© 1/20/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo
© 1/20/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo
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.
littlebarefeetblog.com *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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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 email@example.com. 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 www.icsom.org/miscellany/auditioncode.html.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo 3/21/18