V.com weekend vote: Have you ever auditioned for an orchestra?

March 19, 2021, 5:51 PM · As the world begins to turn toward the idea of in-person musical ensembles, classical musicians may be wondering, is it time to get ready for orchestra auditions?


Certainly it's not the world's most enjoyable process, though working hard an audition can help one's playing regardless of the outcome. I've had wonderfully successful auditions as well as tunnel-vision nervous breakdown ones - it's a heckuva way to get a job, or to get a spot in an ensemble.

This week we had a blog from an Artist Diploma student named Robbie Herbst, all about orchestral excerpts - which are an important prerequisite for most violinists seeking orchestral work.

Auditions are something a violinist must accept from an early age (or stage) if he or she wishes to play in orchestra. My first youth orchestra audition was in the fourth grade. I got more ambitious and auditioned for a fancier youth orchestra in the sixth grade, and after being rejected I worked like crazy for year, to get into it the next year. And of course this was followed by a million auditions since, for orchestras and programs in college, for professional orchestras, etc.

What is your experience with orchestra auditions? Have you taken any? Have you taken many? Did they motivate you and help you advance? Did you reach a saturation point with them? Please participate in the vote and then tell us about your experiences in the comments.

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March 20, 2021 at 01:08 AM · My auditions were limited to student and amateur orchestras. My recollection is the auditions were more for "seating" purposes, as opposed to "admission." Even so, they were always daunting for me because I had pretty good confidence in my strengths as an ensemble player and sight-reader, but was never comfortable playing alone.

March 20, 2021 at 09:36 AM · Two auditions, ever.

1) College orchestra, in 2000. There was no music department, so although there was an audition, the orchestra was not very selective (I got in on a year and a half of self-teaching) and the audition was mostly for seating. (The minimum level to get in seems to have been barely lower-intermediate, having decent tone and being comfortable in third position.) Also, unlike most college orchestras, it was a one-time audition. I sat in the back of the second violin section for a year, then the back of the viola section for two years, then moved to the back of the second violin section again when a whole bunch of violists came in at once and there was a shortage of violinists.

2) Community orchestra, in 2011. I'm still in this orchestra today; it's a highly selective semi-pro orchestra, playing standard repertoire on 4-5 rehearsals. A member of the orchestra had heard me practicing on my apartment balcony and encouraged me to audition, so I did, but I thought I had very little chance of getting in. The audition did advance my playing ability quite a bit, because I spent 8 months preparing for it and was learning new material. It was the first time I had ever heard of orchestral excerpts being used in auditions, if that's an indication of how little I knew in advance. When I did get in, I had to push myself pretty hard to keep up; the expectations were much higher than any ensemble I had ever played in before.

Both times, it wasn't especially high stress, because both times I considered the audition a long shot and had no expectation of getting into the orchestra at all. If I ever audition for anything again, I think the stress level will probably be higher because the expectations are likely to be much higher.

March 20, 2021 at 12:30 PM · I voted that I had auditioned for professional orchestras, because that was by far the majority of my audition experience, and I certainly never auditioned for an amateur orchestra. But I would venture to say that the vast majority of professional musicians, including me, did audition for youth orchestras in their younger years. Perhaps I should have chosen your last option but considering that any youth orchestra auditions are now approximately 45 years behind me, it didn’t feel right.

March 20, 2021 at 02:08 PM · I'm surprised that the proportion that have auditioned for student/youth orchestras is so low. Maybe I should be adding those who've auditioned for multiple orchestras - I think that's the option Mary Ellen should have chosen, not the last.

Not everybody in a student orchestra was a student, particularly in the viola section, though I remember in my late thirties when, in the University of London Orchestra, there was an unprecedented intake of viola playing students, and my being co-opted ceased. In that, and the City University Orchestra, we auditioned every year (I never refused to audition).

March 20, 2021 at 03:06 PM · I will soon be auditioning for the local community orchestra where we moved to in the pandemic. I actually played in its equivalent as a teen (this is the town where i grew up). I was told it was an 'informal audition process' and i don't know how to interpret that. My father has been in it for years and my mother and he also volunteered for many years for it before she died so i imagine there will be some pressure to take me but i think I'm at an OK level for it. No idea what to play for an audition piece. I'm at a kind of 'low intermediate' level. Considering Thais meditation. The whole thing makes me so nervous i almost don't want to join.

March 20, 2021 at 03:20 PM · Karen, your comment and your bio are both very touching. I have a feeling the community orchestra will be thrilled to have you join and Thais sounds like a great option. (That said, I generally feel more comfortable in pieces that are faster as my bow can get a bit shaky when I'm nervous.) I greatly admire what you've done to stay connected to your father. I will be rooting for you!

March 20, 2021 at 04:09 PM · Thank you so much Diana! Good point re the shaky bow issue with nerves issue. Maybe the Boy Paganini, hmm.

March 20, 2021 at 05:05 PM · hi Karen, chances are that the "informal audition process" simply amounts to that you join the rehearsal and the conductor and perhaps some other people keep an eye out on you just to see how it is going. this is how is is with our orchestra (casual community orchestra). so don't fret on it, they will be probably more than happy to have you!

March 20, 2021 at 05:27 PM · Karen: there are two ways that community orchestras use the term "informal audition process." One is what Jean describes, which is very common. I've both joined community orchestras that way, and more recently as a principal violist, been asked to keep an eye on people looking to join. The other is what my college orchestra did, where there wasn't any formal structure or required repertoire, and we were just asked to play a few minutes of anything we wanted.

March 20, 2021 at 06:18 PM · Thank you Jean and Andrew, that's very helpful.

March 20, 2021 at 06:25 PM · No, I was fortunate to never have to. The only orchestra I ever played with was the Abby Orchestra at the Delbarton School in NJ. Back in my day the orchestra was new, formed by a group of music teachers who wanted to form an outlet for their students. I was one of the few adults who wasn't a teacher sitting in the orchestra.

I enjoyed playing deep in the back of the second violin section getting a new stand-partner every season for a couple of decades until my work changed to high-travel and orchestra was no longer possible.

After I retired I contacted the same orchestra and they had changed. Auditions, competition for seats, huge fees, and not really interested in seating a "geezer" even if he is an alumnus from the early days. What had started out to be fun had become "serious."

March 20, 2021 at 06:46 PM · My biggest challenge as a student violinist was lacking any self confidence....this altered my entire career. I was about to enter the U of GA in 1965. I had played first violin in various youth orchestras in high school. As I sat outside the audition room, I heard other students talking about summering in Aspen or other summer music festivals....none of which I had ever done. I listened to the beautiful auditions coming from the room. I was seized with panic and fear, feeling that I was not up to these talented students. I thought about it for a few minutes and got up with my case and bolted! I went over to the College of Education and changed my major! I later joined the community orchestra at UGA which didn’t require an audition.

I went on to have a very wonderful 30 year career as a special education teacher. Along the way, I did join another community orchestra but I got super busy with kids and husband. I didn’t touch my violin for 40+ years. I recently moved to Tampa and the pandemic hit. I want to take lessons again and find someone who could help me rejoin a chamber group, community orchestra.....SOMETHING...if that would be at all possible. I am now 74!

My lack of confidence and feeling that I just didn’t “have it” kept me from my dreams. I have never forgotten the euphoric feeling of making music with others! It is one of life’s pure joys!

March 20, 2021 at 07:07 PM · 4 or 5 times for professional orchestras, it is hard to get auditions as no music diploma, if you learn from your mistakes I should be getting good at this.

March 20, 2021 at 07:09 PM · Go for it Judy! Its definitely not too late to experience that joy again!

March 20, 2021 at 08:28 PM · I auditioned for Youth Orchestras and All-County and Allstate. I got too stressed about those auditions and they were a major source of anxiety. And I had a terrible audition in college that demoralized and discouraged me for a long time afterwards. As an adult I've auditioned for a handful of community orchestras, some successfully and some not. One of them was being invited to sit with the concertmaster at rehearsal, who fortunately thought I did a decent job keeping up with the music. One I spent weeks preparing a concerto movement for, only to be told that since they needed violas and I appeared to have plenty of relevant orchestra experience, I didn't need to audition after all. That was kind of a relief, and the practicing wasn't wasted. Most of the groups I've stuck with for the long-term did not have auditions, or if they did it was for the purpose of the conductor getting to know the players individually so that he could choose repertoire, not to be exclusive or to shut people out. I like the philosophy of welcoming everyone and working to improve with the players you have.

March 20, 2021 at 10:55 PM · I've only had one experience in an orchestra, and it wasn't exactly ideal. When I was nine years old, my mom insisted I play a violin. We didn't have any money, but we had a violin, and my school offered free lessons once a week. I signed up. The violin my mom had was a full-size, 4/4 instrument, and far too big for a nine year old boy. My poor teacher was a very frustrated man. You would be as well with eight or nine hyper kids running all over the room. Plus, let's not mince word here - I was awful. I really wanted to play baseball. Still, I took the lessons, rarely practiced, and it all came to an obvious conclusion when we had a spring concert. My teacher - wisely - placed me in the back row. He said, "O.K., Mike, do this. As we play, try to move your arm in the same direction as everyone else, but no matter what happens, don't let your bow touch the strings, ok?" That sounds awful, but I had no problems with his suggestion. He knew it, I knew it, we understood each other. Face it, I didn't want to be there, and he had no idea what to do with me. So, I got through the concert, then, the next day, I quit violin. 59 years later, to my own surprise, I took up the violin again. This time it fit (I still have that same fiddle). I've been practicing daily, and with any luck - and the end of this pandemic - I might audition for some sort of group. Trust me, I'm better! Really! My bow touches the strings and sounds rather good!

March 21, 2021 at 12:05 AM · What a great story Michael :)

March 21, 2021 at 12:22 AM · I auditioned for years, through middle/high school and two music degrees. My artistry has grown and I've been much happier ever since I stopped auditioning. It's one of my goals to never have to play Don Juan ever again. Give me a sonata and a great pianist colleague any day.

March 21, 2021 at 12:38 AM · Although I was in the orchestra and band in high school, I never had to audition. I've been on the other side of the table however for many musicals and dramas as either a director or stage manager. Knowing how tough it is to audition, our main goal is always to make the auditioner feel as comfortable as possible and to put him or her at ease. Doesn't always work, but we always try.

March 21, 2021 at 03:55 AM · I have done several auditions for all of those varieties of orchestras. The best I ever did at an audition for a fully professional orchestra, when much younger, was 2nd place for a Viola opening.

As an example of how standards and skill levels have risen since then, a few years ago I did a Viola audition for an orchestra that was about two budget levels above my current one, within commuting distance of a major urban center. There were 20 candidates, I drew a number next to last. Since we were all in one big room I had plenty of time to hear everyone. I decided that I was better than that kid over there, and I had the cheapest instrument in the room. After they chose their winner they could have formed 2 complete pro-level viola sections from the remainder. I bailed, left early.

Entrance to a non-classical small ensemble is very different. You get invited by your word-of -mouth reputation, sit in at a rehearsal, or even a performance(!), and they decide if they want you.

March 21, 2021 at 06:27 AM · I played several professional orchestra auditions right out of conservatory, and boy are they traumatic. You make one mistake and you’re convinced you’ve blown it. And the chances are, you’re right! But we instrumentalists have got it easy compared to singers and actors. They have to audition for every gig, and the inevitable string of rejections can really beat you down.. I have a daughter who is both an opera singer and an actor, and she sends in probably 3-5 recorded auditions for tv and film each week. And she never hears back from most of them.

March 21, 2021 at 09:15 PM · 1983 with a recent degree in viola performance, the San Juan Symphony in Puerto Rico invited me to audition based on a cassette recording I has sent them. They provided airfare and hotel lodging. At about 40 seconds into it I was dismissed, rejected. After all my studies and at 38 years old, I was facing a crisis. I then focused on piano "party" music. Within a year I was a pianist at a fine restaurant working a steady 4 nights

a week. Eventually, I returned to violin playing light popular music.

Short story: My violin skills were better suited for extemporaneous casual interpretation of songs. I eventually recorded my own albums and have sold over 170,000 albums. Sometimes a lateral career move works best.

March 22, 2021 at 02:44 AM · Thank you. Karen Egee, I enjoyed your inspiring story. Thank you for your comment!

March 22, 2021 at 09:41 PM · For my semi-pro orchestra (many of them teachers and their better students) I auditioned on viola, and they asked me to play in the first violins!

Perhaps I made the mistake of holding my viola high and vibrating on all four fingers. And having sweet, clear high notes (in tune)..

My career was perhaps more like Joel's: tango's and waltzes into a microphone, symphonic music, and many delightful students who were well accepted when they "moved on".

March 26, 2021 at 07:03 PM · I auditioned for student orchestras up until I graduated from my second music degree. Every time I think about joining an amateur or small professional orchestra I remind myself that to do so I must audition, then I look at the requirements and then I quit.

March 26, 2021 at 10:50 PM · Becoming a symphony player was a childhood ambition of mine, and it's what nerved me to take up violin study as a kid. I auditioned first for high school orchestra. I was among the youngest members of the ensemble and hadn't yet had any orchestra experience. But I'd already started playing the instrument about 5 years before, so I had a good base. My teacher told me, "They'll probably start you on second violin," which they did, given my youth and orchestral inexperience. My starting place was right at mid-section. Next semester I got kicked upstairs to first.

After I finished high school, my teacher recommended that I should try out for the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the CSO's training school. I was in my late teens, had started the degree program, and decided to give Civic a shot. I won the audition, and I had a great experience that season; but toward season's end, I had second thoughts. Was this really the kind of music-making I wanted? To this day, I love listening to orchestra music; but being a symphony player had several negatives -- for me anyway: long evening hours (I'm not a night person), lack of individual freedom and creativity, high decibel levels.

I decided to take the next year off and not re-audition. Yet I still felt some attachment to the routine -- and the camaraderie. So I did audition again the year after that. I won this audition, too. But during the year off, I'd actually grown apart from this routine more than I realized when I won this last audition. One afternoon, at the halftime break in rehearsal, I knew I just didn't want the gig. But plenty of others DID want it -- there was always an in-depth waiting list of eager associate members. I signed myself out of the next two rehearsals to give management time to call in a substitute from the list of associates. Then I handed in my member certificate and informed management that I didn't want to continue this activity. No idea who my replacement was, but I'm sure he or she was delighted to get the call, saying that there was an opening.

I was 21 y/o when I decided to pull out. I already had the required semester hours in orchestra -- thanks in part to my time in Civic. Since then, I've done no more orchestra playing. Small chamber groups -- 4 or 5 players -- suit me better.

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