Tag Archives: Total Quality Management

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

IMALookAtTheAuditionProcessAug2009

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”.

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© 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.

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 nkahn@afm.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.

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 nkahn@afm.org. 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.

 

 

The Erie Chamber Orchestra Will Rise, Again.

 

Some things must never be said.

And, other things must never be done.

After last night’s performance of the Erie Chamber Orchestra, I can contain myself no longer. Having been urged to keep quiet about everything until now, it is time. I must speak.

I come to you as the principal cellist of the orchestra whose inception took place in the mind of one Bruce Morton Wright. An Erie boy, raised by faithful parents, he grew to express musical talent early on – earning enrollment at our local Mercyhurst College as a music major, on tenor sax. After completing his degree and spending several years “playing out” at various jazz clubs, he found himself in the audience of a symphony orchestra.  As he sat, listening, Bruce had an epiphany.

I can remember him telling us about it.

Bruce could always tell you about it. The man had stories, each more vivid and hilarious than the last. This one was fairly straightforward; as he sat there, in the audience, the thought occurred to him: “I could do this. I could start an orchestra.”

Never daunted, that is exactly what he did. Bruce traveled, first to Vienna, Austria and, from there, to Colombia, South America, to study conducting and gain experience. Upon his return to the states in the late 1970s, he and his wife Merja came home to Erie to establish his first orchestra. And – ever the maverick – the new maestro took his newly formed ensemble one step beyond the norm; Bruce vowed to make his performances available to anyone who wanted or needed to hear them. No admission charge. None.

Nearly 40 years hence, through a couple incarnations ( originally named the Erie Bayfront Orchestra, housed at a local urban center and, in its second decade, enjoying a CNN special feature interview broadcast world wide), Bruce’s orchestra still breathes life into the works of the greatest composers, living and dead. And, March 3rd’s concert was shimmering testament. We performed the Barber Adagio, Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, and – incredibly – the entire Vivaldi Four Seasons with none other than the brilliant Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster, Dennis Kim, as leading soloist. And, we did THAT in a 15 minute Tutti read and one 90 minute rehearsal.

N.o.b.o.d.y. does that.

The Erie Philharmonic doesn’t do that. I would wager that even a top ten tier orchestra doesn’t put Vivaldi’s Four Seasons out to the public on one rehearsal.

If you were in our audience, you heard the outcome. Thank you, so very much, for coming.

Now, here’s the ugly part.

Though the ECO was being sustained by both the Musician’s Trust Fund and the generous endowment of one Clarence Byers, about twenty years ago Bruce entered into an agreement with Gannon University. Founded by Catholic Bishop John Mark Gannon, it would become the region’s primary science and technology institution, attracting a long history of pre med students( in a partnership with Hahnemann Medical School) and  an ever increasing multitude of potential engineers of every persuasion, many of them foreign students. Gannon agreed to subsidize the orchestra.

From Gannon Bruce commanded comparatively little by way of compensation, and received for his musicians not a penny. As for staff, well, Bruce was everything: musical director, baton, librarian, publicity agent, and stage crew. Many a conversation in trusted confidence occurred after rehearsal, as Bruce stocked chairs and stands into their proper storage. As a single, self supporting woman teaching music in the public schools, I had no more valued an advisor or counsel than that of my chamber orchestra maestro.

In 2011, Bruce succumbed to multiple myeloma. We grieved, deeply.  But, in keeping with his vision, we pressed on; hiring a new musical director, as well as a general manager (knowing full well that Bruce could never truly be replaced), we never missed a beat. By fall, we were ready with our season. And, we thrived; our repertoire expanded, and our audience burgeoned to 800+, creating a lovely problem: we needed a performance space large enough to accommodate our audience!

Therewith the following six years.

According to the story we were given, in the fall of 2017 Gannon discovered that they could no longer support us financially. We aren’t entirely sure when, as an institution, they came to this conclusion; we only know that the news came to us, as a professional organization, when we read about it in the local paper.

Yes. Forty years of collective professional commitment and artistry, and we received the equivalent of that which a parent experiences when he/she first hears of a child’s death on the televised news.

Not a single one of our section principals was consulted. Our newest Maestro, Bradley Thachuk – also totally ignored. We were never even apprised of the ongoing financial concerns, yea the threat, of dissolution as it emerged; instead, we found out by reading the published announcement that our beloved orchestra would fold at the end of the season.

This act, on the part of Gannon University, was unconscionable.

Not only does it reflect badly on Gannon’s management but, far worse: their action represents a sin of omission, a complete abdication of the precepts upon which they, as a Catholic institution, were founded. What they did to us was callous, low class, and professionally unforgiveable.

Had any number of the orchestra’s membership been contacted with any degree of warning, we could have done several things. We could have set about to solicit regional support; we could have appealed publicly, via the news media; we could have prepared for the worst, in order to save our orchestra.

Instead, we were left high and dry, offered only the option of accepting the venture created by the one person Gannon contacted, allegedly on our behalf: our former general manager, who now worked for another orchestra!

Gannon actually promised our remaining funds to this individual, who created a chamber series (quartets/trios, et al) and went public about his plan. The only problem with this series is: the vast majority of Erie Chamber Orchestra members, both recent and of longest standing, are set to be displaced by this venture, which will only be utilizing contracted members of the other orchestra. At last count, there were only a handful ( I count eleven) of Erie Chamber orchestral musicians (total membership: 40+ ) holding contracts with the other orchestra.

I am among those displaced.

As fifteen years’ principal cellist with the Erie Chamber Orchestra, and member since 1986, I performed cello continuo last evening to Buffalo Philharmonic Concertmaster Dennis Kim’s Vivaldi. As of April 29th, 2018, I and dozens of others are officially without a position in a professional orchestra.

The blogosphere is world wide. You, dear readers, are hearing this story because it is a.) true; b.) worthy of your ears, and c.) of critical importance to the entire artistic community. We cannot let our educational institutions behave like hostile corporations. We cannot permit them to play with lives as if these are mere pawns on the chessboard of their own, self serving interests. And, we must preserve those entities which consistently produce the beauty and truth which the highest art embodies.

We need to start, from scratch. We need a new name, the funds to pay a conductor, plus enough to cover basic musician’s wage and advertising. Yes; we are already taking the steps to regroup. If/when we re-emerge, we hope to have your name proudly attached to those who care most about the ideals we bring to life. We hope for your support.

We have never asked much. Four rehearsals, plus performance, plus the unlimited number of hours in private practice preparation for a paycheck not exceeding $250 per musician. That is a pauper’s wage, in our time. If you were to step up to help us, our love for you would grow with every breath.

And, Bruce Morton Wright, from his spirit, would thank you.

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© 3/4/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo – Principal cellist, ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA. Erie PA. PLEASE, SHARE LIBERALLY, WITH CREDIT TO THE AUTHOR, WHO WRITES ON BEHALF OF MARIAN BYARD, JAMES PEARSON, NICOLE MACPHERSON, GEOFFREY WANDS, BRIAN HANNAH, ERIK SUNDET, MEGAN RAINBOW, BRIAN WALNICKI, TED SMELTZ, MERJA WRIGHT, ANNA ROSE WELCH, CARL LAM, ANDREW SEIGEL, LAURA NELSON, JENNIFER DAUB ASHBAUGH, MICHELE NAPOLITAN, MAUREEN CONLON-DOROSH, HILARY PHILIPP, CARRIE BORLAND, KENT TUCKER, SLOAN LADWIG, HOWARD P. LYON, LOUIS NICOLIA, AND THE REST OF THE WONDERFUL, EQUALLY QUALIFIED PROFESSIONALS WHO FILL THE REMAINING SEATS OF THE ERIE CHAMBER ORCHESTRA.

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The Coldest Day of the Year.

 

 

CHAPTER 33.

 

The service elevators were easy for her to find.

She’d spent an entire week of her life at that hospital, nights and days in the summer of ’95, and not as a patient.

Somewhere between Father’s Day June 14th and the last week of July, hair bobbed shorter than it had been since right after she’d given it up in ’82, each sundress from the now ex-honeymoon taking its paper doll turn down those glued carpet halls with their bands of border color marking every corner, her feet, incongruous in hospital issue tube socks, rendered right of passage. She’d worn those rubberized socks, every day that sweltering summer, claiming her route from just past the ramp to the room to the cafeteria and back, just like the help. In the third bed of the second quad of the ninth floor, her mother was dying. She could do whatever the hell she wanted.

Admittedly, entering the grand lobby and approaching the receptionist was, over twenty years hence, an odd thing, but this time she wasn’t entirely sure of her destination. In fact, taking care to wear her oversized, wool-lined denim jacket, one of the knit scarves from the plastic storage bag, the fading pair of black boots, ratty brown leather gloves inherited from her oldest aunt, the most shapeless, unmatched winter hat and even a pair of oval tortoise shells from ninth grade she felt it fitting that, not really knowing where she was going she should appear entirely unrecognizable.

Quietly, uncharacteristically, she bowed her head. Where was the dialysis department, and what was the quickest way to get there? Stylus poised, she mapped the receptionist’s recommended path without comment. Marveling at life’s minor consistencies, she wondered if the thickened skinned, transparently vacant woman had quit her second job at Macy’s or if the retail chain had already let her go.

The row of lobby elevators stood like the gates of Hades, too large, too chrome, too imposing. There were just too many, at least four, the product of Total Quality Management’s marketing ploy to make this medical complex look like the diocesan center for all who came to worship.

The receptionist, powerless in every other aspect of her life, had been eager to disclose the insider’s view, sending her well past the Lake of Fire and into the alleys of the old wing where the walls were still painted mint green and every step could be heard. Decades earlier this had been one lone brick building, where every appendix burst, every broken bone arrived to be set, and every child who wasn’t Catholic came to be born. Equally fitting that these were the walls and halls wherein those whose kidneys were failing would spend three days of every week of the final five to seven years of their lives.

She could see them now, just beyond the vending machines. She knew that, stepping in or out of a service elevator, her denim sleeves might brush against any number of incoming patients or aides. Her wager was that the costume she had affected would blend her into the scenery, render her subconsciously dismissed by even those in closest proximity.  She had come to seek a panoramic picture of the whole operation from the point of view of invisibility.

This was, allegedly, a work day. Word was the census was low; with good Irish luck, all patients would be finished before the next round of lake effect. She knew that there would be no snow on this shift, however; sub zero windchills into the double digits would prevent even the most determined flake from crystallizing. This would break all records for the coldest day of the year.

Reaching the first of the two double doors, she extended a gloved finger toward the Down button. Just as she pressed it, “ding!” – the plastic arrow above the second one lit up cherry red and its doors opened, releasing all occupants.

There were no patients in this elevator. From the distorting corner of the right lens of her ninth grade tortoise shell glasses she could just make out the form of his broad shoulder. Looking out from under the frames, however, her newly far-sighted eyes could clearly see the short, wide fingers of his right hand, fingers which had grasped her own flesh and traced every inch of the surface of her skin even as they reached to graze the small of the back of the uniformed woman who stepped out after him.

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© 1/6/18  Ruth Ann Scanzillo  All rights those of the author, whose story it is, and whose name appears above this line. Do the right thing; write your own. Thanks.

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