I have enough money, so ....

June 18, 2009 at 03:31 AM ·

I have enough money to live, so I don't need a regular job anymore.  My investments are doing fine, thank you very much.  I am looking for a new challenge:  get a job as a musician in an orchestra.

My background:  I studied piano a very long time ago.  Took part in piano competitions for many years.  I had won some, but mostly didn't ....  sounds familiar to you violinists on here ?  Dropped piano because my professor suggested to go into either musicology, composition, or an entirely different field, so I went into another profession.

My preferences and goals:  I only want to be a musician in an orchestra.  I am only interested in studying a woodwind instrument, a brass instrument, percussion/drum/timpani, or the bass (not the violin/viola or cello ...  but bass).

Question:  Which instrument is the least competitive regarding a successful audition for an orchestra job?  I will play that instrument, and find a teacher for that instrument.

Replies (61)

June 18, 2009 at 04:01 AM ·


the kazoo is said to be a shoe- in for most orchestras.



June 18, 2009 at 04:18 AM ·

Least competitive in orchestra?

My vote goes to viola.

No idea for other section as you mentioned you don't want to go for strings family.

But I don't get why you want to choose an instrument based on the market supply/demand rather than playing what you love?

June 18, 2009 at 04:53 AM ·

For the prestige title that comes along with playing in an Orcehstra =]

June 18, 2009 at 06:18 AM ·

Ho old boy!

What a coincidence--I also happen to "sitting pretty" as they say. Luckily I sold my GM stock last year at its peak and have no worries either! These days it's fox hunting ("tally Ho!"--sorry I couldn't resist!), and heli-para-scuba-sailing (very dangerous, and very expensive, too!).

Perhaps we could get together for some cravat shopping on Worth Avenue! We could discuss your terrible dilemma (wait--is it a dilemma, or a conundrum....) over some rain water Madeira and lobster salad. And we could charge it to the Underhills in cabana 7!

waiting for your reply!

June 18, 2009 at 11:22 AM ·

i'd vote for the conductor.  i mean, just follow what the lead violinist does and you will be fine.

June 18, 2009 at 11:58 AM ·


what the pros on this list are keeping from you is one of the dirty secrets of the music business.  well, I`m here to blow this little cabal apart. No holds barred.   Maybe you read the words `first chair` and thought that had something to do with being concertmaster?


First chair actually refers to the chair itself as well as the person!  In these harsh economic times cutbacks have resulted in the management flogging all the good furniture at concerts halls and buying up IKea rejects.  Thus first chair refers to the one that doesn`t wobble of have one of your buttocks dropping through it too the floor.  If you get to rehearsal first you can nab that chair.  the German players are especially good at this after many years of success grabbing the seats on the beaches at holiday camps through out Europe.  The second chair is obviously the second best one and whoever grabs that may assume that title.

The number of chairs may not be compatible with the size of the orchestra so if you turn up last you may be on time but have nowhere to sit.  In this case you are subjected to a procedure known as `being unemployed.`  So the most competitive chance you have for playing in an orchestra is not dependent on the instrument per se, but your ability to sprint,  the sharpness of your elbow jabs and you stubborn refusal to let go or back down which should resemble a pit bull fighting a great dane over a Buribar (see my blog).  

Alternatively,  if you train as a chair builder you can be a member of any orchestras in the world.  Incidentally, the reason all those barocky orchestras stand up is they had to flog all their chairs to pay for their neck jobs.

Hope this helps,


June 18, 2009 at 12:20 PM ·

Scott and Ho,

Congratulations on your financial accomplishments, but "sitting pretty" can also be pretty darn boring.  I applaud Ho in his ambition to take on such a challenge.  I know many young people who are financially set, and they inevitably end up returning to work.  Financial freedom is not all its cracked up to be.  But I digress.

To answer Ho, why don't you contact the orchestra(s) that you are interested in joining?  Tell them your situation and perhaps they can give you better direction.  I would think it might be possible to get into a semi-professional orchestra if you work hard at it for several years, but for a major symphony, forget it.  Unless you have a degree from Julliard and have won competitions, your chances are slim to none.


June 18, 2009 at 01:31 PM ·

You didn't say which orchestras were of interest, but if any are the major ensembles, you are in for a long haul. The level of playing in these groups is off the scale, and they have their pick of the best players of any length of experience, including those awesome young lions just coming out of school. Dropping down to second and third-tier orchestras, the situation does not get any better. I have friends who play in small chamber and opera orchestras in my part of the world where each ensemble might have at most four or five services a year. A recent opening for a string player brought almost 100 responses, including players from Eastman, Curtiss, and Juilliard (among many others).  At this level of ability, there are no easy instruments in the symphony. Every player is a world-class soloist.

My advice is to pick the instrument for which you are best suited, and then take lessons with a symphony player. Listen to what he or she tells you. Follow the advice. Work hard. Get all the experience you can, and play in any orchestra at any level. Start working your way up as opportunities present themselves and you become a better player. Find others who are doing the same and play as much chamber music with them as you can. Chamber playing is a great way to get your chops up, and it's also a lot of fun. You have picked a very big mountain to climb. Best of luck to you.

June 18, 2009 at 02:30 PM ·

If the money is not a concern, go for an unpaid community orchesta.

But you must realize that even in community orchestra all the players, except for the string players are essentially soloists - every note they play is heard clearly. Even percussion has tonal requirements, although in a community orchestra a drummer will not be required to play the marimba (but as en ex-pianist you could learn to). And you do have to learn to tune and re-tune the kettles.

Go for drums.



June 18, 2009 at 03:48 PM ·

I'd say conductor. It is the only member of the orchestra where it is not required to play an instrument, and from what I've seen, a sense of timing is not all that important too... they usually are about a quarter beat in front of the rest!

June 18, 2009 at 05:12 PM ·

I'd say take up the mandolin or electric bass and join a band.... but that isn't what you wanted to hear.

How about telling us your predictions for the stock market?



June 18, 2009 at 06:05 PM ·

Being in Europe, I have to extrapolate. To get into a professional symphony orchestra you have to be a pretty awesome instrumentalist on any instrument. We're talking at least ten years of hard work for a young, talented and flexible person.

Have you considered singing in a community choir? Male singers are always in demand -- in my part of the world -- and a choir that is not fully professional still can give concerts with a professional symphony orchestra.

Hope this helps,



June 18, 2009 at 06:52 PM ·






June 18, 2009 at 07:13 PM ·

Once done socializing with Scott and the Underhills in Cabana #7, it is time to be serious. Use this great wealth to buy your own orchestra; then you can sit anywhere and play anything your heart desires. I can see it up in lights right now...."The Ho Orchestra"


June 18, 2009 at 07:55 PM ·

If I were independently wealthy, I wouldn't join an orchestra just for fun. I'd find a teacher, practice like mad, and form a string quartet. Way more fun that being in an orchestra.

Of course, finding like minded independently wealthy people to play with might be a challenge. But that's a burden you'll just have to put up with. Most of us would gladly take on that burden. :) 

June 18, 2009 at 08:24 PM ·


I can see it up in lights right now...."The Ho Orchestra"

Sam,  un less you change it to `The Hochestra` you could be in deep doodoo.  You could call it the sex workers orchestra I suppose....



June 18, 2009 at 08:46 PM ·

I'd find a teacher, practice like mad, and form a string quartet. Way more fun that being in an orchestra.

Terry, I agree whole heartedly, but I don't think Ho wants to play a string instrument, except bass (see his original post).  And who can blame him.  Stringed instruments are so blasted difficult.  But a woodwind or brass ensemble might be a fun option.


June 18, 2009 at 08:53 PM ·

Thanks for all the advice.  I am not looking to join a top-tier symphony such as the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra or the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra; they are too talented and too selective.  I am looking for a local orchestra.

I don't want to be a violist, but might explore the double-bass, the horn or the saxophone.  I also like the idea of being a drummer/percussionist.

Can someone tell if this drummer is good enough for Juilliard, Eastman or CIM:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8TSsiD_ozY

Also, is he talented enough to join an orchestra, playing for example, a Tchaikovsky or Mahler symphony ?

June 18, 2009 at 09:12 PM ·

"Financial freedom is not all its cracked up to be." 


Ah, but it is, Smiley my friend. And I'm never bored. Did I mention my new hobby, deep-water ice-climbing? It's super expensive, and very dangerous, like my other hobbies of mountain biking and brush-clearing. Sure, one tends to experience a little ennui with Gstad, Monaco, Bali, Fiji and the like, but like my super-model friend Tatiana what's-her-name was just saying, well I couldn't understand anyway and I was only half listening. But those private rail cars are so noisy, one can't be expected to always hear everything, right? Just watch the nice scenery and lay off the gin and tonics for a while.

Anyway, Ho, feel free to conduct. Just don't expect to have any friends. And if you get really bored, just text me and we can meet in Rekjavik and snort some really expensive drugs up our noses using rolled-up kroner.

June 18, 2009 at 09:42 PM ·

Ho, if you think the New Jersey Symphony is too selective, then name some orchestras that you'd like to play in. I didn't think that the New Jersey Symphony was particularly top tier, but I don't know what your standards are. Terry

June 18, 2009 at 09:49 PM ·

I'm just curious:  if you're not interested in playing the violin or viola in an orchestra, why did you post your question on this site? 

If you're serious about joining an orchestra as an adult amateur, string instruments are actually a good option.  Community orchestras are often looking for good string players and will take whoever shows up.  But it is harder for woodwinds and brass, because there are fewer parts for them.

And I disagree that chamber music is more fun than orchestral playing.  I think it's just personal preference; I don't mean to knock chamber music at all, but I really like the orchestra, and symphonic music, first and foremost.


June 18, 2009 at 10:01 PM ·

A good community orchestra might be okay, but job satisfaction in a lot of professional orchestras is pretty low. The orchestras with the happiest members are the ones without conductors, such as the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. Seems to me that professional string quartets might have better job satisfaction.

See link:



June 18, 2009 at 10:03 PM ·

Terry, the New Jersey Symphony is a major symphony with a 36-week season and a budget in the area of $14 million. It may not be Big Five, but it's about as close as it gets.

 It may not hold a candle to the "Hochestra", though. I can only imagine what the programming would be like: performances of excerpts from "Salome" and "Carmen", perhaps?

 In all seriousness, Ho, even playing in a good community orchestra requires a major commitment on the part of the player. If you're not sure what instrument you're interested in, your best bet in NJ is the Intergenerational Orchestra, based in Cranford. They are open to players of all skill levels and have a very congenial atmosphere. You might look into it...


June 18, 2009 at 10:11 PM ·

Violinists apparently know everything.

June 18, 2009 at 10:12 PM ·

Michael, I had no idea about the NJ Symphony. Good to know. Still looking forward to the Hochestra though. :)Terry

June 18, 2009 at 10:38 PM ·

Hey Scott,

Ditto what Gary said.  Maybe Ho will save you a spot in his Hochestra.  Perhaps you can play a xylophone made out of your personal gold bricks. 


June 18, 2009 at 10:40 PM ·

Leveraging your financial position, I would say choose the best teacher in the world who will have you and move there.

June 18, 2009 at 10:58 PM ·

"Violinists apparently know everything."


Apparently? WTF...... 

June 18, 2009 at 11:34 PM ·

Reading this and chortling quietly at some of the replies, I find myself being reminded of that chap Gilbert Kaplan and his obsession with conducting Mahler's 2nd Symphony. 

I'd say the most beneficial way forward in this case would be for the OP to get some basic conducting lessons, then pay to hire orchestras to conduct.  That way the orchestras get some much needed cash and the OP would get his musical exposure.  We'd have to wait and see what the audiences get out of it...

Or, even better, just donate all this surplus money to your favourite orchestra with the stipulation they name one of the instrumental chairs after you.  That way, your name is always in the programme.

P.S.  You aren't Bernie Madoff in disguise by any chance?  ;-)

June 18, 2009 at 11:37 PM ·

Why would he need lessons to conduct? That seems rather like donning a Starbucks apron in the morning just to make instant coffee at home. A little affected, in other words. I think the best thing in this case is to just stay totally untrained and conduct. 

June 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM ·

By the way LLPOF is the abbreviation for liar, liar, pants on fire :)

June 19, 2009 at 01:02 AM ·

Hahaha. Silly is fine.

June 19, 2009 at 01:15 AM ·

Why not play trumpet-only 7 valve combinations+ lots of hot air.

June 19, 2009 at 01:17 AM ·

Terry, the NJSO is as close to top-tier as it gets. They are a fantastic group of musicians; players of the NY Phil and Philly Orch will tell you the same thing. And absolutely the NJSO is extremely selective, by any standard.

June 19, 2009 at 01:18 AM ·

Just do it for Triangle.

Sense of timing is all thats required :)

... There was this one peformance, and after the lead up it just ended with a single ding from the triangle. I couldn't help but laugh. She looked miserable doing that job haha. Am I mean??? :(

June 19, 2009 at 01:39 AM ·


the name was intentional....guaranteed a sell-out crowd, at least for the first Gala Performance anyway


June 19, 2009 at 02:23 AM ·

I still don't understand. I adjusted my monocle and re-read the original post as I snacked on some ossetian caviar (note to self--stop getting that crap. Just go with Beluga...).

It seems every once in a while some machinist or 7-11 worker wins the super lotto and claims they will keep working even as they shop for a Yellow Hummer and matching boat. Ha! That never lasts long. They buy the first McMansion they see, have all the white carpets re-done in white, do nothing but watch tv, and enter a tailspin of drugs, depression, and Deal or No Deal. And quit their day job.

So I must ask: why would one play in a symphony if one wasn't facing poverty? I mean, I guess I'd try working on an oil derrick or on a garbage truck or helping the poor for the novelty......but how long can it last?

Damn! spilled crappy 2nd-tier fish eggs on my jodpurs! (note to self: call Monte at Union Pacific and get some boys over to regrade that section post-haste!)

Well, ta-ta for now. I promised the Sheik I'd meet him for a little falconing. Yawn. The man is just a dabbler, doesn't really get the zen of the whole blood sport thing.

I hate amateurs!

June 19, 2009 at 03:37 AM ·

Oh Scotty old bean... have you not heard? the Underhills have moved, the cabana is soaked...last seen they were climbing aboard a large  boat, unlike in Spain the rain t'aint the same, the golf match was flooded and oh such a shame. Ho may be needed to paddle them home call him and tell him to toot his trombone. A masterful tool with thing's out of reach and beginners aren't frazzeled by a fiddle's mean screech. So it's settled, my thoughts for  that wealthy old Ho...trombone is the answer, now really must go

...ta ta...  Mumsey awaits

June 19, 2009 at 04:03 AM ·

Scott, people fall into a routine and habbit of working their whole lives =] So by process of thinking, of course their going to not know what to do. Well other than that its the whole personality thing, comes down to whats in their cup of tea.

Personally if they do nothing at all - WASTE! Let other people have fun =[

June 19, 2009 at 04:11 AM ·

I knew this would be good. Carry on...

June 19, 2009 at 04:35 AM ·

I think you could pick about any brass instrument, or a woodwind, then head down to http://www.omtaamb.org/

June 19, 2009 at 04:47 AM ·

 "Scott, people fall into a routine and habbit of working their whole lives"



Who are these people? Are they proletariats? How very sad!

You know what is totally overrated? I'll tell you what: Polo. It's a terrific bore. And one must take care lest one tread in PPP (polo pony poop).



June 19, 2009 at 04:54 AM ·



>the name was intentional....guaranteed a sell-out crowd, at least for the first Gala Performance anyway

Did you mean the opening night?



Scott- lots of people like polo. I know this is true because the British TV commercial says so.  Never tried the poop flavored version though.

June 19, 2009 at 08:49 AM ·

Buri,  although I was not trying to be gender specific; yes, you would be quite correct indeed...

"Another pain where the ulcers grow
Another op'nin of another show".

June 19, 2009 at 09:18 AM ·

@Scott~ I live in a very work-aholic area. (Sydney is bad like that haha)

For example my own mum, she didn't have work for 4 months. She didn't know what to do with her new found spare time and she got very depressed. So she bought a shop.... Now she's really happy working there.

June 19, 2009 at 11:08 AM ·

... we interrupt this program for an important announcement ...

Just think of all the practice time I could get in if I didn't have to worry about the small insignificant stuff ...  like feeding myself.

... we now return you to your regularly scheduled banter ...

June 19, 2009 at 11:28 AM ·

Steven, as Billy Shake once said...

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.


June 19, 2009 at 12:07 PM ·

 what`s with the shortened name shere here. Are we bumpkins or literates? ;)

June 19, 2009 at 12:22 PM ·

Sam.  Wonderful quote!  I hope the bank that holds my mortgage reads Shakespear .... <sigh>

June 19, 2009 at 12:24 PM ·

Stephen ... perhaps literate bunmpkins.  There are some days I feel old enough to have known BIlly Shake personally.

June 19, 2009 at 03:06 PM ·


I've heard tell that your antipodal continent is actually a giant penal colony, much like our own California. Might I suggest your mum looking for gainful employment  as a prison guard?



June 19, 2009 at 08:05 PM ·


Scott, you have solved the whole issue.  The cattleprod is the isntrument of the future!  easy to master and you can get a job anywhere with it.



June 19, 2009 at 09:18 PM ·

 Now Buri, you are inviting trouble  with PETA for sure. If they went to battle stations over the fact that Barack killed a fly; how will they respond to a cattle prod. Come to think of it, why are they not  at war with all the bow rehairing  folks. Shhhhh, maybe they think the horse is at the beauty salon

June 19, 2009 at 10:38 PM ·


hahahhahaha, so true.

June 23, 2009 at 12:01 AM ·



Commonplace observation re orchestras vs quartets, and yet survivor bias must be considered.   Unhappy orchestras stay together for a long time-- members often cannot afford to leave.  Unhappy quartets blow apart at the first opportunity.  By the time one has been together long enough to be surveyed, it is likely fairly happy.

June 23, 2009 at 06:24 AM ·

One other instrument to play that would guarantee you a place in the orchestra is the Accordian or the Concertina. I think players for those two are very rare, as it is almost unheard of for an orchestra to actually get lucky and land a concert-quality player.... I'll bet there are ads in every major newspaper!

June 23, 2009 at 12:57 PM ·

 Just join the Portsmouth Sinfonia! You are already qualified (pick your instrument):





June 23, 2009 at 08:05 PM ·



ahhhh,  the dreaded Portsmouth Sinfonia....

However,  I was interested in a related link, `Swat busts down the wrong door.`  I couldn`t help feeling Mr Ho could work well with this group.  Perhaps he could sub them for some tight fitting spandex in lurid colors with a few logos thrown in.



July 6, 2009 at 03:13 AM ·

Ho, how would you like to have a scholarship fund in your name?  I could be the first recipient.  :)    (Wait, I'm not sure I like what that implies!)

Re: string quartets -- no offense to any chamber players, but a lifetime of arguing about bowings with the same three people does not sound like fun to me.  Put me in an orchestra, where I can usually spend large quantities of time without having to say a word, and I'm quite happy.

July 6, 2009 at 08:52 AM ·


a lifetime? You are supposed to leave after a year...  With orchestras its easier because they fire oyu after a year.  Less personal.



July 6, 2009 at 05:41 PM ·

Well, with certain folks, a year might seem like a lifetime!

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