An Interview on Orchestral Horn Auditions. Part II, at the Audition

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This article continues an interview conducted 2/13/13 with Ashley Cumming, a Doctoral student at Indiana University. Part I starts here.

Who heard your audition? Was there a committee?

There was always a committee. These were all auditions for regional or better orchestras in the USA and all have union contracts.

If so, do you know how many people were present or their roles in the orchestra?

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At the time sometimes I knew, sometimes I did not. Maybe 7 people on the committee. The Music Director would always be present in the finals.

Do you know the weight of power of the conductor/music director at your audition? Was (s)he an overriding vote?

So with this question you are getting at information that would be very clear to the orchestra itself but not necessarily clear to the person taking auditions. Again, these were all auditions with orchestras that had a union contract. So, after I won the job in Nashville I found this text in the Master Agreement there that made things very clear:

Preliminary auditions shall be in control of the Audition Committee exclusively who shall be charged with the responsibility of determining which candidates to pass along to the finals. Semi-finals may be held and shall be considered part of the preliminary process….

Final auditions shall be in control of the Music Director exclusively with the Audition Committee attending in an advisory role.

I believe the contract language is very similar in most full-time orchestras in the USA to this day. In Nashville the union shop steward was always present at auditions to be sure the rules were followed.

Did the roles and numbers on the committee change between rounds?

Yes, to a point, according to the Master Agreement of that orchestra.

In your opinion, has the shifting nomadic role of the conductor impacted auditions?

I am not sure what you are getting at with this question. Quoting Nashville again, “Final auditions shall be in control of the Music Director exclusively with the Audition Committee attending in an advisory role.” The role of the Music Director in the hiring process is very clear, “nomadic” or not. So I guess my answer is no.

Were you aware of any relationships between musicians, management and union that played into the audition process?

Nashville was extremely by the books on all of this, so the answer is no. I would like to believe that is typical in the profession in the USA. It is the way it should be.

Were you aware of any interpersonal relationships between members of the committee and auditioning hornists that impacted results?

No. Ultimately your playing wins the job, and the Music Director is the decision maker, not people you know on an audition committee.

How many rounds took place?

Usually three.

Were you advanced past the first round because of prior experience?

Never. Also the committee has no access to your resume when you are behind the screen; your playing alone has to convey your skill, especially in the first round.

How many excerpts were asked per round?


Was a solo asked and was an accompanist provided?

Yes, sometimes specifically requesting a choice of the first movement of Mozart 2 or 4 or Strauss I. Almost always the solo was the first piece on the first round. Only one audition of the ca. 35 I took provided a pianist. That time the solo was in the second round.

Was there sight reading? Was it from audition pieces or otherwise?

Yes, in the finals is where I saw it, and most of the time the sight reading was in fact a standard excerpt. I recall Shostakovich 5 a couple times as sight reading. On one audition though, in the finals, I had a nightmare. I was standing “on deck” and I could hear sight reading being played that I did not at all recognize. It was from works they were playing on an upcoming concert, chosen by the Music Director (of course) as sight-reading. That one I did not read well and did not win. Something adverse always comes up. Part of the learning process over time is learning how to adjust to those adverse things.

Was the audition screened? Was other protocol in effect to ensure neutrality?

The first round was always screened and the second round sometimes. I believe this related to specific orchestral contract guidelines. Also sometimes a rug was laid to walk out on so that it masked things further behind the screen.

Were you asked at the audition to participate in section playing or rehearsing with the entire orchestra?

Only one time did I play section excerpts with the horn section, and that was in the finals.

Was there a trial period granted before the full position was awarded?

Not so far as I was aware of. For me in Nashville there was no trial period before granting the position. Of course, there was still a tenure process that lay ahead for me. I did my job as well as I could and I did achieve tenure with the orchestra.

Did you change horns for the audition according to the orchestra’s sound? Were you asked to consider changing equipment?

The first part of that I addressed earlier. I was not asked in any job to consider changing equipment. But I knew it was my job to fit in. I did not dare change horns before I had tenure in Nashville.

(For Canadians) How did the national/international rounds affect the audition process?


In your opinion, how have excerpt lists evolved? Are parts more specific to the seat now or are lists longer/shorter than before?

In the big picture they are pretty similar still today as in the late 80s. Of course there are always exceptions, and I would be inclined to say lists are more focused today. I have not seen a list with Mahler 1, 3, 4, 5, and 7 all listed on it (for example) with no specific excerpts requested in a while. Mahler 9 seems to be showing up more often too, I think due to it being for a standard size orchestra.


How do excerpt lists differ in relation to the size and type of orchestra?

Not much. The way I have heard said is it is not that the group actually performs Ein Heldenleben or not, what they are looking for is a player capable of playing it well.

Does the specificity of excerpt lists help or hinder students training for professional jobs?

Yes and no. I would offer this example. Beethoven 7 is asked frequently. In actual auditions I took committees were most likely to ask the end of the first movement. Students tend to work on that first high excerpt only. Thinking that is all a committee might ask is a big mistake. This is why advanced students need to seek out teachers that actually have relevant and recent real world experience if they seriously aspire to orchestral playing.

How does this change when it is a seasoned professional taking the audition?

The more experience you have the better able you are to gauge what a committee really wants to hear and how to make it sound like you actually know the pieces. For students often excerpts have an etude like quality. A pro knows how it really fits in and can give it the necessary “X-factor.” There is no substitute for playing the works in orchestra several times to know how they really need to sound.

Continue to part 3

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