Photo Courtesy of Justin Bartels
By Justin Bartels
What does it take to get a job performing Classical music? If you are a young artist and want to pursue the career, here is a brief overview of what an instrumentalist would need to do to get a job in an orchestra, opera company or ballet.
First of all, mostly all jobs today are won via an audition. There are many different types of groups to play in. There are community orchestras, regional orchestras, ballets, operas, military bands, chamber music groups, and large professional orchestra. The quest is a long and difficult one but it can be very rewarding.
Many instrumentalist start at a very young age. I've known string players that have started at the age of three, most wind players were members of the high school band. The bug usually hits one day and it just seems like the appropriate thing to do. Almost all instrumentalists go to school for their craft. Usually a student will audition for a music school that is affiliated with a university or conservatory. Most musicians usually hold masters degrees or doctorates and usually go to one, two or more school. While at school they learn how to play their instrument by taking lessons with a professor, play in a university orchestra and take core curriculum classes. The core curriculum classes usually include music theory, music history, ear training, and regular math, english, foreign language and science courses.
Upon graduation or even before graduation many musicians begin the grueling process of taking an audition. In any city, even including the regional orchestras as few as ten to one hundred candidates apply for each position. I have heard of national auditions where five hundred violinists have applied for one position. The candidate starts by sending in a resume with their professional experience, who they studied with, some contact information and their education. After this simple one page resume is sent, there is a little bit of mail tag that goes on. The candidate will send in their resume, the orchestra will return an info sheet, the candidate is then required in most cases to send in a refundable deposit to reserve their time, then the orchestra will turn around an send an exact audition time. Only then does the candidate makes their own travel and hotel arrangements and goes to the audition.
For local purposes, for local purposes there are jobs available now in the Denver area. It's the beginning of the season for the area's local arts groups. Local job postings are usually available by joining the Denver Musicians Association (DMA) which is affiliated with the American Federation of Musicians (AFM). The Colorado Springs Philharmonic just held a few auditions for substitute horn, violin, and principal Clarinet. The Boulder philharmonic is looking for a new Principal Trumpet, Third/Bass Clarinet as well as a substitue audition for Clarinet. The Cheyenne Symphony is looking for an Assistant Principal Violin, Section Violin, Assistant Principal Viola, Principal Bass and an Assistant Principal Bass. The Fort Collins Symphony is looking for a Section Violin, Section Viola, Assistant Principal Bass, and a Principal Flute. The Greeley Philharmonic is looking for a Principal Cellist. It is a competitive field, in the Denver area alone there are only a handful of jobs and a lot of local musicians who would do those jobs. Nationally it is very much the same issues, more players than jobs as an example the Colorado Symphony Orchestra currently has no posted openings. For informational purposes all the local information is available on each orchestras respective websites
When you have made it to an audition and been accepted, the candidate usually checks in and is given a number. All auditions are usually anonymously held behind a screen during the first round. Candidates play a select list of popular snippets from orchestral pieces. Common violin auditions usually include Richard Strauss's Don Juan, and Mendelssohn Scherzo movement from A Mid Summer Nghts Dream as well as many others. Depending on the rules of the orchestra, a committee made up of members of the orchestra vote on each candidate. If the candidate recieves enough votes, he or she is allowed to move on to the next round.
The semi-finals (second round) are held after the preliminary round and another list of excerpts are chosen. This list may be a repeat of the first round, or entirely new, usually based on a list sent to the candidates before the audition. The same rules applied, a screen may or may not be used depending on the rules of the orchestra and the candidates with enough votes make it into the coveted final round.
In the finals the committee repeats the process, usually with the screen down and the winner will be chosen if a candidate gets enough votes to qualify for the position. A qualified candidate is either given the job outright or is asked to come and play a temporary trial with the orchestra. It is a long grueling and rewarding process, but it is well worth it.
For the concertgoer, for a more fulfilling experience at a concert, check the openings in an ensemble before you go. It is always a thrill to hear the new musicians and listen to how the groups change over the years.