Over the years, I have written and spoken extensively on the subject of taking professional symphony orchestra auditions. This resource represents my current thinking on the issue based on my experience as one who has been on both side of the audition screen - as an audition candidate and as an audition committee member. This resource also contains advice that pertains to the taking of high school, university and solo competition auditions. Each chapter listed below (after the list of other audition related resources on my website) covers a different aspect of the audition process, and you can easily navigate from page to page with the BACK | CONTENTS | NEXT links. For information specifically geared to the high school student who is taking an audition for district, region or all-state ensembles, see my FAQ on Taking High School Auditions.
Additional information that relates to the taking of auditions, life as an orchestral musician, and performance can be found in other places on my website; take a moment to look at the full listing of materials available in the ARTICLES and RESOURCES areas of my website.
A graduate of Wheaton College (IL) and New York University, Douglas Yeo has been Professor of Trombone at Arizona State University since 2012. From 1985-2012, was bass trombonist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1985 and on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music. From 1981-85 he was bass trombonist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. During his time in the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he served on more than a dozen audition committees, including those that hired the Boston Symphony's Principal trumpet, Assistant Principal trumpet, second trumpet, Principal horn, Principal trombone, second trombone and tuba. This article offers practical suggestions about preparing for an orchestral audition. While written from a trombonists' point of view, most of the principles herein are applicable to players of any instrument.
In my many years of teaching on the college level, I have taught hundreds of lessons, given dozens of master classes and written scores of articles. But in spite of the wide variety of topics I have spoken or written on, I am most often asked "How did you get your job?" The question is asked honestly, although I suspect those who ask are secretly hopeful for some secret I could impart to them. Alas, there are no secrets, only common sense compounded with a great deal of work.
Of course hard work does not always lead to the end of the rainbow. As a Christian, I understand that the best - even the only - place for me to be at any given time is where God wants me to be, whether or not it is what I want. In the years before I got my first full time orchestral job, my understanding of this important Truth was very incomplete; I would often pray, "God, you know how much I want to play in an orchestra. You've given me a talent to play the trombone. Please just let me win this audition and I'll stop bothering you about this." It was not until I allowed myself to entertain the very real possibility that an orchestral career was not what God wanted for me did I experience real freedom in audition taking, as I recognized that the audition was not a "do-or-die" proposition, but rather a way of seeking confirmation of God's will for my life.
The psalmist writes, "When I consider Thy heavens, the work of Thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which Thou hast ordained; What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?" (Psalm 8:3,4 NASB) A profound thought, indeed. But it has a practical application in our lives as well. For if the creator of the universe, the One who holds the galaxies together, desires that you be a member of "X" Symphony Orchestra, do you honestly think he would allow something as trivial as a missed note at an audition to prevent you from winning the job? This realization does not give the Christian freedom from working hard, but rather reminds us that God is God, and He will do His work through us in ways we often cannot understand. Our goal is to seek His will and way, and to conform our lives to it in order that we can experience the "peace that passes understanding."
What I have endeavored to do here is to outline some practical steps any musician can take toward audition readiness. But I write this being influenced deeply by the Creator of all things. Working toward a goal can be a noble pursuit, but working toward a goal in the Spirit of Truth can provide understanding and satisfaction beyond measure. Don't forget the biggest piece of the puzzle in your preparation. Without knowing Him, you may win the job, but will not have the satisfaction you seek.
Preparing for an orchestral audition does not begin in a practice room with
an audition list and a copy of the Berlioz Hungarian March on your music
stand. It begins years earlier, before you know what an eight-service-week
is, before you care a whit about tour conditions, and before you even know
(or care) what the job even pays. It begins on that day when something
inside of you says, "I love music and want to spend my life devoted to the
pursuit of making great music for the enjoyment of myself and others."
It's exciting, it's exhilarating, but it doesn't happen overnight. Many a student has tried and failed, not for lack of talent or perseverance, but for short-sightedness. There is far more to winning an orchestral audition than playing excerpts. This essay is an outgrowth of my own experiences - as a student, an audition candidate, a member of an audition committee, an orchestral player, and a teacher.
What follows works for me, and it has worked for my most successful students. But it is by no means the last - or even the complete - word on the subject. Take these words and seek out the thoughts and wisdom of others, carefully processing all the information until you find a process in which you feel comfortable. The road is long and full of pitfalls and frustrations, but should you succeed, you will be rewarded with a lifetime of inexpressible joy as you grapple daily with that re-creative process known as music.
Surround yourself with music. In this world of Muzak, boom-boxes and television, this may seem like a profound understatement. But it is true that many people live in a musical vacuum, unaware of the rush of sound going on around them. Music that becomes "white noise" or background filler is not helpful in developing a healthy musical world view. Purposefully and consciously listen to music.
Find positive role models. Finding role models that play your instrument is of primary importance. But there are other instruments, and countless fine performers we need to notice. My list of primary musical role models includes former teachers (Edward Kleinhammer, Keith Brown), current and former colleagues (Chester Schmitz, Norman Bolter, Everett Firth), and great soloists (Glen Gould, Tomofei Dokschutzer, Mstislav Rostropovich and George Roberts). Seek out these and other role models, and become able to articulate - specifically - what it you find to be great in them. I would, however, caution the young instrumentalist against emulating even the greatest vocalists - the vocal style is so unique and complicated (and often so bizarre) that until you have a secure musical concept, a singer can easily distract you into a false sense of musicianship.
Listen to live music. Nothing is better than hearing a symphony orchestra live, regardless of the quality of your stereo system. If you live near a great orchestra, make it a point to hear it regularly. You would be surprised how many students I have who live just two blocks away from Symphony Hall never go to live concerts. It's no surprise to me that they never get to sit on stage, either. If you live near a not-so-great orchestra, go hear it anyway. There is always something to be learned, and live music creates a unique sound that can only be captured in the concert hall. Listen to the orchestra; hear more than just the parts your instrument plays. Most importantly, begin to see yourself in the orchestra.
Listen to live radio broadcasts. Live radio broadcasts of orchestral concerts used to be very common in the past, unfortunately they are increasingly rare due to their high production cost. However, many orchestras can still be heard in live concerts, and television increasingly is showing live orchestral performances. Don't become a musical aristocrat. There is great music on the airwaves, and it comes from places other than just Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New York and Philadelphia. No one orchestra plays everything greatly, so resist the temptation to identify yourself solely with the "greatest" orchestra.
Listen to live recordings. Recordings made from live concerts (as opposed to those made in a recording session environment) are almost as valuable as live radio broadcasts. While "live" albums often are fixed up later with a "patch" session, the excitement of a live recording usually comes through. Music made under the pressure of the moment - with all its imperfections - is exciting and real. I treasure many of my live recordings for their raw energy and excitement, something that "studio" recordings often lack. My favorites include many recordings by the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) Philharmonic under Mravinsky. Their live recording of Glinka's Russlan and Ludmilla is one of the most stunning things you will ever hear.
Build a basic compact disc and tape library of standard symphonic repertoire. Again, don't buy everything by the same orchestra. (The Chicago Symphony under Fritz Reiner made some terrific recordings, but not everything they did is "definitive!") While you're at it, collect other kinds of music as well - piano, chamber, string quartet and folk music. Record live concerts on tape so you can hear them again. Begin to know conductors and their orchestra, names of players (certainly the trombone players, but others as well). In short, get excited about music. If classical music doesn't get your blood pumping quickly, then stop, make your trombone into a lamp, and do something else. Don't become a trombone jock, though - become a music lover.
Audition material doesn't just appear on your music stand when you want it - you have to find it. Most players turn immediately to orchestral excerpt books as their primary source. As far as they go, excerpt books do very well. But they often do more harm than good and are woefully inadequate for complete audition preparation. All excerpt books suffer from some or all of these problems: incompleteness, excerpts written in the wrong clef, misprints of notes, dynamics and metronome markings, passages attributed to the wrong player, and lack of reference points (bar numbers or rehearsal letters). While they are important to have (books by Belwin-Mills, Brown, Gade, Hausmann, Menken, Stoneberg, Smith, Van Haney and Yeo are some you should own), DO NOT RELY ON THEM ALONE!
I have recently added a new resource in this web site called The Bass Trombonists Orchestral Handbook. In this section, I have included the printed music to many frequently asked bass trombone excerpts as well as my written annotations - an online excerpt book. Reading this resource will give you an idea of how I approach audition material from both a performance and teaching point of view.
The best answer to the deficiencies of excerpt books is to purchase full orchestral scores. They are expensive, but a little detective work will reveal sources for scores at less than full price (try used bookstores and music libraries that sometimes have sales on "tired," overworn scores). Dover has been publishing inexpensive scores for several years, their bindings are excellent and they are full size. The investment will be well worth it, as scores are indispensable for any understanding of a musical work. Only with a score can you discover the relationship of your part to every other part in the orchestra. With a score, you can copy passages that do not appear in excerpt books.
One reason why excerpt books are so incomplete is because of copyright restrictions. Therefore, scores are your only legal source for many excerpts. Having the score provides you with a wealth of information which is absolutely critical for your preparation. Learn the transpositions and clefs of all instruments. In short, become an explorer - constantly dig and question, figure out why you are playing what you are, and with whom you are playing. A thorough knowledge of a score in conjunction with recordings can give you an understanding of a piece far beyond your years of experience. Be curious!
However, just as in the case of excerpt books, caution must be exercises in purchasing scores. They, too, have mistakes, and in the case of many important composers (Bruckner, Dvorak, Mahler, Schumann, Stravinsky and Verdi, to name a few), there are many editions and versions from which to choose. Kalmus and other "budget" companies usually use early editions of scores as their source because the work is no longer under copyright and it can be reproduced inexpensively. But modern scholarship has often produced newer, more accurate renderings of pieces, and you need to be aware of them and what makes them different. A little thing like a displaced octave or different clef can really throw you if you find out about it for the first time on the audition stage. The more surprises you can eliminate, the more confident you will be.
A third alternative (beyond excerpt books and scores) is to purchase orchestral parts or copy them when permissible. Buying parts can be expensive and even then you are not assured of getting an accurate part, since they include mistakes as well. But the actual part can be a help to you as it cuts out one more surprise when you walk on the audition stage.
When you inquire about an excerpt list from an orchestra that has a trombone vacancy, you will often receive legally reproduced excerpts of parts you can't always find on your own. Collect and save these valuable resources.
Finally, no matter how you choose to collect the music you need, do yourself a favor and buy German, French and Italian dictionaries and gain at least a rudimentary understanding of each language. Don't play a piece unless you know the meaning of every word in your part. In the case of some composers like Berg, Mahler and Strauss, explicit instructions are given to the player in his part or in the score. Find out what it means! Don't guess. "Grosser ton" does not mean "gross tone." An excellent little booklet, "A Brass Player's guide to the German Instructions Contained in the Symphonies of Mahler" published by PP Music (P.O. Box 10550, Portland, ME 04104) is extremely useful.
Most players think that the words "nach und nach starker" in the bass trombone part of Schumann's Rhenish Symphony simply mean "crescendo." But it's not that simple. The words, correctly translated, mean "little by little stronger," and in my book, stronger means a whole lot more than just getting louder (how about intensity and direction of line for starters?). Assume composers knew what they wanted. If you can't read their words, then you can't possibly properly interpret their music.
While score study and practice will go a long way toward making a fine trombonist, sooner or later you will have to make two big decisions that will help you with your quest of getting that orchestral position: You will need to choose a trombone teacher and you will need to choose a music conservatory, college or university.
Hypothetically, one should only need unlimited practice time to become a top rate player. However, to forsake a college education in favor of the practice room is a very shortsighted decision. The school environment contributes to your musical development in several important ways; it forces continued musical study even when you don't feel like it, it instills a sense of discipline in you life, not only in music but in other areas as well, it exposes you to music that you might not have chosen to explore if left on your own, and it surrounds you with competition and more role models - peers and elders - who can stimulate further musical growth. College is not a waste of time - don't allow your ego to say, "I don't need it."
Choosing a college is a highly personal decision, so after reading my suggestions below, be sure to talk over your decision with several people you know and trust before taking this important step.
There are many excellent colleges in the world. But there is one obvious advantage to choosing a school near a large city - large cities usually have full-time professional orchestras, and hearing a great orchestra on a regular basis should be near the top of your list of things to do. All things being equal, I would choose a college near a large city with a fine orchestra rather than one miles from nowhere.
Choose a school not on its reputation, but on the reputation of its trombone teacher, trombone students and trombone graduates. Remember, you are going to school to learn new insights about music and music making as they relate to your instrument. Unfortunately, many top conservatories are leaning more and more toward training students for solo and chamber music careers, somehow considering a career in orchestral performance to be second best. This attitude usually comes from high-level administrators, where the president or chairman of the school is usually a soloist who had no significant experience in orchestral playing.
Solo and chamber music careers on the trombone are virtually nonexistent (although there are job opportunities in those fields), so look for a school with a faculty that has an inspiring view of orchestral playing and one where you will have opportunities for frequent orchestral performance. If a school has 40 or 50 trombone players and only two or three orchestras, an awful lot of layers will have "excerpt classes" and "orchestral repertoire classes" as their primary orchestral experience.
For $30,000+ a year, you deserve better than that. Some schools rotate students through the orchestra each semester, but this is only a partial solution. I feel it is important to keep a section of three or fourplayers together for at least a semester so they can grow and interact with each other. When you audition at a school, ask about their ensemble policies, and find out how many trombonists they have. The player-to-ensemble ratio is an important factor, so be aware of it before you sign on the dotted line.
Of course, one of the primary factors in choosing a school is the trombone faculty. There are many things to consider depending on your level of achievement and ultimate goals. Large private and state universities usually have full-time artist faculty who often play in local regional and metropolitan orchestras and who are often retired full-time symphony players. Because of the high volume of students at such schools, teachers there are often extremely capable of diagnosing and helping to solve fundamental playing problems due to years of work with players on all levels. The perspective of a retired orchestral player is also extremely valuable and can serve as a tremendous inspiration.
Schools near large metropolitan areas, however, usually have part-time faculty drawn from the nearby full-time symphony orchestra. These schools are found near the big population centers in the East: Boston, New York Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C.; Midwest: Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Houston, Dallas; and West: Los Angeles and San Francisco. The attraction of studying with a full time symphony player is obvious - you will be working with a person who works at the kind of job you ultimately want. These teachers all won an audition to get in their orchestras and have probably sat on the "other side" of the audition screen as judges. Their insights into audition preparation and orchestra literature are invaluable.
However, a full-time orchestral teacher with a busy schedule may be more of a coach than a problem solver. Teaching is their second job, with lesson time take out of their time off from the orchestra. Some teachers prefer to teach only students with definite professional potential. These busy musicians sometimes do not give their quota of lessons each semester and make-up lessons are sometimes hard to arrange due to a full orchestra schedule. So the decision on what kind of school and teacher to choose is a complicated one and should carefully considered. Having said all this, I believe that an aspiring orchestral trombonist should concentrate on just that - performing.
Often a student will major in music education so as to have that to "fall back on" if a performing career doesn't work out. This is, I believe, terribly misguided reasoning, and often leads to one of two serious problems - an aspiring performer who, because he has a music education "parachute" doesn't devote himself with all diligence to his primary goal of performing and therefore fails to achieve it; or worse, a performer who, after failing in his primary objective as a performer, bitterly resigns himself to a career as a school teacher. Remember, a music education degree prepares and qualifies you for state certification. It does not automatically qualify you for a college teaching job, although what you learn may equip you to be a better college teacher should you continue toward that goal.
The market for full-time orchestral players is so minuscule (remember that there are only 30 full-time symphony orchestras in the US, ranging in salary from under $10,000 to over $100,000 per year) that it certainly pays to consider alternative employment options. My point is that the pursuit of an orchestral job requires a single-mindedness of purpose. A person training to become a primary or secondary school teacher embarks on a course of study of the greatest responsibility - the education and inspiration of our children. If you feel the "calling" to train in music education, then press on with all devotion to that goal. The education world cries out for people dedicated to teaching.
The option to teach if a performing career doesn't appear realistic always exists. If, after a number of years, you discover an orchestral job isn't for you, you can always go back to school for your certification credits, or go for another degree. But please, leave our children to those who love to teach. Teaching is a profession of the highest calling. Nothing is worse than looking at a primary or secondary teaching career as just a "job." The Bible cautions us to remember the important responsibility teachers have, "Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment." (James 3:1 NASB)
If you want to perform, then major in performance and go for it. If you want to teach, then major in music education and continue to perform, and resolve to be the best teacher you can be. Our children will thank you for the honesty of your decision.
One final word on the subject of college, as unfortunate as it may be. Having been involved in higher education for many years as a studio teacher, coach, classroom teacher, conductor and administrator, I have become distressed at the high level of squabbling and political maneuvering that goes on among many faculty at the college level. Caveat emptor! Faculty members would all like their students to play in the best ensembles and get the choice part assignments. In some cases, placement decisions are not always made strictly on the basis of auditions results - even allowing for the role seniority sometimes plays in placement. You as a student have the right to expect fair play and decency in all dealings with faculty - you are, after all, paying their salary.
By now, let's assume that you've committed yourself to preparing for an orchestral career. You listen to music, study scores, practice your parts, attend a good school and have an inspiring teacher. What do you do now?
First you need to find out what orchestra has a vacancy. See my article Pursuing a Career In Orchestral Music for more information and links about places where you can find out about vacancies. One of the best places to go is
MyAuditions, a comprehensive website of information for people interested in taking orchestral auditions. MyAuditions posts hundreds of vacancies on all instruments for jobs both in North American and overseas. They also have excellent articles, news items, and discussion fora on the subject of the symphony orchestra field.
Most American orchestras, following suggested audition guidelines set by the American Federation of Musicians (the professional union of musicians in the United States and Canada), advertise orchestral openings in the International Musician, the monthly publication of the AFM. If you are a union member, you already get this valuable newspaper. If you are not a member, either join the union or borrow a copy from a friend who has one. College placement offices will sometimes have a copy.
Professional orchestral auditions are most often governed under one of the four following systems:
Of these systems the first and second are rather rare today while the third and fourth are becoming increasingly common. There are advantages and flaws with each.
The first system would seem to be the most fair. Anyone who wants to audition comes and plays for the audition committee. Until a few years ago, most auditions were run this way. However, as music schools began turning out more aspiring players, this way of holding auditions became seriously flawed. Today, more than 200 players may wish to come to audition for a single position. Such an audition would take days to complete.
The audition committee would have to spread the audition dates over a number of weeks, since blocks of three or four days off don't exist for orchestral players. To solve the time problem, there is often more than one audition committee, each with its own ideas and standards, and each hearing players in different locations. Fatigue and boredom are big factors for the committee, and the process is simply too unwieldy for most orchestras.
Further, most of the people who play are totally unqualified for the position, and this is a colossal waste of time for everyone. False hopes and expectations arise in a candidate who is allowed to come unprepared, hoping that "luck" will be with him on stage. The outcome is usually deeply disappointing for the player and results in shattered dreams and a waste of money.
The second system was an attempt to weed out unqualified candidates. Inviting only "known" players insures that only good players will come, reduces the number of candidates to a reasonable number that can be heard in one or two days, and usually insures that a winner will be chosen. But, the major flaw in this system is that the resume or reputation doesn't tell the whole story. It has generally been a courtesy to invite candidates from parallel or higher ranked orchestras, but that doesn't necessarily mean that those players are viable contenders for the position.
Just because a person plays in one orchestra doesn't mean he will be able to play an audition up to the standards of another orchestra. Further, this doesn't allow less experienced players a chance at a job they might rightfully win. Everyone who wins a job does so with little or no experience at some time in their career. Consider the following examples:
In each case, the player had little or no professional orchestral experience to list on his resume when he auditioned for his first job but was given the chance to play and won. Each continued to audition and moved on to a position in a top orchestra.
The third system invites known candidates but allows others to make audition tapes of specific excerpts under specified conditions. This is the most popular system used now. The decision, however, of who is required to make a tape is often an arbitrary one. What are the determining criteria? Who you know? Orchestra rank? Salary? A famous teacher?
The fourth system requires all applicants to make an audition tape. In a sense this is as fair as the first system when everyone plays live. But many excellent players don't feel they can make a good tape so don't bother, and experienced players who already have good jobs feel they should be invited on the basis of their reputation and are sometimes "insulted" at having to make a tape. The entire process would seem to be one big Catch-22.
It is obvious that no one system is foolproof. Music is a visceral art, not something that can be measured with mathematical averages. While the idea of the "Great Trombone Playoff" is fascinating, it is clear that the art of trombone playing will always be a subjective call, judged by diverse personal standards and ideals, and subject to myriad outside factors. Trombone players aren't measured by batting averages; players are simply judged by whether or not a listener likes the way they play.
It must be remembered that in all audition systems, a given committee on a given day, with a given group of candidates, in a given time and place, might well choose a different winner were even one of thousands of variables different. That is the harsh but inevitable reality of an orchestral audition. Orchestras (usually) try to make the system as fair as possible in order to insure that the best candidate will be chosen. Usually it happens, but sometimes it doesn't. This is why orchestras have probationary periods ranging from one to three years before a member is granted tenure. It is not for you, the audition candidate, to pass judgment on whether or not the system is fair. It is your job to do your best to work within any system so you can get a chance to prove that you are the player and person the committee should hire.
While the end result of any audition is to find the best player for the job, the immediate goal of the audition committee is to eliminate as many players as possible as quickly as possible - to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you will - in order to get the audition to the point where a selection can be made from a small group of outstanding players. That is why auditions use standardized repertoire for all candidates; it gives the committee a quick means by which to judge one candidate against another. Ultimately, the finalists will be judged against the "ideal," whoever or whatever that is (often it exists only in the mind of the listener), but in the early going, candidates are judged against each other. All you have to do at that point is to be better than everyone else. Every audition has only one winner.
When you read or hear about an opening in an orchestra, before you even know which audition system the orchestra will be using, you need to make an inquiry concerning the requirements for the audition. Sometimes the advertisement will specify information about the audition - dates, location, and whether or not tapes/CDs will be required. In any case you need to do two things - write a letter and write a resume.
Letters to personnel managers (the person in the management of the orchestra who is responsible for organizing audition committees, reserving dates and times for auditions, insuring that all players are where they belong for each rehearsal and concert and a million other duties) should be easy to write. But after looking at hundreds of letters sent in response to openings, I realize how many people have no idea how to compose a simple letter. Here, then, is the basic form:
Dear Mr. Porcker,
In response to your advertisement in the September 1955 International Musician, I would like to be considered for the position of principal mute carrier of the Melonville Symphony Orchestra. Please forward information regarding the date, time, location and repertoire for the audition. My resume is enclosed for your information.
That's it. It is simple enough, and a letter similar to the one above would bring smiles to the face of any personnel manager (or more importantly, his assistant or secretary). The letter simply asks for information. It doesn't ask for favors, doesn't boast, doesn't ramble and says clearly, "I am a literate human being."
The resume is, simply stated, the main event. It is the single most important document you will ever create. More than a dry recitation of your musical accomplishments, it is a reflection of you as a person. That a resume should be prepared with thought and care is, again, an understatement. But in my experience, I have seen only a handful of resumes that made a good impression on me. What most people don't understand is that resumes really do matter.
You may be invited to an audition even if your resume is a mess (after all, if you have the right qualifications, the committee wants to hear you play the trombone - they're not going to give you a spelling quiz). BUT, your resume will be looked at after you are invited. If you get to the final round, chances are that your resume and those of the other finalists will be pulled out and passed around to the committee members, including the music director.
Keep in mind that a committee is looking for ways to eliminate people. With all things being equal between two players, which one would you hire - the player with a neat, professional looking resume or the one who misspelled a dozen words and wrote it in long hand with a green ballpoint pen? The choice is obvious. Yourresume says, "Hello, this is me. This piece of paper tells you that I am a confident, conscientious professional who will be an asset to your orchestra. Give me a chance and I will show you what I can do."
Here are a few suggestions for writing that most important document.
That a resume should be truthful and relevant would seem obvious, but it is painfully evident that players, especially ones who are young and inexperienced, stretch the truth and pad their resumes a great deal - to their own embarrassment. A resume must contain only information that is vital for an audition committee to assess your playing experience, training and ability, to wit:
Unless the orchestra specifically asks for it, NO OTHER INFORMATION IS CONSIDERED RELEVANT! As to what constitutes a present or past position, common sense and honesty much prevail. Non-musical positions should not be listed, nor should any high school all-state band or orchestra memberships. Among other things that should stay off a resume: Membership in the International Trombone Association, Phi Mu Alpha or MENC, the fact that you are in the top orchestra in school, the dates of your solo recitals, who your teacher studied with, a listing of summer camps you attended (unless it is a highly prestigious and nationally competitive festival such as the Tanglewood Music Center). A committee wants to know what significant musical experience you have. If you have no experience, your resume should show it. A padded resume fools no one and looks bad. How you list experience is also important. For example, if you played extra or substitute with a professional orchestra, list it like this:
- Grant Park Symphony (extra player) 2012
To leave out the words "extra" or "substitute" is misleading and again fools no one. Dates are important. If you are still in college, list your projected date of graduation. Your resume will no doubt be slim, but your honesty will be appreciated.
In listing references, phone numbers are important. Do not send written references from teachers and conductors with your resume; they are meaningless. Almost anyone can get a written reference from a teacher; conductors are only slightly more difficult to pin down. Every teacher will write a reference saying that his student is great and should be invited, likewise with conductors (although if you play so well in his orchestra, why is he writing a reference for you so you can get another job?).
Written references will most likely be discarded. Very rarely will a reference be contacted by an audition committee - if you have no experience and your teacher thinks you're the greatest student he has ever had, the committee will probably still want you to send a tape. You must fight your own battles and let your resume speak for itself. But, if you are a borderline case and you list a credible reference whose opinion a committee member respects, it may help, should additional information be requested of you. NEVER HAVE A TEACHER OR OTHER REFERENCE CALL COMMITTEE MEMBERS ON YOUR BEHALF. It rarely if ever influences a decision and most often hurts an applicant by putting a committee member in an awkward position.
If all this information cannot fit on one page, then you need to trim the fat. List only the most important, significant things you have done. You will find that as you do more and more performing, you resume will get smaller and smaller.
Finally, remember that a resume reflects how you feel about yourself. Use good, clean, white bond paper. Most people will use a computer to layout and print a resume; this is a good idea since you can easily update your resume as your job situation changes. Print it with a laser printer - never use an ink jet printer because if your letter ends up caught in the rain, or a committee member drools on it, it will be a mess. Make the resume attractive. Use good size margins and the tab key to create an aesthetically pleasing document of which you can be proud. Don't mix eight different fonts and silly graphics (please, don't use a paste-in of a trombone!). Keep it simple, neat and clean. When you are done, look at it carefully and re-read it a hundred times. Take care that it accurately represents you in every way.
If you are highly experienced and have been invited to the audition on the basis of your resume, you can skip over this section. But given the current climate at auditions, chances are that sooner or later you will be required to make a taped/CD preliminary audition. This method of screening applicants is increasingly popular, so, like it or not, it will pay to learn to make a good quality recording.
After submitting your resume, you will probably receive material from the orchestra personnel manager detailing how your tape should be made. Follow all instructions exactly with particular attention to:
In order to make auditions as fair as possible, most orchestras will send the exact music required to be played on the tape. This eliminates confusion about which edition to use and where to start and stop. Most personnel managers are meticulous in specifying requirements, so don't bombard him with stupid phone calls explaining that you have seven seconds of space between each excerpt instead of five. Use your head.
For the taped audition system to be successful, the player needs to make a tape that is a reasonable representation of his playing. However, every audition committee knows that, in reality, each candidate had unlimited opportunities to get an excerpt right. There is no reason to settle for less than a perfect "take." The committee has no opportunity to ask to hear something again. If you let an excerpt stay on your tape that is out of tune or out of time, a committee will simply say, "That's the way that guy plays, since it's the best he could do." Perfection is a high standard, but given the opportunity to make as many takes as you need to get it right, you must settle for nothing less. Perhaps a bit of insight into audition tape listening will help you understand why.
As a member of an audition committee, listening to tapes varies between boring and hysterical. Most people will send awful, pathetic tapes with poor technical quality and poor playing. They are painful to listen to and constitute an utter waste of time.
Interest in a player is contingent on a high standard demonstrated from the very beginning of the tape. Tapes are not usually listened to in their entirety. Often a cut-off point is established, usually half way through the requested excerpts, at which time the committee is informally polled as to whether there is sufficient interest or need to hear more. At times, only one or two excerpts will be heard if a player seems beyond hope. If a player is great you know it after one excerpt, if he's terrible, you usually know it after three notes. Thetimes when a tape will be heard all the way through are when it is exceptional and the committee is relieved to hear someone who could actually win the job or when the playing is so awful that a full run-through provides much needed comic relief. The key, therefore, is to make your first excerpts "perfect" in order to capture and maintain the committee's interest.
Making your tape should be relaxing, enjoyable experience. If you're worried that you won't be able to make a good tape, then don't bother to make one. Making a tape is an audition. But instead of pleasing members of an audition committee, you have to please an even more discriminating critic - YOU. After years of listening to music, peers and role models, after countless hours of practicing and score study, after hearing dozens of live concerts and hundreds of radio broadcasts and records, you know what is good and what's not. Do not settle for less.
For this reason I recommend making your tape by yourself. Find a comfortable room in which to make your tape. Remember, follow the instructions your received from the orchestra. Any suggestions I make here are secondary if they conflict with the instructions you receive. Concert and recital halls and churches are usually too reverberant for good tape results; your living room will be too dry. Try a big rehearsal room or classroom at school or a fellowship hall of a church. Make sure it is big enough to give you some resonance and satisfaction when you play there, but not so big that your sound and rhythm get lost in the rafters.
Make sure your environment is quiet and free from outside noise (traffic, kids playing, telephones, elevators, flushing toilets, etc.). Set up your recording equipment in accordance with the instructions you received. If no specifics are given, I suggest the following: Use a high quality chrome tape such as Maxell XL-2 or TDK SA with Dolby B. Use the highest quality microphones and tape you can rent, buy or borrow. Set the microphones about 15 or 20 feet from you and about seven to ten feet high. Do not attempt any fancy stereo effects. Make sure you record on both channels. Single channel recording is annoying to listen to.
Set your recording level to peak at about + 3 dB, since any higher will probably cause distortion; any less will give you unwanted hiss in quiet passages. Experiment with various microphone settings while playing through the excerpts in any order you want, but make sure you play everything for each microphone/level setting. Keep your tape recorder on and do this for about 45 minutes. When you're done, make careful notes about the exact location of you, the microphones and any other large objects that might be moved. Then pack up and go home.
On the next day, play your tape back and decide what combination of mike placement and volume level sounds the best. Take notes on how you played: how was your rhythm, pitch and dynamic range? Did you project too much style into the excerpt, thereby distorting the rhythm? Be critical; analyze yourself carefully. A committee will.
Then go back to your recording site and make your tape. In a reasonable length of time (perhaps 20 or 30 minutes), play through all of the excerpts with the tape rolling. Stop playing at once if you make an obvious mistake like a cracked note (you don't want to waste your chops on a take that you know you'll never use), but keep playing through what you think are minor lapses. Don't get frustrated or paranoid, but continue to play things two or three times until you feel you have captured on tape at least one good representation of your playing for each excerpt.
When you get home, listen to your tape and choose the best take of each excerpt (no splicing, please) and with another tape deck of equal or better quality, transfer your final takes onto another tape. When this is done, listen to your finished tape critically. Ask yourself, "Would I invite me?" If not, repeat the process up to two more times. If you can't get it any better, then send the tape as is, or forget it and keep practicing for another time.
Do not waste your money on a professional recording studio unless you are specifically told to use one. Their rates are often outrageous (by the time you are done at some studios, you may find you could have bought your own equipment for the same price), their product is often not very good (artificial reverb sounds like artificial reverb) and most engineers do not have the faintest idea how to record a "legit" trombone sound. Because it is so expensive, you will be putting yourself under a lot of pressure to get done quickly. You will learn so much more and make a much better tape if you do it right yourself.
In 1984, I made an audition tape in order to be invited to the audition for the Boston Symphony Orchestra bass trombone position. I subsequently won that position in 1985. To hear that tape in mp3 format, and to get more insight on how I made it, go to the Douglas Yeo Boston Symphony Orchestra Audition Tape page of this website.
There are, of course, many different ways to make an audition tape and a lot of varying opinions on the best way to record the sound of a brass instrument. For some additional tips on making your tape, see this interesting article from Electronic Musician magazine by David Summer titled Record great brass sounds in your personal studio.
Congratulations! Your resume and/or tape has been accepted and you've been invited to the audition. Now the fun and real work begins. Getting invited was like graduating from high school. It was a big accomplishment, but very soon it will be history, and you'll be competing on a new level against only the best players. This is no time to rest on your laurels. You must redouble your efforts and focus on the audition day.
Continue your diligent practice and study. Concentrate on the orchestra for which you are auditioning. Find out as much as you can about the trombone players; be able to recognize them at sight. The International Trombone Association Journal has published many interviews with trombone sections that can give you important insights. Listen to broadcasts and recordings by "your" orchestra (you should have been doing this all along, anyway). If possible, hear the orchestra play a concert in the audition hall and, best of all, try to get to practice in the audition hall if even for only a few minutes.
Grab some friends and, every few days, play a dry run audition for them. Put yourself under pressure to make every excerpt count. Play the entire list straight through once every few days. Play it in alphabetical order; play it in reverse alphabetical order. Put every excerpt on a 3x5 card, mix them up and choose eight to play. Keep mixing them up because you never know in what order they will be asked.
Fear no excerpt. You cannot have any excerpt that you hope will not be asked. Every excerpt must be your best, and they must be known so well that they are nearly automatic. If you have to stop and think about everything you must put into an excerpt, you will paralyze yourself. Playing music with conviction and confidence requires the art of remembering everything, and then forgetting it all so you can be free to express yourself in a natural way.
Practice in as many different large rooms or halls as you can. Get used to having a strong reverb come back at you. Be able to "over articulate" in order to achieve clarity. Know your dynamic limits, both loud and soft. Practice excerpts under and over tempo. Feel comfortable being flexible. Be critical! Continually set higher standards for yourself every day. If you get satisfied with yourself, then set a new standard.
Plan to arrive the day before the audition so you are not tired on the audition day. Allow your body time to relax. Put distance between your plane, train or car ride and the time you'll be auditioning - travel takes its toll even if you're not travelling outside your own time zone. Go to the audition by yourself - don't take your wife, husband, kids, girlfriend, boyfriend or neighbor with you. NO DISTRACTIONS! Keep away from artificial stimulants and depressants. Alcohol and caffeine are diuretics which act as dehydrating agents, drying out your mucous membranes. Adrenaline causes some of the same effects, so you don't need anything else contributing to drymouth. Smoking cuts down the efficient exchange of oxygen in your lungs, so stay away from any foreign substance that has an unnatural effect on your body. Don't do a lot of talking the day before and day of the audition - talking dries out your mouth and makes you distracted. If you're talking, you're not thinking about what you need to do at your audition. Can I say it again: NO DISTRACTIONS! Be drinking water and keeping quiet. Calm is the operative word. Focus on your task. Don't eat anything unusual and resist the temptation to sightsee if you are in an unfamiliar city. After you win the job, you'll have lots of time to see the sights.
Warm up before you get to the audition site - perhaps some very light mouthpiece buzzing and 15 or 20 minutes or relaxed warm up. Resist the temptation to play too much. You may have a lot of playing to do over 12 to 16 hours. Because you have been getting in peak shape for the past few weeks, you don't need a two hour practice session before an audition. All you should need is some relaxed playing just to get comfortable.
After you check in at the hall, find out when you will play, tell the
personnel manager where he can find you, and then disappear. Don't look up
old friends, hang around and talk trombone with other players, let people
try your horn, listen to other people warm up, or generally socialize.
There will be plenty of time for that after you win or get cut.
Don't warm up too much. Get comfortable and then put the horn away. Your chops will be there; blowing every few minutes just to check them will tire you very quickly. You may need all the "face" you can muster later in the day. Spend time reading, relaxing, breathing deeply and being quiet. At my last three auditions, I spent most of my free time before and after rounds reading the Bible and praying. (Psalms 25, 91, 103, 139 and 145 have been especially helpful to me during auditions.) I walked on stage relaxed and refreshed, without fear and with confidence. Find something to do that will relax you even when you are most uptight and cultivate that habit.
Drink a lot of water. Water fills your stomach and keeps you from getting hungry at the wrong time. It also keeps your body super-hydrated and therefore works to prevent drymouth. In addition, it also gives you something to do and can have a calming effect on you if you are a little nervous. If you drink the equivalent of eight ounces of water every 10 minutes, you will find that you have to go the bathroom every 10 minutes, too (begin this routine earlier in the day as "transit time" for water from entry into your body to exit is approximately four hours). When you're not on stage, you'll develop a path from your practice/relaxing room to the water fountain, to the bathroom and back again. This routine keeps your body moving and the cotton out of your mouth. But don't forget to relieve yourself just before you play or you could find yourself in an embarrassing situation on stage! Drink water only. Keep away from soda, tea, coffee, milk and other drinks that will stay in your mouth even after you brush your teeth. Water is the perfect drink. Learn to like it.
Concentrate on your goal. Keep looking at music, playing the excerpts in your mind, not on the trombone. It's too late to practice now; you simply need to remind yourself of some of the pitfalls of each excerpt. It may help to write some thoughts down. Don't try some new breathing place or interpretation you overheard someone else use. Be confident of your style, even if it seems different from everything else you have heard that day. It may just be what the committee has been waiting to hear.
Forget about everyone else. It's useless to waste energy thinking about the big name people who are at the audition and what equipment others are using. Remain alone with your thoughts and your concepts. Keep away from distractions and concentrate on how you will project yourself.
If permitted, use your own parts since they will look familiar to you. However, make sure that they conform exactly to the parts provided by the orchestra, and that you play only what is required. Be sure your editions match (this is why you checked all editions before coming to the audition - if something is different, you won't be thrown off by it now).
Blow some notes on stage only if it is absolutely necessary. This is not a warm up time. A few mezzo forte notes in the middle register should quickly tell you all you need to know about the acoustics of the hall. An extended "show off" warm up that quotes excerpts and concerti is an assault on the already oversensitive ears of the committee members, and you may lose points even before your audition officially begins.
Blow freely, but don't overblow; don't be careless but don't be overly conservative either. Neither play as loudly nor as softly as you can. Always have room to spare at both ends of the dynamic range in case you are asked to play the excerpt again louder or softer.
If you are asked to play something again differently, make sure it is different! Don't be stubborn and think to yourself, "That's not the way it goes." You're there to win the job, not educate the committee and conductor. If they ask for an excerpt double tempo, do it. Be flexible.
When you finish your round, wait until you are dismissed by a committee member or the on-stage monitor. Maintain concentration after you finish since you may be asked to play something again immediately. Do not be depressed if the committee members speak in a terse, cold manner to you from behind the audition screen. It is a waste of energy to read things into a committee's behavior. Leave the stage confident that you projected yourself in the best way you could on that day under those circumstances.
Immediately after playing on stage, eat something. Preferably bring something with you to the hall - something bland and familiar, just to fill your stomach and keep the growls away. You may have a long or short wait until you play again. Your body needs nourishment, so eat immediately to allow it to settle before playing again.
Continue your regimen of drinking water and above all, keep up your attitude of concentration. Don't bother over-analyzing your recent performance. Resolve to play the next round even better, and stay away from that trombone! You have no idea how many rounds you may yet have to play. At this point, as the number of competitors begins to dwindle, don't feel surprised that you have gotten as far as you have. Remember that your promotion to the next round is your just reward for the diligent work you have done over the preceding months and years.
Many orchestras have a round of playing with other members of the trombone and tuba section as a part of the finals. This is an important time since it will show if you can quickly adjust and blend with the other players.
Most important is your ability to play in tune with the other players. Tune carefully. Listen critically to the others. Don't be timid; approach the excerpts with fullness and confidence. You are attempting to become a peer of the other players on stage so act like one. Be respectful, but don't fall all over yourself in awe that you are playing with "symphony musicians."
Remember that the other section members are in a sense playing an audition, too. There they are, having to play in a section with a total stranger in front of their music director after having not played all day long. They want to look good and most likely will do all they can to make you feel comfortable.
Getting cut from an audition is a painful experience. It's posssible that you could have had an off day, or that the committee simply didn't like what they heard. Use each audition as a building block, trying to learn something from it that will help you the next time. If after several auditions you are not getting past the first round and you feel you are playing wonderfully, perhaps it is time to review your standards instead of blaming every audition committee for being crazy.
Sometimes a committee will offer their written comments to candidates. These can be helpful, so ask the personnel manager if they can be sent to you. Keep in mind, though, that comment sheets are kept for the benefit of the committee members. Some comments may seem inconsistent or downright bizarre. If you don't understand them, throw them away.
As in the pursuit of any goal, the means do not always justify the end. It is unfortunate that there are players who, in desperation and frustration, will try any means possible to win a position or prevent another player from doing so. Music is (or should be) a dignified profession made up of dedicated, hard working professionals. Deal fairly and honestly with people, give colleagues the respect they are due, and be courteous to all you meet.
Should you win a position, maintain your interest and curiosity in music - once properly cultivated, such a discipline will be with you through your career, helping to stave off "burnout" that affects many professionals. Remember your responsibility to God, the public, to your colleagues, to those who gave of themselves to teach you, to the composers, and to yourself.
If, after a number of years, it becomes obvious that an orchestral career is not for you, do not feel embarrassment or shame. Your hard work and discipline will help you in redirecting your energy toward other, more realistic goals. The decision to leave the audition "circuit" is a difficult and painful one, but a courageous one as well.
The audition system is not perfect, but it is the door through which all those who want to play in an orchestra must pass. Regardless of the ultimate outcome of your quest, you will have gained a love and understanding of music that will remain with you for the rest of your life.
I have previously published three other articles on taking auditions from which some of the material in this article was derived:
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