How to find orchestras with job openings

February 21, 2017 at 03:13 AM · I am about to start the (rather intimidating) process of taking auditions for orchestras. I'd love to hear from people who have gone through this process before about their experiences. Not necessarily audition experiences, but about the process of finding openings and deciding which auditions to take.

Replies

February 21, 2017 at 03:42 AM · Full-time or per-service, and if per-service, for one orchestra or multiple? Local to where you live now, in some other particular location, or wherever you can find a job in the US, or anywhere in the world? If local, orchestras where you've subbed previously / know someone you can ask about likely future openings, or not? What's your "first choice" list?

February 21, 2017 at 05:02 AM · There are two basic sources:

Advertisements in the AFM magazine if the orchestra is union, and orchestra websites.

I've also seen a site that collects audition information, but I can't remember what it is. They may even email you the openings every week. Something like "My Auditions" or something.

For a specific job that doesn't yet have an opening, you just have to....wait. Some orchestras seem to have constant turnover, often for good reason. And others have very little turnover, again, often for good reason. Lower level orchestras may always be open to resumes and non-scheduled auditions because they're often desperate.

February 21, 2017 at 05:46 AM · What Scott said. And take every realistic audition that you can. Auditioning well is a learned skill, and it's very common for a musician to have many unsuccessful auditions behind them before winning a job, if they ever do. You should also be studying excerpts with someone knowledgeable about the orchestra world. I am concerned by the way you asked your question that either your teacher isn't part of the pro orchestra world, or you're not asking the right questions.

February 21, 2017 at 02:39 PM · I did certainly phrase my questions all wrong. ;) My fault for trying to fit one more thing into an already busy afternoon. I was in a rush.

At any rate, to clarify: My teacher is most certainly part of the pro orchestra world and he will be the one to ultimately see me through this process. My guidance for this next stage of life has come and will come from him and my other professional mentors.

When I asked for "advice", what I really meant is that I want to hear stories and experiences from people who've gone through this before. I changed my question to reflect that.

For example, did any of you have a "first choice" list, and at what point, if any, did you just have to ditch that list and go with what was available?

Also, when I say I'm "about to start the process" I literally mean that I'm at the very beginning of the process. I haven't even graduated yet. I'm just thinking, assessing, and trying to hear from a wide range of professional and semiprofessional musicians about their experiences throughout the process.

February 21, 2017 at 03:52 PM · I think you'll hear a different range of stories depending on what you're talking about. Some of the folks here are freelancers, for instance, while others have full-time positions. Very different audition experiences. Also, I imagine that if you share the first-choice list that you mentioned before editing your first post, some folks will have first-hand experiences of those auditions.

February 21, 2017 at 09:09 PM · "For example, did any of you have a "first choice" list, and at what point, if any, did you just have to ditch that list and go with what was available?"

I respectfully suggest that you are still not asking the right question, or rather, that you haven't completely grasped how very much the audition system is a game of large numbers. "First choice lists" are a luxury. The real question is, where am I absolutely not willing to go?

My suggestion: start perusing the International Musician job listings, and also check out myauditions dot com (I think that's the site Scott was referring to). Send resumes for every opening there is *except* for those auditions for orchestras you absolutely don't want to play in (salary too low, city too expensive or too far--if you wouldn't take the job, then don't take the audition), and those jobs for which you're completely unqualified. You don't say where it is you are currently studying, but unless it's one of the very top schools, you're unlikely to get invited to midlevel or above auditions anyway...and you should check with your teacher before sending resumes anywhere. In other words, don't waste the NY Philharmonic's time.

I am on the string audition committee in my orchestra and here are the things I look for when deciding whether to invite a candidate to an audition: Professional experience first and foremost--even sub experience is helpful; failing that, Juilliard, Rice, Oberlin, or equivalent school; failing that, a big name teacher at a lesser school. Training orchestra experience such as New World or National Repertory is also a plus.

Here is what I absolutely DO NOT care about: anything in high school unless you were a prizewinner at the Menuhin competition--don't put All-State on your resume; being concertmaster of your university orchestra unless you have absolutely nothing else to list; Suzuki certification or music education experience--we're not hiring a teacher, we're hiring a colleague; languages spoken, hobbies, specialty foods--you get the picture. Throw those resume books out the window.

An effective resume should consist of: Your name, instrument, contact information at the top. Then any professional experience, most recent to older; then solos played or prizes won, again reverse order; then your education at the bottom including school(s), degree(s), major teachers (NOT NOT NOT your childhood teacher unless you studied with Gingold). No photo. No second page. No paragraphs. No summary statement.

Good luck! I suspect you are in for a shock as you dip your toe in the water.

Edited to add that if anyone had told me, as I was preparing to leave school and enter the real world, that I would be spending nearly my entire adult life in Texas AND that I would become a career second violinist, I would probably have been stunned into silence. I didn't even know where San Antonio was on a map until I came here to audition. But it's an excellent orchestra and I feel very fortunate to be here.

February 21, 2017 at 09:36 PM · I have stories and to spare! Depends on what you feel like hearing. :) Unfortunately, as others have mentioned, since openings don't all happen at the same time, you don't get to choose as you would with schools. When you're ready to audition, you look at what's out there and start the process.

I've written about my view that you should only take auditions you believe you can win, so that would guide any advice I would give.

February 21, 2017 at 09:48 PM · Best of luck!

Tough as others suggest. I recommend having the best equipment. This includes a JonPaul Avanti bow. My good friend who plays for the San Antonio symphony has one and swears by it. It is also important to have a good violin such as a MJZ 905. Of course if you are travelling around a lot you'll need to ensure proper humidity with changes in temperature. Don't cheap out on this. Go for the best: i.e. a David Burgress humidifier!

February 21, 2017 at 09:49 PM · A bit of idle curiosity: Why wouldn't the university concertmaster position be worth listing, especially for students at good schools who are about to graduate?

February 21, 2017 at 10:00 PM · It's worth listing if there isn't enough professional experience to fill a resume.

Professional > student

February 21, 2017 at 10:54 PM · I read John Mac's suggestion and I thought that I'd rather have the MJZ humidifier and the Burgess violin.

February 21, 2017 at 11:43 PM · MJZ passed away 2014, which means the genuine MJZ905 is likely be overpriced for that factor (around $50K last time I checked), which not necessarily a better modern violin at this price range.

Have you watched Nate's audition videos?:

edit: I have to correct what I said about MJZ905, which is not entirely handmade by MJZ, so the price is still under $5k. Sorry about the confusion.

February 22, 2017 at 01:24 AM · http://www.auditioncafe.org/violin-jobs/

February 22, 2017 at 02:21 PM · Hi Yixi,

$50k for a MJZ 905? Is this one known to have been made by MJZ for sure, or one with his signature in which he oversaw the construction? I can't see one of his violins in which he oversaw the construction being that inflated.

How has the Topa been for your these days?

February 22, 2017 at 03:28 PM · Hi John, you are entirely right that MJZ905 is shop made. Sorry I was wrong about MJZ905. I was thinking about the ones that entirely handmade (benchmade)by MJZ himself. They become hard to get, as I was inquiring these violins, the dealer I spoke to told me $50K was the market price for these violins.

The Topa is sounding better and better each day. I'm getting to know its unique rich voice so well that, in a conservatory recital session, I was able to spot a Topa viola just by listening to it.

February 23, 2017 at 01:30 PM · There's also https://www.musicalchairs.info/ which also has international as well as other listings.

If you're interested in Canadian orchestras see http://orchestrascanada.org/. They will list national auditions which won't be listed in other sources. Of course you won't be able to actually take the job unless you can prove permanent residency. But often no one is given a job and these will predictably go on to international auditions, in which case you have a heads up and can get the list in advance.

February 23, 2017 at 06:04 PM ·

February 23, 2017 at 06:47 PM · -retracted out of respect for Marry Ellen-

February 23, 2017 at 07:40 PM · Never heard of it. Frankly that's insulting to everyone in the orchestra world on both sides of the audition screen. Please either cite your sources or retract your post.

February 23, 2017 at 08:54 PM · John,

What planet are you from?

February 23, 2017 at 09:21 PM · Wow, this post just got awkward.

February 23, 2017 at 09:34 PM · All the professionals,

While I'm not a professional musician, I have found this thread fascinating. It raises a question that nobody has yet asked/addressed: Is there a typical path from school/conservatory to a full-time paid professional chair in an orchestra? If so, how does it work, and what are the best steps to take?

February 23, 2017 at 10:21 PM · John: Mozart in the Jungle is fiction.

George: there's a lot of different paths to a full time job, and everyone has a different story, but a fairly common one would be:

1. go to conservatory for one or more degrees

2. study, during at least one of these degrees, with a teacher who has a reputation for students winning auditions - someone like Alex Kerr or Bill Preucil.

3. Start taking as many auditions as you can afford and stomach.

4. If you graduate from conservatory without winning a job, either stay in the area, freelance, and continue to take lessons, or

5. go to a training orchestra like New World or Civic that pays a stipend and keep auditioning

6. at some point, you might get lucky and land a job. Many extremely talented, hardworking players end up changing careers, finding that they really love teaching fulltime, going into administrative or librarian work, or going back to school in a different field.

February 23, 2017 at 11:17 PM · Never heard of it. Frankly that's insulting to everyone in the orchestra world on both sides of the audition screen. Please either cite your sources or retract your post.

--> Mary Ellen, I am sorry if you are offended, as that was not my intention. It was not a jab at you or anyone in the Orchestra world. Now, obviously I'm not going to mention names or make accusations, but I have heard of this sort of thing happening.

Unfortunately this sort of thing happens in other areas. I recall watching a reality show on Child Stars, and it was a topic for parents actively working to get their kids famous.

It was an honest question and worth discussion, but out of respect for you I'll retract my last post if it makes you uncomfortable.

February 24, 2017 at 03:09 AM · I would just like you to cite your sources, and as has already been pointed out, Mozart in the Jungle is fiction.

"You know it, I know it, everybody knows it" is not a source.

February 24, 2017 at 03:53 PM · I'm a multiple two year plan kinda person, though I had issues (late start, injuries and otherwise :) and if you really, really, really want it I'm not sure 2 years is long enough. It'd be interesting to see some stats, but I don't think a 10 year plan is unreasonable, if you really, really, really, really want it, need it, gotta have it... Off the top of my head, those who didn't win straight out of school, but who persisted, got the further training they needed, seem to fall into the 5-10 year range. Those who audition well straight out of the gate move up into better paid positions, bigger orchestras, more desirable cities fall in the 5-10 year range also. But yeah, 2 years and if you can think of other stuff to do, move on.

February 24, 2017 at 04:08 PM · You can give yourself a deadline, but it may be more helpful to base your decision on HOW WELL you're doing at auditions. If you are consistently making the 2nd round or finals, you should keep going. If you audition for several years at what you think are acceptable jobs and never get past the first round, then that should tell you something.

You should have a salary/lifestyle floor. If you can only make it to the second rounds of orchestras that pay $22,000, do you want to keep going?

Unfortunately, the odds are such that "really, really wanting it" are not enough. Everyone "really really wants it."

February 24, 2017 at 04:11 PM · Good points Scott, but I wasn't suggesting desire alone is sufficient to win a job. And I disagree that everyone wants it badly enough. There was an article, maybe put out by Boston, which said only about 20% of candidates were actually prepared coming into an audition. Those who fail and go on to discover how to actually prepare for an audition are part of a group which makes up only 20% of those auditioning, probably less now. So a full 80% of candidates go in with a false hope, as J Ray put it in another thread. And those are candidates screened for Boston. I'm not suggesting anyone can win an audition. Just that if you really want it you will go out and find out what it actually takes to even have a chance. That process, especially for those not passing the 1st round in early days, will likely take longer than 2 years to discover, then learn (typically involving drastic changes to practice habits, greater body awareness and learning mental skills, perhaps for the first time.) It's not really that mysterious what you have to make yourself do to prepare. But if you don't really want it, it's unlikely you can make yourself undertake such a grueling, often demoralizing process. Also, those consistently making 2nd rounds but not advancing need to ask why that is. That move from middle rounds to finals is also a huge hurdle and failure to advance is indicative of some deficit. Those who make finals consistently can all do the job. At that point it's just a crapshoot, a numbers game.

February 24, 2017 at 04:38 PM · The people I know who gave themselves 2 years had studied with teachers who had successfully prepared students for auditions, and they also had top conservatory degrees. So they hit the ground running after finishing their graduate studies. Some of them landed salaried jobs in that time but kept taking other auditions hoping to move up. My point was to suggest to the OP to think about a timeline that's right for them. It's scary to think about failure, but the odds are worse the farther you are from those "hit the ground running" types of graduates, and it is something to think about earlier rather than later.

February 24, 2017 at 04:51 PM · Agreed. Planning ahead is not only better but probably a crucial ingredient to success. It's always better to know what you actually want too. And there's no way to figure out how many of those "hit the ground running" types stick with it v. the slow and steady group. There's a reason so many symphony players become jaded and dissatisfied with their jobs, especially string players. We're trained all our lives to play like soloists and chamber musicians, to be creative, to be individuals. For many it's sobering to land a great job but then have to face the reality of section playing. So for someone who really loves symphonic music, loves playing in a section, can't imagine a better way to make a living, it might be worth putting in a few more years despite early setbacks. I was thinking of coming up with a timeline also. 2 years is probably enough time to find out if you really want it. But if you find you really do want it, it might not be giving yourself a fair shake. Again, it'd be great to have some stats.

February 24, 2017 at 05:14 PM · I agree both with the idea of setting a deadline for yourself and then adjusting your time frame based on your audition track record. If you're consistently making finals but haven't yet won a job at the end of two years, you're in a very different position from someone who has never advanced past the first round in two years. Yes, you're both still unemployed but the person who never gets advanced really needs to think about other paths in life.

It's best to prepare for auditions with a coach who sits on a professional orchestra audition committee. Such a teacher knows exactly what the committee is listening for and is not likely to have a problem being blunt. If you're preparing for an audition with a teacher who is consistently praising your playing...you might want to play for someone else. Either your teacher is unwilling to be honest, or your teacher honestly isn't hearing any flaws in which case you need another teacher. There are always flaws to be found in those who are just starting out.

Incidentally, while chronic pitch problems will keep you from advancing past the first round, the occasional out-of-tune note isn't nearly as damaging as rhythm problems. I don't care how beautiful your sound is or how accurate your intonation, if you can't keep a steady beat, or you rush, or you consistently make rhythmic errors such as playing dotted rhythms like triplets, I don't want you in my section.

February 24, 2017 at 05:37 PM · Mary Ellen describes exactly the kind of training the slow starter might have missed out on, and the kind motivated undergrads need to seek out after finishing their degrees. That can happen during diploma programs, masters, orchestral training programs, or private lessons. If you know you want an orchestral career in high school, you might do well to seek out a teacher who trains orchestral players. If you know in undergrad, you would do well to seek out such training for the years after graduation. But it still begs the question, how many win jobs straight out of undergrad, how many after masters, how many after training programs, etc. Mary Ellen, do you have any idea, even ball park, of such stats in your own orchestra? How many won the job within 2 years of graduating, within 5 years?

February 24, 2017 at 06:00 PM · That's an interesting question. I don't have stats handy. Our concertmaster won the job just out of his master's program at Rice. Actually quite a few of our recent winners were recent Rice grads. It's also fairly common for a new hire to have been in the New World Symphony at the time of winning our audition.

I'm sure I'm missing someone but it seems to me that those whose diplomas aren't still dripping ink have been somewhere else in the interim--New World, or smaller regional orchestra. And they all seem very young to me.

February 24, 2017 at 11:32 PM · One more thing to throw in here: Commuting orchestras. Some orchestras pay travel and lodging in concert weeks (during which all the rehearsals plus concerts are crammed into a handful of sequential days). So you don't necessarily have to live where you win auditions, but this is also part of the freeway philharmonic lifestyle. There are also players who commute between their job (say, an opera orchestra) and where they actually live and/or hold a university position. In this, "commute" can mean "cross-country flying".

February 24, 2017 at 11:45 PM · Another thing to consider:

For the competent violinist who lives in a large enough city, has an engaging personality, and is willing to work extremely hard, it's possible to put together a livable modest income with private students and weddings. This is even without winning a freeway philharmonic gig. Not right out of the gate--building a wedding business takes some time--and you would have to be willing to fill every possible hour with students, but it's do-able.

However, and this is a big caveat, there is an inverse relationship between a successful solo teaching/gigging business and one's ability to prepare for an audition. Audition prep is in itself very nearly a fulltime job. I was practicing 5 - 6 hours a day, nearly every day, when I was in the audition phase of my life. Private teaching can be reasonably lucrative if you take on enough students but it is exhausting. At a certain point, you have to weigh your odds and choose one or the other.

This is why, when my orchestra declared bankruptcy and went dark nearly fourteen years ago, the one option I did not consider was trying to win another audition somewhere else. There were several reasons for this (husband's job, children's stability) but a big one was that in order to be competitive in an audition, I would have had to stop doing nearly everything else I did that brought in money. That might have been a risk I was willing to take in my twenties with no dependents, but it was not an acceptable risk in my forties with family responsibilities.

February 25, 2017 at 03:34 AM · I actually never heard of Mozart in the Jungle. Looks like I've got something to watch and read.

Ok...so let's take this a step further.

Say you do get a position. How hard is it to keep it?

Do you have to re-trial ever and keep fighting for your spot?

Mark Ellen (and anyone else with experience), how do you deal with someone who isn't quite cutting it or skills diminish? (either from lack of keeping up practicing or age)

February 25, 2017 at 05:12 AM · Most pro orchestras have a trial period (such as a year) and then tenure. In the US, at least, the terms of the trial and tenure, including any disciplinary measures, are laid out in the CBA. Community orchestras that hire ringers will typically have similar formal contractual provisions for the ringers, also.

Tenure is, well, tenure. You don't have to re-audition. But circumstances like a new music director can result in musicians being pushed out, including encouraging older players to retire.

It can be extremely hard to dismiss a long-time musician even when age has taken its toll. This saga of the Chicago Symphony's former principal horn is a good illustration (LINK). He retired several years after critics had really noticed his deterioration (LINK).

February 25, 2017 at 04:36 PM · New hires have a probationary period as Lydia described, but in my orchestra, upon signing their third contract, have tenure. There is no such thing as re-auditioning for one's job over and over, nor is there any such thing as a "challenge." Once a player has tenure, it is still possible to be fired on artistic grounds but it is a lengthy and difficult process, subject to review by a musician committee, and it is very seldom followed through to the end. Usually, if the artistic decline is related to age, the musician chooses to retire rather than be humiliated, and on the flip side, the orchestra may let a situation go on for a long time before moving to act when there is a well-respected, longtime musician involved. Not my orchestra, but several years ago there was an issue with a flutist in the Oregon Symphony that did not end well--I'm sure you can google the story.

A musician can also be dismissed for cause and I have seen that happen in cases involving alcoholism or drug abuse. Quite awhile ago there was New York Times coverage of a probationary player in the NY Phil who was denied tenure and was suing...I read the article and came to the conclusion that that particular musician had likely dug his own grave with personality issues.

February 25, 2017 at 08:53 PM · Thanks Lydia and Mary Ellen. Very insightful and interesting posts (particularly for someone outside of that world).

I imagine it can be complicated for someone to retire, particularly if they haven't managed their finances properly? Guess that is the case for anyone, but I don't imagine symphonies have pensions set up like some companies etc?

Mary Ellen, what would it take for someone to move from second violin to first if they wanted to? Is there a pay difference between the two?

February 25, 2017 at 11:19 PM · There is no pay difference between first and second violin. The pay difference is between titled and section (or as they say in the UK, tutti players).

As for moving between the sections, that depends on the orchestra. A few orchestras have rotation between sections--I think Toronto does, as does my summer orchestra, the Colorado Music Festival. Others, like ours, have rotation within sections with opportunities for violinists to rotate into the other section for a concert if they wish. Some orchestras have fixed seating and you would have to re-audition to move from eleventh chair to fifth chair, never mind from section to section.

Occasionally in my orchestra, someone near retirement will request to move from the 1sts to the seconds if there is an opening in the 2nds, and such requests are always approved. This leaves an opening in the 1sts for which we hold a national audition. Win-win since auditions for openings in the 1sts tend to attract a larger pool of players than openings in the 2nds. If an opening occurs in the 1sts, it is never going to be the case that only one person in the 2nds would like to move over, so in those cases members of the 2nds are free to take the audition and are automatically placed in the finals. We don't hold internal auditions.

As far as retirement goes, musicians are no different from anyone else. Some plan ahead, some fail to, some have life catastrophes that destroy the best-laid plans. Every fulltime orchestra that I know of has some kind of pension plan. Mine participates in the AFM Employee Pension Fund (union pension), which has had some rocky times over the past several years, and which does not provide for a cushy retirement although it is certainly better than nothing. The AFM pension isn't limited to fulltime orchestra personnel; every time I play or contract a gig, a small contribution is made to the fund for each musician on the contract.

February 26, 2017 at 12:31 AM · Thanks again for the informative response Mary Ellen.

Sorry to hijack your thread a little Luci, but it's going to be pertinent once you win your first position in an orchestra. Wish you best of luck in your pursuit.

February 26, 2017 at 01:28 AM · " here are the things I look for when deciding whether to invite a candidate to an audition: Professional experience first and foremost--even sub experience is helpful"

I have next to no business in this thread, so I apologize. But as a point of logic and interest -- as professional experience is the first criteria for consideration (as it is in other fields), isn't there significant value in taking a less than ideal job or location to start out rather than holding out and not getting professional experience?

February 26, 2017 at 02:13 AM · "isn't there significant value in taking a less than ideal job or location to start out rather than holding out and not getting professional experience?"

I don't know anyone who "held out" waiting for that perfect audition to come along, though there is a certain amount of self-sorting that goes on, especially at the top. I got my start in a very much less than ideal job in a very much less than ideal location, and moved up from there. The violinists I knew at school who were at Nathan's level made different choices.

But if your comment is referring to the OP's idea of a "first-choice list," I agree that it is unwise.

February 26, 2017 at 02:29 AM · I am curious what you believe to be the difference in the playing levels between people who win jobs at different tiers of the orchestral profession.

In other words, how does the OP determine what auditions to take -- i.e., figure out what's winnable?

February 26, 2017 at 04:16 AM · Unless the OP is one of the stars at a top school, the big jobs--52-week orchestras with six-figure salaries--are almost certainly unwinnable.

Beyond that, if her teacher is in the habit of giving her honest feedback, he/she would be the best person to ask about appropriate auditions to take. Another way to find out is simply to start sending resumes to all the openings listed (except I suggest not wasting the time of the Cleveland Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, NY Phil, etc, unless she is one of the aforementioned big fish in a gigantic pond). She'll find out pretty quickly who will invite her and who won't.

Being invited to an audition doesn't necessarily mean it's winnable for the OP but it only takes one or two auditions for people to realize whether or not they're out of their depth. Well, most people. I have unfortunately known of people who would not take "no" for an answer even after not making it to the second round time after time after time. If the OP has aimed too high initially, there's nothing wrong with reconsidering lower-level jobs *if* she would accept the job. It is unethical to take an audition without the intent of accepting the job if offered.

It's a good idea to ask for audition comments if the committee offers to provide them. I can almost write my comments in advance of hearing an unsuccessful candidate: You need to do a lot more slow practice, use your metronome, record yourself, listen to the playback and mark pitch or rhythm problems in your part, play your excerpts for someone who knows what to listen for, learn how your excerpts sound in the context of the full work (i.e. know how the music goes), and so on. And choose a concerto that you can play well. (I cringe when I hear the first notes of the Beethoven coming from behind the screen.)

There is a certain amount of trial and error involved, although a knowledgeable teacher and a student who is willing to hear the truth can eliminate much of the latter.

February 26, 2017 at 04:16 AM · My comments below are about violinists; there are differences among instruments when it comes to job availability and competitive levels. Also this is entirely my opinion. Someone with a different perspective might have a different take.

Consider (a) people who win titled chairs in 52-week orchestras; (b) people who win section jobs in 52-week orchestras; (c)people who win titled jobs in smaller ICSOM orchestras; (d) people who win section jobs in smaller ICSOM orchestras; (e) people who win titled core positions in ROPA orchestras; (f) people who win section core positions in ROPA orchestras; (g) people who win freeway philharmonic jobs.

Overlap is more likely from one level to the next. Someone who struggles to get a core position in a ROPA orchestra is not likely to suddenly become competitive in auditions for 52-week orchestras For myself, I started in (e), moved up to (d), and then (c). I believe Nathan started in (b) and moved up to (a) (and quite impressively so).

The better one's own playing is and the more professional experience one has, the more obvious the differences become between professionals at the various levels.

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