Generals and Navy Admirals as copilots so I know how you feel. Here's how to handle your new position.

1. First of all be humble. Legetimate humility is a trait of real leaders.

2. You are the CM, exercise your "power" with dignity and knowledge.

3. Ask for suggestions from your underlings. (very very important)Tell them their suggestions and advice are always welcome, however, the final say is yours, don't forget that.

4. Being a Captain or CM IS NOT a popularity contest. You got that job for your musicianship and abilities, use them. Some people will not like you at all, some will think you're great, live with it and be gracious to both. That's the real world for the rest of your life.

5. Leadership is earned, not given. Read that first sentence again. You can not

demand respect, but you can earn it. That will take time, maybe a lot of time.

6.DO NOT just play well, tens of thousands can do that, LEAD THEM.

7. Read the book, "The Art of the Concertmaster."

Good luck and again, congratulations.

January 22, 2008 at 03:49 AM · It's so stupid to be mad at someone because they did better at an audition than you.

Just do your job well and it won't matter.

January 22, 2008 at 05:50 AM · Ray, you have given very wise and great advice! Thank you for posting that. There was also an article in Strings Magazine last year for which five of the top concertmasters in the country were interviewed. The article may be on their website:,3899,Feature-1.asp

January 22, 2008 at 05:41 PM · Wonderful article, Samuel, glad you posted that. I'm passing that one around.

Ruth, my wife said to tell you we're waving some wheat for you. Go Hawks.

January 22, 2008 at 08:45 PM · Ruth, I'm not at all surprised by the outcome of your audition! Congratulations. Don't even *think* of not doing it--even if the conductor would allow it. Lead by example, be prepared, be humble, and be kind--all traits that your presence here has shown you have in spades.

There are very many excellent violinists who are NOT good concertmasters--you know the ones: they take every break as an opportunity to "practice" their Tchaikovsky or similar Big Piece. They often don't practice their orchestra music (because orchestra music is "easy," of course!), and they make it obvious that they think playing in orchestra is not the best use of their time. Well, how many of those will end up in careers that will allow them to *play* those big concerti? Yeah..not too many.

I'm so impressed that you take this position so seriously--that speaks VOLUMES! (Don't think the conductor and violin prof weren't thinking of your reaction when they made out that list! They knew EXACTLY who they were selecting!)

And speaking of orchestras, will we get to have you audition for TSO next year??? ;-)

January 22, 2008 at 09:24 PM · All good advice. Especially the part about being humble. Carry your respopnsibility gracefully.

I would add to remember that just because you are the concertmaster doesn't mean that no one else could be. It doesn't mean that you are necessarily "the best" at all things. And, you don't have to be "the best", just capable of doing your job well. So, work hard at it and enjoy the exposure. It can be pretty exciting.

January 22, 2008 at 09:36 PM · Amen to what Michael said.

January 23, 2008 at 01:27 AM · Yes. Always be humble. The biggest mistake I've ever made as a concertmaster was to be conceited about it in high school. Bad bad bad. I also wasn't the best sight reader either. But if your orchestra is like our orchestra (we're also doing Tchaik 5, rock on!), our concertmaster is always the first one to see the music so he can work on bowings and so on and so forth, so sight reading ability isn't the biggest deal in the world. Just keep sight reading new music for maybe 5 minutes a day and you'll get better.

Have fun with Tchaik 5!!!! :) Our orchestra is going on tour in 3 days, so we get to perform it all over the midwest for a week. Fun fun!!!

Oh, to answer your question, take the responsibility and play assertively.

January 23, 2008 at 03:25 AM · Thank you all for the great advice! I'll definitely take all these suggestions to heart as I work on the different challenges of this semester. :) I recently talked to my older sister, also a musician, who confirmed your opinions to not question the audition results, but to just do my best. It'll mean a good deal of work and care, but I'm certainly willing to accept that responsibility and learn as much as I can from the process. Thanks again for the advice and encouragement!

P.S. First rehearsal was today! A few rough spots (sight reading days are always interesting) but overall things went well. Our first concert will be Pictures at an Exhibition, Overture to Dei Meistersinger, and the Weber Bassoon Concerto. I'm looking forward to it.

January 23, 2008 at 02:26 PM · Glad the first rehearsal went well. Go for it and don't look back!

January 23, 2008 at 07:03 PM · Being both a woman and concertmaster can be tough. Violinists are like wild dogs though... they sense fear and weakness and they will dominate over you if you let them, especially the older ones. Even if you feel a bit awkward at first act like you BELONG in that chair and everyone will believe you.

But make sure to lead will ya? Lots of concertmasters think that they just have to play all the right notes... ughhgh! Decide on bowings early, have a plan of action on how to distribute those bowings(even if it means assigning a volunteer to put them in everyone's part), and make distinctive decisions on which part of the bow everyone should be playing in different passages. Good luck!

January 23, 2008 at 07:21 PM · Congratulations, and THANK YOU Marina!

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