The International Musician, The American Federation, and The Professional Audition.


The issue was August, 2009.

The magazine: The INTERNATIONAL MUSICIAN, a periodical published by and for the members of the American Federation of Musicians, which is the Union of performing professionals in both United States and Canada.

In these issues, usually with an up and coming musician featured on each front cover, articles meaningful to the professional population are included, along with numerous ads for products and services and, possibly most importantly, in summer a complete listing of vacated symphonic and military band positions open for audition in the coming fall.

However, the August 2009 issue presented a remarkably illuminating piece on the orchestral audition process, itself. Happening upon it only three years later, I found its contents startling and, suddenly, very relevant.

Having spent nearly 27 years as a regular, and even first call, sub, I’d played my third and final audition for a seat in the cello section of the Erie Philharmonic in early September of 2012.  The summer of that same year found me training intensely for what, I’d hoped, would finally be the job security which I had so long coveted. For this purpose, I’d commuted to the nearby Chautauqua Institution to obtain multiple private sessions with cellist and Ann Arbor Symphony conductor, Maestro Arie Lipsky, on staff every summer to conduct the Festival Strings and instruct the population of cello students.

Maestro Lipsky established a solid footing for my concerto movement of choice, and offered often ingenious fingering options for the list of orchestral excerpts required by the highest professional orchestral standard. Nearly weekly, from spring until summer’s end, he put me through my paces, as only a seasoned symphonic conductor could; Lipsky not only knew the cello repertoire, he knew what a conductor sought in a section player and made certain I did, as well.

Come audition day, I was ready – and, familiar with the protocol: Show up; sign in. Unpack; warm up. Wait. Each candidate having been assigned a number, per his/her moment of arrival, the proctor would call one at a time to enter the arena, usually a small room or stage, wherein the panel of adjudicators would be seated behind screen. A voice would speak, sight unseen, declaring which excerpt would be required first, and the audition would commence.

Two, maybe three excerpts later, plus an entire concerto movement, and the entrants would wait again, this time as a collective, while the panel entered into their deliberations. At the close of these, the second round would be announced and those fortunate to have advanced would be revealed.

The final, third round was face to face with the adjudicators, usually two of the orchestra’s principals and their maestro. From among these ultimately three or four candidates, the panel would select the one (or two, if the same number of positions had been vacated) musicians whose performance had been deemed worthy of an orchestral contract, a document which would seal their hire until such time as either they chose to resign or their bodies could no longer execute the music.

I would not be rewarded with a contract. This being my third attempt, then at age 55, my future was likely equally sealed; it would take the latest age reversing compound, or efforts truly single minded and super human, for me to obtain the secure membership among my contemporaries for which I had longed my entire professional life.

But, back to the subject.

This article in the International Musician was, in a word, surprising. Did the collective of Local #17, or any other AF of M Local realize that, in accordance with the rules and regulations in place to govern symphony orchestras, the entire audition process was not even required?

Apparently, it was true. An orchestra’s artistic director could bypass this process, completely, and appoint musicians – to any number of seats within the ensemble each season. In fact, the thrust of the article’s thesis was an intent to present this debate: did musicians have to spend grueling hours and submit to the knuckle whitening, live evaluation of every gesture and breath, in order to secure a professional orchestral contract?

That question was posed just shy of ten years ago.

Many an orchestral audition has been held, over the past decade, since that magazine article went to press. One speculates, as did the writer of the article: how many orchestras have simply gone through the motions, submitting their available vacancies to the International Musician and hosting official auditions, when the decision to appoint was already made? And, how many – from executive, down to the latest musical protege – have been privy to such a potential decision?

The corporate world, as the Rev. Charles Brock recently intoned in print, has become our society’s idol. We have bowed to elitist, administrative control over the masses like Haitians, in line for flour and water. Efforts to break Unions, in place to protect the rights and fair practices toward subordinates, have become ubiquitous. And the brainchild of its era, Total Quality Management, still gives lip service to the most earnest and powerless while dismissing their inherent value like so many dropped beats.

The issue isn’t just what appears in an old magazine, anymore.

We need to return to a life of professional transparency.

The Greatest Generation called this “honor”.



© 3/13/19   Ruth Ann Scanzillo.  All rights those of the author, a seasoned professional, whose name appears above this line. Thank you for respecting rights inherent to human dignity.   *below is an image of an article which bears a slightly different title, as sent to me by the AF of M per August 2009 issue: (although, curiously, it bears a date of September 25 2015 in the Google search)……I had extracted the article from my copy of the issue, and cannot find it to prove that what appears below matches what I remember reading.

Working Musician

A Look at Both Sides of the Audition Process

by Nathan Kahn, Negotiator, AFM Symphonic Services Division

All orchestral audition candidates are looking for the same thing in the audition circuit: a fair chance to compete for a symphonic position, and to be treated as a professional in the process. On the other side of the process, audition committee members and orchestra management encounter their own set of challenges. An understanding of the issues each side faces will promote a more fair and enjoyable audition process for everyone.

Challenges for Candidates:

Expenses—Whereas job candidates in other professions are often reimbursed for their interview travel expenses, that is certainly not the case with symphonic auditions. I have yet to hear of any symphonic orchestra who pays the expenses of preliminary round candidates. However, many orchestras do pay the travel expenses for finalists called back to audition in final rounds.

Orchestras may even require audition candidates to send a deposit check. As long as the candidate shows up on audition day, the check will be returned or destroyed.

Audition scheduling—Suppose you open your copy of International Musician and find that there are five forthcoming and very desirable orchestra violin vacancy auditions, and all of them are scheduled for the exact same day. This happens more often than you might think. To minimize this problem, the AFM Symphonic Services Division maintains an audition scheduling website for AFM orchestra personnel managers. This service is free of charge and benefits both the candidates and the orchestras. If your AFM orchestra’s personnel manager has not yet availed themselves of this service, please have him/her contact me at

Just getting in the front door—Getting admitted to an audition can be almost as challenging as the audition itself. While there is no AFM bylaw that requires any orchestra to grant a live audition to union members, the AFM can sometimes assist candidates who are seeking acceptance to an audition by convincing personnel managers and audition committees to hear “just one more.” Appearing at an audition without having been invited, although some candidates still insist on doing this, will get you nowhere and is strongly discouraged.

Audition conditions and requirements— Audition candidates have the right to warm-up and audition in an environment that is sufficiently comfortable and that is free of any considerable distractions. Candidates should not be expected to put their instruments in any type of weather-related danger, or to spend excessive amounts of money on difficult-to-acquire music.

The Audition Committee View:

The process of filling a vacant seat varies widely among orchestras, but these are some factors that management takes into consideration:

Whether to hold an audition—The audition committee must first decide whether or not to hold an audition. In lieu of a live audition, some orchestras may decide to appoint a certain musician who, for example, may have performed successfully with the orchestra in the past. They can do this through a previously negotiated “appointment” procedure within the orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement, or by some other mutual agreement between the audition/orchestra committees in conjunction with their local union and the management.

I often get complaints from audition candidates demanding that the AFM should “force” the orchestra to have a competitive audition for a position. There is no requirement that any orchestra hold a live audition for any vacancy, unless otherwise specified in the orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement. Even then, the audition/orchestra committees in conjunction with their local union and the management could agree to waive that requirement.

In some instances, a group or an individual will try to force the local orchestra to hold a competitive live audition when the prevailing sentiment was to appoint a certain person. This only results in the orchestra going through a farce of an audition where no one is hired and the original appointment proceeds regardless, wasting the time, energy, talent, and money of audition candidates.

How to screen the candidates—If the audition committee does decide to hold an audition, they must also decide how large a field of candidates to seek. Some orchestras want to hear every candidate who applies, while others may specify in their advertisement that they will only hear “a limited group of highly qualified candidates.” In such circumstances, it is much less likely that the AFM can assist in getting someone admitted to the audition if the audition committee has refused to grant them a live audition.

Some orchestra vacancy advertisements include the following language: “The Audition Committee reserves the right to immediately dismiss from the audition any candidates who do not exhibit the highest professional performance level at these auditions.” These orchestras want to hear as many candidates as possible, but their time is limited. A candidate will often complain that he/she was cut off one minute or less into the audition. I refer the candidate back to that statement in the advertisement; it means what it says.

Scheduling auditions times for candidates—One method for audition scheduling is to assign a window of time to an entire group of candidates, and then have the candidates draw lots to determine the order in which they audition. While this tends to alleviate the problem of time flexibility for the audition committee, it has the opposite effect on the candidates. Some candidates may have to perform their audition with little or no warm-up time, while others may be forced to wait around for hours.

The other method is to assign specific audition times for each candidate. There are, at least, two problems with this approach. First, audition committees complain that such a tight schedule prevents them from hearing as much as they would like in order to be able to make an informed decision. Second, is the problem of no-shows: musicians who have been assigned an audition time, and for whatever reason, fail to appear. When multiple no-shows occur, personnel managers must either round up other candidates to fill in the empty time slots or require the audition committee to wait for extended periods of time for the next group of candidates to appear.

Recurring auditions for the same position— Sometimes an audition is inconclusive. Perhaps the voting procedure in the audition process failed to produce enough votes to select a winning candidate, or perhaps no candidate was deemed qualified for the orchestra. In these cases, the orchestra reserves the right to continue to hold auditions until a successful candidate is engaged.

Use or non-use of screens—In the 1970s, the Saint Louis Symphony and the Boston Symphony started using screens to protect the identity of the candidates, and many other orchestras followed suit. Now, it seems that more orchestras are reversing course and removing screens in the audition process, since some audition committees and music directors have expressed that they feel the need to see, as well as hear, the candidates. Neither the AFM, nor the Code of Ethical Audition Practices, takes any position on the use of screens. That determination is made on the local level; often through the collective bargaining process.

Fixed auditions—Proving that an audition outcome was predetermined is extremely difficult, and investigations are often inconclusive or show that the orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement, in fact, allows for what may appear to be a “fixed” result. For example, some collective bargaining agreements automatically advance musicians who have successfully subbed with the orchestra, who have reached a certain level of professional experience on their résumés, or who may have been in the finals of a previous audition in this or some other orchestra.

When it can be demonstrated that a predetermined audition did occur, the local union, combined with the AFM, works to get candidates reimbursed for at least their travel expenses.

Playing Fair

As competition for some orchestral positions increases, so should vigilance on the part of local unions and their audition committees to uphold the highest standards of ethics and integrity in the conduct of auditions. At the same time, candidates should be aware of the difficulties in taking auditions and should understand that not every orchestra is willing and able to grant a live audition to all who may apply, even with the AFM’s assistance to candidates who may request it.

Musicians who have symphony audition complaints should contact the AFM Symphony Audition Complaint Hotline at 719-520-3288 or send an e-mail to All complaints are handled anonymously, unless the nature of the complaint would require identity.

To view the Code of Ethical Audition Practices, approved in 1984 by the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), the Major Orchestra Managers Conference (MOMC), and the AFM, visit



Me, to the Second Power.


Tarana Burke is coming to Penn State Behrend during Holy Week.

She travels the country, speaking up as the founder of the me, too. movement.

I have a church gig that night, but it should work out for me to finish my offering on cello, pack up, and head across town to catch the back half with the other girls.

The thing about being sexually harassed, violated, or assaulted is that there are no witnesses. If you reveal yourself as the victim, you have to rely exclusively on your prior reputation, so established, and the trust of those who have known you forever.

When you tell your truth, publicly, it can feel like you’ve stepped onto the surface of another planet. Many don’t want to hear stories like yours. It reminds them of things they don’t want to think about, like how one isolated event can ruin an entire life.

But, this meeting, while open to the public, will probably only be attended by those who’ve been there. Girls, like me, who seek their own kind. Fools, all, gullible and vulnerable, feeling alternately stupid, humiliated, and many still as pained when they are reminded. How did we know one encounter would alter the course of everything?

We will meet each other. Strength, in numbers, and in emotional support. If you live where I do, and you know this open wound, come to the meeting. 7:30 pm, April 17, McGarvey Commons, Behrend Campus, Penn State University.

Thank you, Tarana Burke. You started it. Let’s find a way to finish it.





© 3/11/19  Ruth Ann Scanzillo.




Polar Bears.

[*formerly entitled: The Tail of Winter.]
Boscov’s had chocolate.
Upstairs, above the endless racks of merch ( likely special purchases from the south that didn’t sell ) three whole glass cases of it, at least a third of which: gluten free. I’d been craving since 3:30 pm, and this was the tail of winter, the flagellate, whipping us into a frenzy on the final frigid night of the year.
Parking lot nearly empty, normally packed to the gills during the day and across the weekend, it was Thursday night, the cusp, and see above. I’d fought the craving for over four hours. At 8:02, time enough to get there before closing, the flush of rationale; hustling into the store with one other straggly woman, braving the ascending escalator, straight ahead I saw them: not confections — end of season sheet sets. My having just ordered a dog print flat and pillow shams from catalog for a resounding 93 bucks, these fleece for 19.99 tempted redemption. Grabbing a King of pale blue polar bears, I rounded the corner of packaged displays to the candy counter.
She was stooped over the open rear of the fudge case, sweeping crumbs into a tray, when I called out. A short, ponytailed woman with a Latino accent and what would be a penchant for calling me “honey”, she had a cold.
This, of course, was God. This was his reprimand for my weak, sniveling sin of the flesh. He would let me have the desires of my heart, but send leanness to my soul. I would eat a bag of chocolate, but be exposed to a virus likely potent enough to cause pneumonia and a reactivation of the chicken pox. I would get shingles, followed by post-herpetic neuralgia, and be in excruciating pain for the rest of my life.
In reality, selecting thirteen pieces with sugar and two without, I’d pay for everything, take the elevator down to the first floor because of descending escalator PTSD and head home in the solitary dark.
The cold. The God forsaken dripping nose. The two sugar free were packed in their own box; I could tear open the end, where she didn’t touch, and pull one almond bark out for the car.
So as not to break the last, number six stainless wire of orthodontia, I went for the first bite with two molars, rear left. Coasting down Peach Street, I thought of every diabetic I’d ever known and how relatively grateful they’d be to be eating something shaped right that sort of felt recognizable under the teeth. Like some chocolate with your carnauba wax? Anyone?
But, the total price was gnawing. $34. 95? for a box of chocolate? Not even Suzanne Somers charged that much for her cancer-safe creations.
She’d said, albeit nasally, that the sugar free was 19.95, honey, and the regular 17.95. I’d always let mum do the math. And, money was no object to addiction. But, mum was gone now, for almost twenty years, leaving me quite adrift when it came to tallying up indulgences, let alone the flat out mortal variety.
Pulling up to the curb, I crawled out, locking the driver door, and headed in. Dispensing with the bag would prevent transmission of the virus to the edibles within. Reaching the kitchen sink, I grabbed a plastic container and poured the bag’s contents into it. Even under the LED track lighting, this stuff was the shit; dry, faded, even the white peppermint bark lacking luster, I stared at thirty four dollars of specialty confection and felt nauseous. The girl who’d called me honey had ripped me off. At this price, there should have been twice as much candy.
After one phone call to the Boscov’s operator and the courtesy desk, I was already out the door. I-79 was a bleak vista at this hour, but a straight shot back to the mall. I’d find a manager. No; I’d confront her, quietly. No; I’d get the courtesy desk, which “didn’t know anything about the candy, let me put you through to can —” No; I’d say nothing – just dump it out, onto the counter.
Maybe the caffeine, theobromine, maltitol had created a synergy. Maybe the dark highway, and me alone on it. But, I began to follow a different train, one which took me deeply into the psyche of the candy woman. She had a family, at least some children. She made minimum wage, working the candy counter. She was a first generation immigrant,  and she was sick.
Just ahead of the parking spot closest to the Boscov’s entrance, I’d resolved my intention; I would speak confidentially, my voice hushed. We’d be the only two who knew what had been done, and I’d tell no one else. She needed to feed her family. And, she could have the chocolate. The receipt had indicated 9.95 for two “seasonal” candy purchases; she’d falsely categorized my purchase, too. There was the 19.99, and a grand total of 34…….my lungs filled with the purest air, swelling my chest with a powerful self righteousness that could have been true goodness on a better day.
Then, I spied them. Sitting on the front seat. The pale blue polar bears, dancing across their fleece sheets inside the plastic see through case with the PAID sticker on it. And, mum, faintly, speaking from the world beyond, calculating out loud again, rising vocal inflections reaching the slightly hysterical, and me, seated again at the corner of the kitchen table against the wall, feet over the heat vent as she “helped” me with my math word problems. Now, listen to me!!! Nine ninety five plus nineteen ninety nine for the seasonal sheet set equals: $34.95 !!!
My foot was still on the brake pedal.
Turning the key in the ignition, I thanked my own for saving me, as by fire, from public humiliation and full on, single mother first generation immigrant retaliation. Every scenario ever devised by my oppressively overactive imagination converged, in a flood of expulsion. Thrust back into the present, I flew down Interchange Road to the interstate, stuffing chocolate absolution into my gullet like a starving Biafran.
The candy was disgusting.
I’d been whipped by addiction, for the last time.
Boscov’s had nothing on epiphany.
© 3/7/19 Ruth Ann Scanzillo.