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What does it take?

13 Sep 2008 07:23 #167 by Robert Ward
What does it take? was created by Robert Ward

In this day and age of freakishly talented and hard working players, in your experience, can you discuss what it takes to become a member of the San Francisco Symphony?

What extra work did you put in to move up the "ranks" and become such a huge success in the horn industry?

What outside resources and materials (non musical/horn) did you use to "get there"?

Joshua Johnson

Bob Ward's answer:

Hi Joshua,

As I'm sure you are well aware, the competition is extremely intense for the best jobs in the orchestra world these days. In many ways, it's more and more players chasing fewer and fewer jobs. Most folks do not realize how high the standards are in the top orchestras, and how they themselves match up to that standard. When we have auditions, probably 80% of the candidates are eliminated right away, and it doesn't usually take very long for us to determine whether they should advance. Mostly the candidates are voted out in a prelim because of basics - rhythm, pitch and sound. I am convinced that a lot of them do not have a good perspective on what their own playing sounds like, but they decide to roll the dice and come and play anyway.

So how does a player learn to meet the standard?

1. Listen to many CDs and learn every standard rep piece out there cold. I was way ahead of the game, because I did most of my listening and learning in high school. When I was a senior, I played in 5 orchestras, and learned the rep from the inside too. KNOW THE MUSIC. Be able to hear it in your head, so when you play the audition, you can imagine the orchestra playing with you.

2. Record yourself practicing. I recently bought a flash-recorder, which I am now recommending that every student I teach buy. To be able to record yourself, play it back immediately and hear yourself in CD quality sound is one of the most valuable self-teaching tools out there. Here is a place where you can compare the various models:

3. Go to concerts. Hear the great players play live. No better learning opportunity exists.

4. Be self-motivated. Just like I learned about all the standard rep before I went to college, I also taught myself a lot about music theory and the orchestra itself (orchestration, notation, harmony, etc.) while I was in HS. Seek out people who are better than you and get their advice.

5. Take lessons with a great teacher and do what they tell you.

6. Bust your butt to get into good summer festivals so you can hear and play with the players against whom you will be competing for jobs. You will improve greatly by surrounding yourself with great players - it will elevate your game.

7. Learn about the horn and all its facets - history, manufacture, and the different schools of playing that exist. Here are some books that can be helpful:

8. Above all, be curious - and remember to play MUSIC, not just notes.


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