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Getting an orchestra job

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15 years 3 months ago #206 by
Getting an orchestra job was created by

I currently play in a military band. My heart and life's dream are to play in a symphony orchestra. While I joined the military right after college, my friends stayed in school, and studied excerpts all the live long day. I played tens of thousands of concerts in bands, brass and woodwind quintets for the military. As I start sending my resume to audition panels, is that going to hurt me?

Phil Myers' Answers:

No, I would say not. One of the differences between being a student and being paid to play is that as students we are all trying things out and we should be.  Sometimes in performance these things work, sometimes they don't. Most employers are not interested in this approach. Once being paid to play, one must pretty much succeed at something all the time.  Something? Put another way. If I establish for myself backstage before a concert that I don't have a very dependable pianissimo going that day,  I am not paid to out onto stage and try to present that pianissimo that I already know I can't depend on that day. In this case, I can only play as softly as I can depend on.  If that is mf, well, that is mf that day.  Then I go home and try to correct the situation in the privacy of my practice room. But at work, I am paid to do, not to try.  A dependable mf that day is acceptable, a pp that I am going to fail at is not. Of course we all try to have all parts of our playing at their optimum,  but sometimes it just doesn't happen and then we have to cover.

Oddly enough, this is quite often what an audition committee is at least partially listening for, someone who knows themselves  and their own playing well enough to perform in an audition what they can do at that moment in time,  not sit there trying to do things that they can't do at that moment.  It is one's chance to prove that they are going to be able to manifest the same approach on the job,  that they will daily succeed at something as opposed to sitting there and failing by trying something they cannot depend on.

If you have played in the military for (I assume) twenty years,  then I think audition committees, if looking at resumes,  will be reassured by the fact that this most basic of hurdles is well behind you, that you have twenty years of "doing" under pressure.   I cannot imagine why your experience would not be a positive.

That being said, I favor the Chicago Symphony system of inviting and allowing anyone to play who wants to come to an audition. When I was graduating from college, I tried out for associate first horn in Chicago.  Of course I had no business taking that audition really as I most certainly would have failed in the job.  Luckily for me, my first job was in a small orchestra where the pressure was not so great and I had time to figure some stuff out that I needed to figure out. But . . .  I have always been grateful to the Chicago Symphony for allowing me to find out things about myself in audition that I couldn't have found out any other way.  In New York, we send out a list that one can either come play live or send in as a recording for their first round.  We hope in that way to include anyone who is willing to put in the time to work up the list.

I'd like to think the playing experience would speak well, but worry that I don't have the paper pedigree that my friends (now with DMA's etc) have.

It may happen, but I have never heard anyone speak of a person's level of education in an audition. Often there is curiosity about who one's horn teachers were if someone gets beyond the second round, but until the finals we are blind so we really don't know anything about anybody. And I have played my entire life with people in orchestras that did not graduate from college at all.  But frankly, if you lined up the brass players in the New York Philharmonic today, where I have played for thirty years, and asked me where they went to school and what degree they had, I would have no idea, and I don't think they know what degrees I have either.

I play in community orchestras and substitute when I can, but just worry that I won't get a chance to audition based on that.

 You are right, basically the only thing that matters on a resume is what you have done full time, but you have that.

Now, keep in mind, I'm not gunning for the New York Phil anytime soon, but it seems very cut throat.

My general experience with my students is that they have a harder time getting into auditions for orchestras with smaller annual budgets than they do with say the largest ten orchestras in the U.S.  I have never been able to figure out why this is so. I don't think the top ten or fifteen orchestras are very cut throat.  Everyone in them knows they are lucky to be there, how hard it is to get there, and want to make it as easy as possible during auditions on everyone. I promise you this is true.

Do you have any suggestions on how to beef up my resume, or jump this hurdle?

I don't think with your experience that you have a hurdle to jump.  And the last thing I would do is beef up my resume. In general I would tell you that my experience has been the following.  And I don't mean to be funny here, I am just mentioning things that I have seen.

If you are sending a resume to a professional orchestra,
  1. No one cares what high school or junior high you attended or what you did there, even if you were soloist every year.
  2. No one cares about grades.
  3. Probably now one cares what college you went to.
  4. People do care about who you studied with for at least a year. If you took one lesson with someone like Philip Farkas or Myron Bloom,  it may have changed your life (it did mine) but no one cares who you took a couple lessons with.   Just list the teachers you studied with for a prolonged period of time. (at least a summer, perhaps)
  5. I played with the Elkhart Municipal Band (I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana) but they only do a few concerts a year.  Wouldn't mention it, would just seem like I was trying to pad my resume.
  6. I would basically assume that people are only going to care about one or two things on my resume so I would just put the one or two best things I have done and leave it at that. If that is being a full time student at a college, good enough, we all were.  Everyone knows you have to start somewhere.
I know absolutely nothing about resumes for academic jobs. I guess the rules would all be different. But in your case, I would plug your experience, I think it is a positive.

Good luck.  
Phil Myers

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