An Interview on Orchestral Horn Auditions. Part IV, the Future and Final Tips


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

With increased numbers of people flying to auditions and greater accessibility, has that played an impact on the homogeneity of sound in an orchestra?

I again feel somewhat puzzled by your question as I flew to auditions with often 40-80 applicants present and had access to every recording I needed in the late 1980s. Things have changed very little since then. The only main difference I see being I could carry on two horns when I was taking auditions, which would be impossible with the airlines today. As to sound, I think horn section sounds have been pretty homogenous in many orchestras for a long time. Sometimes Music Directors get a bug to make changes, but players always want to hire people who fit in.

As pedagogues, what do you observe in today’s students or what would you like to tell them about orchestral auditions?

The key things still are the basics. Rhythm, intonation, style, phrasing, dynamics, tone, and musicality all come to mind. Play so well they can’t ignore you, and learn how to prepare and pace out the final days so that you can play at your peak on the stage when it counts.

Do you think the level of talent/virtuosity/musicality/technique has changed?

Low hornNo.

After sitting on audition panels, do you have any further comments about the process now or from previous generations?

It cannot be said often enough that really basic things cut people in initial rounds. Students usually think it is because they missed notes, but actually it almost always rhythm and intonation that kills people right away. Especially in a first round, you can be forgiven several missed notes it the package of everything else is solid, any good horn player can and will miss a few notes. But if your rhythm and intonation are bad, that was no simple mistake, it is a basic problem you have not yet fixed. It is the type of issue that screams that you are not ready for the job.

How do you feel about committees being hesitant to hire anyone for available positions?

I go back to my quote from the old Nashville contract. It is the Music Director that is ultimately making the hiring decision. If no one is hired they are ultimately the reason why. Sometimes too you have to realize that the Music Director may not like how the existing horn section sounds and the committee advances people that would fit in the existing section but actually the Music Director would never hire, because they want something different. In the end all the applicant can do is play their best. Much of the process after that is completely out of your hands.

What would you suggest for an ideal hiring process?

The system now really is pretty good overall at finding the best players out of a large applicant pool. I appreciate very much that how one advances in an audition today is not governed by connections or where you went to school. In the end you play your way into the job. That part of the system is as it should be.

Would you prefer to remain anonymous in this dissertation or any further publication that arise from it?

No, in this type of project I think it is essential for the responses to not be anonymous. I will also be posting a version of this interview on Horn Matters, and thank you for your efforts with this great topic.

Return to Part I of Interview

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