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Orchestral-auditions-making it professional??

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A friend of mine is taking over a youth orchestra next year. He plans to pass out orchestral excerpts for the auditions so that he can see how the players perform all using the same pieces of music, plus sight reading, and scales. He feels that this would be the best way to decide seating and to figure out who to include in the orchestra which is very very competitive. He plans to use a couple of graduate students whose ears he trusts to listen with him and rate the players on various aspects of their playing, the player's scores will then be averaged and players will be assigned seating based on this. If a player does not get in to the orchestra, and wants to know why, they can contact the orchestral office and receive their scores in different areas as well as the mean scores for orchestal acceptance so that they know what areas need to be addressed if they want to try out the next year, which they are all encouraged to do.

Meanwhile in the past the very successful previous conductor would be the only one to listen to the auditioners. Players were told to play a solo that they felt would show them off to their best advantage. He would then base acceptance and seating on that solo and a few lines of sight reading and of course his feelings about the whole thing. It being considered a "professional" audition, those who were not chosen were not permitted to inquire as to why. My friend meanwhile, thinks that although a real professional orchestra does not tell players why they are not hired that in a youth orchetra where the children actually pay for the priviledge of auditioning that letting them know how they can improve their chance of acceptance the following year is only reasonable.

I think that my friend is making a major mistake! He won't get to see each students individual best, because they will be playing excerts that everyone will have the same two weeks to put together. The auditions rather than being a wild smorgasbord of different pieces at all different levels played straight or played as though the child is imagining soloing with an orchetra will just be the same excerpt, some of the kids might not even like the excerpts. He might miss out on great players. Hearing the same excerpt again and again will be rather dull, and by having two other judges whose opinions are equally weighted he won't be able to go with his gut instinct over who to allow in his orchestra seperate from the actual playing in the audition. Allowing players to know why they were not accepted opens up incredible nightmares with people insisting that their tempo was okay... please listen to it again, etc. there are plenty of other venues for them to get opinions on the shortcomings of thier playing!

Opinions?

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I think both are acceptable ways to do auditions. One can often assess many of a player's strengths and weaknesses just hearing them "tune up."

I think it is a good idea to "score" the candidates and to note what areas each could work on to improve - especially since this is a youth orchestra whose candidates ALL have many years of improvement ahead of them.

Although it is good to hear "the best" a candidate can do (by personal choice solo selections), the way they play will come through in just about everything they play - even sight reading. The development of technique assures this pretty much.

Andy

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I don't think it sounds bad. The only part that seems a bit rough is the two week prep time for the excerpts -- that seems awfully short, although I have no idea what a standard prep time is for youth auditions. I imagine the school year calendar has a lot to do with it. Of course it would depend on the nature of the excerpts, too... I assume he's not throwing Don Juan at them.

As far as giving feedback on the auditions, I think it's very thoughtful. The Honor Orchestra of America has a similar system where the adjucators listening to audition tapes fill out evaluation sheets for each applicant and are encouraged to include comments that will help the kids in the future. The adjucators work hard to phrase the comments as positively as possible and to always include praise along with any suggestions for improvement, and I haven't heard of any negative feedback from the players. Some youth competitions also use feedback sheets very successfully.

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If it is truly a higher level symphony, I might omit the scales. Passing out the excerpts has the advantage of allowing the student to evaluate the level of music that will be performed (and then making a decision if they are at the required level of proficiency). I agree that the solo will allow the student a chance to "shine" as well as allow the panel to better judge interperative skills. The written evaluation is a nice idea, but maybe accompanied with a policy of not discussing the comments (hopefully to nip any arguing about opinions in the bud).

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I think your friend's proposal for audition format is excellent.

As a youth orchestra conductor myself, I am not interested in hearing a concerto that a student has been working on piecemeal for an entire year. I want to know what they are capable of practice-wise in a short amount of time (a few weeks, for example). The use of standardized excerpts with a set time for practice equalizes the playing field in many ways. I always have the assistance of my professional colleagues during auditions, and I have almost always agreed with their recommendations. While I retain the right to seat players wherever I wish, I have not needed to exercise that option because my colleagues do such a fantastic job. As of late, I only designate principal seats each semester and keep the rest of the sections on a balanced rotating basis in order to provide a comprehensive experience as possible for all the players.

Whether the kids "like" the excerpts is immaterial. If we only played music we "liked" offhand, we'd miss out on the experience of learning new modern works (for example) and developing a respect for many different styles/genres of music.

The feedback I believe, is important, and something that is missing in most auditions for youth ensembles. Excerpts are usually marked with SPECIFIC tempos, fingerings, etc. It is not a forum for people to put out liberal interpretations of a work, but rather to see if they can ADAPT quickly to play whatever is required in the ensemble so they can be part of the group. If frequent challenges regarding auditor decisions arise, then I see no problem with videotaping the audition and providing the auditionee the recording along with the feedback. We are getting to the point where the technology to do this is not only possible, but also simple and practical.

Lastly, this isn't a professional orchestra. While we can choose to apply some of the standards of those groups (grooming and decorum, for instance), to do it to the detriment of helping students improve is distasteful to me. Our job as teachers is to help students learn, and they can't learn if no one tells them *why* they did not succeed at an audition, *what* skills need to be developed as a consequence, (and in some cases) *how* to go about doing that.

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Distasteful not to let the youth know why they weren't accepted??? A professional orchestra would never tell a player why, not telling them makes it a professional experience, by the time they are in their early teens it is time to come out of fantasy land, this is the music world. If they want opinions they can go somewhere else, they can get all the opinions that they want in terms of what they should work on, but the only opinion that matters in terms of getting into the youth symphony should be the opinion of the conductor.

Any advanced child player with a decent teacher can learn how to play a set excerpt with fingerings and rhythms! By choosing excerpts, a conductor cuts out finding the more talented but less advanced players that you can only reach by seeing a solo. My friend also says that by listening to set excerpts he will have a good idea of how long each audition will last, that he won't be running an hour and a half behind during the auditions like his youth orchestra typically did, with the conductor finally arriving, way behind schedule, hungry for dinner, and ready to go home. I think it is good for kids to wait an extra hour for their audition, it lets them know how important the orchestra is, and how orchestra involves a lot of waiting around.

A conductor is an artist, who can choose a charming child playing the Vivaldi A minor with two years playing experience, over a pampered brat who for years has sat as a principal in other youth ensembles, playing an interpretation he doesn't like of Introduction Rondo Capriciosso. This is how top youth orchestras are made and sculpted. He can pick out whoever strikes his fancy. He is the artist! He chooses who he wants and he builds from there, to level the playing field by including other professional opinions of who should be accepted into his orchestra is like telling a much sought after teacher who they must include in their studio.

I am worried about him because I think he really has so much talent as a conductor but if he follows through with his plan for next year, he will be throwing away his power to create an orchestra as he sees fit. He will be like a painter choosing the paints and brushes he puts in his paint box by committee. His ill advised plan to let kids know why they were not selected is like a great artist having to explain why a bluish wash was used as an underlayment to a bunch of finger painters.

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quote:


Originally posted by:
outside

Distasteful not to let the youth know why they weren't accepted??? A professional orchestra would never tell a player why, not telling them makes it a professional experience, by the time they are in their early teens it is time to come out of fantasy land, this is the music world.

By the time you're taking professional auditions, you often know why (or you should). And it's sometimes possible to contact a member of the committee privately and ask for feedback. You just need to take the initiative. Kids in youth orchestras are still developing the ability to be highly critical of their own playing. Feedback now will help them to become independent later.

quote:


Any advanced child player with a decent teacher can learn how to play a set excerpt with fingerings and rhythms! By choosing excerpts, a conductor cuts out finding the more talented but less advanced players that you can only reach by seeing a solo.

I disagree. In the professional world, excerpts are what win or lose an audition. My husband has sat on dozens of audition committees over the years and his complaint is that most auditionees don't prepare their excerpts like they should -- and he's hearing graduates of music schools and conservatories. He hears a lot of people who can play nice concertos but fall apart on the excerpts. When he does audition coaching, he repeats the advice that Mr. Gingold gave him as a student: The way to win an audition is to prepare your excerpts as if they were concertos. I think it's good teaching on the part of your friend to introduce the kids to this early. (Incidentally, standard excerpts don't contain fingerings, unless this is something this particular youth orchestra offers to help the kids.)

quote:


My friend also says that by listening to set excerpts he will have a good idea of how long each audition will last, that he won't be running an hour and a half behind during the auditions like his youth orchestra typically did, with the conductor finally arriving, way behind schedule, hungry for dinner, and ready to go home.

He has a valid point. Much better to be judged by someone who's concentrating on each student instead of thinking about dinner or looking at his watch wondering how everyone is going to fit into the schedule. The preliminary round of a professional orchestra audition is about 10 minutes per person. They work hard to keep on schedule... partially because they do need to hear XXX people in a set timeframe, and partially because it creates a disadvantage to the applicants otherwise. You can't expect people to stay warmed up and ready to go for hours.

quote:


...to level the playing field by including other professional opinions of who should be accepted into his orchestra is like telling a much sought after teacher who they must include in their studio.

Your friend seems comfortable with that, so I don't see a problem. Most major orchestras work the same way. There are very few professional orchestras in which the music director has sole hiring discretion. Most work on a committee system -- either one-man-one-vote or a weighted vote for the MD. Even orchestras in which the MD has final say usually have a committee that serves in an advisory capacity.

Whoever runs the youth orchestra (board? management?) hired your friend because they have faith in his ideas and his ability to build a strong orchestra. So why not give him a chance? It's hard to adjust to a new approach when things haven't been done that way before, but in some cases a fresh outlook from a new MD (even if the previous MD was terrific) is just what an orchestra needs.

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quote:


Distasteful not to let the youth know why they weren't accepted??? A professional orchestra would never tell a player why, not telling them makes it a professional experience, by the time they are in their early teens it is time to come out of fantasy land, this is the music world.


Yes, but this is not a professional orchestra, and to duplicate *all* aspects of the professional experience to the detriment of young players is outright idiocy. This "fantasy" of not teaching people in their early teens WHY things happen is the reason students grow to hate this process...at this age, they need to learn from their mistakes, and they can't do that if as teachers we only say "you didn't make it, sorry. Go away."

No one can teach students anything useful by NOT giving them feedback on their audition. This sort of information at this stage of their playing development is incredibly valuable, so that they can refine their practice process and determine what specific skills they need to focus on in order to have a more successful audition in the future!

quote:


If they want opinions they can go somewhere else, they can get all the opinions that they want in terms of what they should work on, but the only opinion that matters in terms of getting into the youth symphony should be the opinion of the conductor.


Well, if your only motive is to decide whether players are accepted into a group or not, with the only feedback from an audition being "yes" or "no" I can certainly understand.

quote:


Any advanced child player with a decent teacher can learn how to play a set excerpt with fingerings and rhythms!


Having listened to hundreds of auditions so far this season, I would disagree. If that were the case, the output would be much more uniform. It's amazing that there is more variation in playing in a single excerpt than over all the standard concerti...

quote:


By choosing excerpts, a conductor cuts out finding the more talented but less advanced players that you can only reach by seeing a solo.


Well, it's not like the audition can't include a few minutes of a prepared piece in addition to excerpts, so that we get a more balanced overview of the player.

How does playing a solo well equal "more talent?" Again, hearing someone play a solo they've been practicing daily for six months doesn't tell give me enough details about the capability of a player. Seeing what a player is capable of learning in two weeks....now THAT tells me something!

After the "formal" playing portion of the audition is over, in some cases I may select a passage that may not have been played well, and provide the student with an opportunity to improve it given some additional support ("Could you try that with more bow?" "Where on the strings can you play to make a more forte sound color?"). How they deal with that information, put it to use, and how quickly they can ADAPT is one of the most important criteria for me, and in some cases, may swing the balance in favor of a player who may not be the most technically adept, but is an effective problem solver who will, given the proper instruction, be a strong contributor to the ensemble. Again, the goal of a youth orchestra is to educate, not to exclude.

quote:


My friend also says that by listening to set excerpts he will have a good idea of how long each audition will last, that he won't be running an hour and a half behind during the auditions like his youth orchestra typically did, with the conductor finally arriving, way behind schedule, hungry for dinner, and ready to go home. I think it is good for kids to wait an extra hour for their audition, it lets them know how important the orchestra is, and how orchestra involves a lot of waiting around.


This is an absolute no-no. There is nothing "professional" about making people wait "an extra hour."

My time is extremely valuable. I view my student's time as being extremely valuable. I expect people to show up on time, and I expect to have the work finished on time as well. Being late does not imply importance...it demonstrates a serious lack of respect and poor preparation.

quote:


A conductor is an artist, who can choose a charming child playing the Vivaldi A minor with two years playing experience, over a pampered brat who for years has sat as a principal in other youth ensembles, playing an interpretation he doesn't like of Introduction Rondo Capriciosso.


And what does this have to do with giving students feedback on their auditions?

quote:


This is how top youth orchestras are made and sculpted. He can pick out whoever strikes his fancy. He is the artist! He chooses who he wants and he builds from there, to level the playing field by including other professional opinions of who should be accepted into his orchestra is like telling a much sought after teacher who they must include in their studio.


For years I have always included the opinions of my professional colleagues, who support me and the process by which we assist students through the audition process. This "extreme" view presented here of outside opinions being *forced* on a conductor...where does that come from? He's still free to make the "final call" and/or set the minimum proficiency bar.

quote:


I am worried about him because I think he really has so much talent as a conductor but if he follows through with his plan for next year, he will be throwing away his power to create an orchestra as he sees fit. He will be like a painter choosing the paints and brushes he puts in his paint box by committee. His ill advised plan to let kids know why they were not selected is like a great artist having to explain why a bluish wash was used as an underlayment to a bunch of finger painters.


No, all he's doing is having the assistance of his peers to create a more balanced and effective audition process, in which students have the opportunity to have feedback from more than one set of ears and brains. All of this information can come out after the auditions are done, the orchestra members are selected, etc. And to make things really fair, the auditors can give feedback to every single auditionee, whether they make it in the group or not! Even people who make it in can always improve.

After all, professional orchestras audition by committee. Isn't that what your post was about in the first place? Being more "professional?"

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I'd like to clear up some misconceptions about professional orchestra auditions.

You can always call up a committee member and ask for feedback. Most of the time they will be gracious and tell you something. Sometimes they will really give you valuable feedback. Sometimes not. If it was a blind audition it is harder. Some committe members take notes so you can identify yourself by number. Otherwise, perhaps they will remember if you were the first person to play in the afternoon, or they will remember you by the solo piece you chose.

When I was a finalist for the Boston Symphony a while back, I asked the personnel manager, who was in charge of the audtion, if he would give me Joe Silverstein's phone number so I could ask him for feedback. He gave me the number, I called Joe and we talked for about five minutes. He was very gracious and told me some valuable things.

In a youth orchestra there is no excuse for not giving feedback. If a student has spent many weeks preparing for an audition, I feel he/she deserves something in return. Honest, detailed feedback is the least that the auditioner can do. Also it creates goodwill in the musical community and perhaps even raises the level of the orchestra by helping that person be better prepared in the future. Here in Pittsburgh, all the student orchestras give feedback after auditions, sometimes written. Above and beyond that, the students may call the auditioners, to discuss it with them.

More and more, in professional orchestras, the conductor is losing the absolute power he once had, with respect to auditions. In some orchestras the conductor gets two or three votes and each committe member gets one.

My own preference for a youth orchestra audition would be to have everybody play a prepared solo piece and some orchestral excerpts. It is essential to hear the excerpts. Orchestral repertoire is different from solo repertoire in many ways. Also it shows clearly how much preparation the student has put in for the audtion. On the other hand, the solo piece will often show the student at his/her absolute best. Inexperienced orchestra players usually don't know what to do with an orchestral part, unless they have been coached by a symphony musician. So the solo piece will show the student in the best possible light.

Well that's the view from here.

Best wishes.

Roy

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Thank you for all the thoughtful replies. But, I am feeling a bit alone here, since as gwie points out most youth orchestras do not give feedback which I have advocated, and yet everyone who has replied here seems in favor or at least not opposed to giving feedback, where is this silent majority? None of this will change my friend's plans but only reinforse him! I am going to start a new thread to see if I can find these professional youth orchestra conductors and administrators and have them explain!

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Here's a story that comes to mind. One example of how a little feedback can help someone in the future.

I have a friend who plays in a Big 5 orchestra... a tremendous musician. The first time he auditioned for that orchestra, he made it to the finals but did not get the job. He felt he'd played a great audition, so he called up someone on the committee and asked for feedback. The person told him, "it wasn't your playing -- we LOVED your playing. But when you do something you're not 100% satisfied with, it shows on your face, and the Maestro was bothered by that." So... he spent several months practicing in front of a mirror. He waited. The orchestra had another opening, he auditioned, he won. He's now been a member of that orchestra for years and loves it.

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"Orchestral-auditions-making it professional??" Your friend is making things a LOT more professional, and it sounds like he's not getting much support. My hat is off to him.

Regarding comments on an audition, I don't think there is a "silent majority" who "don't want" to give comments. Keep in mind it takes time, effort, and organization to make good comments. The shorthand notes that are sufficient for an auditioner to keep track of who did what are not nessecarily legible or would make sense to the student. Writing in a more detailed way takes some of the auditioner's concentration off the studen't's playing if it is being done at the same time, and would slow the auditions down if all comments were written afterward.

Also, the administration involved in getting every player the correct comment sheet afterward would take extra time and probably a parent volunteer! Not that giving comments is so difficult, and I agree it should be done, but my guess is that it is just slightly too complicated for a lot of orchestras to bother with.

An open-door "call me if you want to discuss how you did" policy is, in my mind, an acceptable alternative. Yes, you will get the odd mummy who is upset her darling didn't get in. But if you are using standarized excerpts you have the ammunition to say, "the tempo was marked 132 and Susie played about 100, and the exerpt was marked forte and she played mezzo piano" etc.

Good luck to your friend's orchestra- I think it will be very good.

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Actually Daisy, since the majority has a policy to not give feedback, and since that majority has not come forward at all in explaining why they choose to not give feedback, by definition they become

THE SILENT MAJORITY.

And since there hasn't been a wild rush to explain this policy they remain

THE SILENT MAJORITY.

But I guess whether they are proud to be in that majority or not this should not be a surprise they are remaining true to who they are

SILENT!

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quote:


Originally posted by:
outside

Actually Daisy, since the majority has a policy to not give feedback, and since that majority has not come forward at all in explaining why they choose to not give feedback, by definition they become


Maybe perhaps they agree with whatever has been proposed to date, and don't find it necessary to litter the forum with "yes I agree" posts?

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I think your friend's logic is indisputable. The audition tests what is required of an orchestral player. I have sat through many auditions. Using the same piece(s) acutally helps the selection process be as fair as possible. Now the excerpts should allow the auditioner to evaluate Tone, Musicality, Technique, and Intonation, but this is not a concerto contest. If the orchestra holds a concerto contest, then the slate should be wiped clean and each kid can then come in with their best showcase piece. Sometimes the best solosit is not the best orchestal player.

I think he is also reasonable and wise to allow the kids to see their results.

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I will reply from the parent perspective. I have had 2 kids involved with youth orchestra - both for 5 years apiece. Our youth orchestra has 4 different levels. For each audition, students are required to play a solo, excerpts, scales and sight reading. Students get to pick whatever solo they want. The chosen scales are up to the judges. The exerpts are harder for the higher level orchestras. Audition packets with all exerpts for all levels are sent out 2 months before auditions begin.

Students choose which level they want to audition for. If they are currently in an orchestra and don't want to go up a level, they do not have to reaudition. If they want to move up, they must audition. The conductors at each level are NOT involved in the audition process. Private practitioners are hired to conduct the auditions. Students are rated by the auditioners and assigned to an orchestra based on the auditions. All orchestras have rotational seating during the season.

I have found this process to be very fair and open. My kids have not gotten written feedback, and I think that would be helpful, but otherwise, I think it is a good process. You can definitely hear the difference in the levels of the 4 groups. As a parent, I definitely appreciate the timeliness of the auditions. The ajudicators pretty much stick to the schedule. I would be very unhappy if auditions were running an hour to an hour and a half behind. Our directors like the process because they are all very busy folks and this is a very time consuming task that they can trust to someone else. They are satisfied with the orchestras that they get each fall. And we have a wonderful youth orchestra program that I have been very pleased to be associated with over the years.

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