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Klarinet Archive - Posting 001058.txt from 1998/04

From: "David B. Niethamer" <dnietham@-----.edu>
Subj: Re: National Symphony 2nd Clarinet Job
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 1998 10:50:59 -0400

I'd like to add my perspective to this discussion from "the other side" -
both sides of the fence, in fact.

Jonathan Cohler wrote:

>If people can't audition for jobs, and are going to be excluded arbitrarily
>based on what a paper resume says, then the system will be inherantly
>unfair and biased. Furthermore, it encourages (and essentially guarantees)
>that the vast majority of applicants will lie on their resumes in order to
>ensure themselves an audition spot.

In fact, as one who has examined resumes for many Richmond Symphony
positions (musicians and conductors) I can tell you that this already
happens. At one time Oberlin offered a course in resume building (much
the way corporate world folks do), and I know that people routinely list
even a minimal amount of substitute work on their list of performance
experience ("performed with the Cleveland Orchestra"). It isn't strictly
honest, but it's the way of the world. (more on that attitude later)

>I have never heard of a major orchestra limiting the audition pool so
>dramatically.

I think this happens all the time. Pittsburgh listened to about 40
players in prelims for Principal Clarinet, and invited a handful of
others to the finals. Philly let about 100 play in the prelims and kept
none of them, holding finals from only their "invited" players. More
about *that* old boy network (AKA Curtis Institute) later.

>There is absolutely no reason that a major orchestra cannot afford to
>listen to 200 applicants for a position in the orchestra (especially a
>wind, brass or percussion position). If each auditionee gets 7 minutes,
>that would be 1400 minutes or roughly 24 hours of audition time for round
>one. Considering that the people who get these jobs often stay in the
>orchestra for 5, 10 or more years, the orchestra should be obliged to spend
>at least 24 hours looking for the best possible candidate.

As an orchestral player who wants his musical experience to be of a very
high quality as often as possible, I too want to find "the best possible
player" for vacancies in the Richmond Symphony. In my view, the current
system is very flawed, but I haven't heard anyone put forth a viable
replacement. In an ideal world, we'd have two or three candidates spend a
month in the orchestra before we decided who worked out the best, and
then that person would have a year's "probation" before becoming
permanent. Few orchestras have that luxury.

I think a big part of the problem is that the definition of "the best
possible player" is not particularly clear. Are we talking about the best
possible player on that day or days? In what repertoire?

Let's approach this from a different angle. At any given audition,
particularly for a major orchestra, there are probably about a dozen
players who could do a fine job of playing in the vacant position. The
orchestra has to choose one. Through three or four rounds, they may hear
these candidates play for a total of 30-40 minutes, mostly if not
entirely alone. This means there is no opportunity to assess issues of
intonation and ensemble, two major aspects of successful orchestral
performance. If they're doing a complete job of auditioning, they may
have a candidate or two play for a week in the orchestra, which tells
them a bit more about how a player "fits in", musically and otherwise.
And that "otherwise" is important. We had a standing joke at RSO
auditions when we were doing more traveling - "Yeah, but is s/he a good
'bus person'?" How the player gets along with colleagues can make or
break a section.

Now the majors have a pretty good idea of what they're looking for when
they advertise a vacancy. Orchestral experience counts for a lot with
most of them - they don't have time for someone to learn on the job. I
personally think orchestra should listen to anyone who wants to play,
which has the potential to discover unknown talent which could improve
the musical quality of the orchestra. But by Jonathan's count, 24 hours
is three days of pretty intensive auditioning, before we even get to the
finals. (Yes, the committee would have to eat and sleep!!) So resumes get
screened as a way of reducing the audition time. Is this "fair"? Not to
those who get screened out. Does it reduce the quality of the orchestra?
Maybe, but remember there are others with experience who can do a fine
job too, so only *MAYBE* (and probably not).

The Philadelphia Orchestra recently held Principal Clarinet auditions,
and as I mentioned, only heard their "invited guests" in the finals. I
would certainly have liked to be among the candidates, but was not
invited, in spite of 19 years of Principal Clarinet experience here in
Richmond. Most of those who were invited had major orchestra experience,
and another unwritten/unspoken qualification - Curtis Institute in their
educational background. My own opinion is that this sort of selection
process (which, BTW, has gone on for as long as I can remember and
certainly before that!) is limiting to the orchestra. OTOH, I don't think
anyone will be able to give me substantive objective proof that this has
made the Philadelphia Orchestra a "lesser" orchestra among its peers in
terms of performance quality.

Oh yes - the poor beleaguered Personnel Manager. S/He has a thankless
task. S/He has to answer to the orchestra management, and to some degree
to the players s/he manages. And field those irate phone calls. I've made
a few calls to Pers Mgrs in my time to inquire about the reason for my
"elimination" from an audition list. I would think that a little
understanding of their predicament, along with a polite request for the
screening mechanism, and a restatement of the candidate's credentials for
inclusion might make such a person more "helpful". Even if it doesn't
reverse the decision (an it has for me once or twice), it increases one's
credibility for the future.

Which brings me to the topic of ideal vs. real world. Ideally, we should
be looking for the "best possible player" at any such audition. I leave
the definition of that to you, good readers. I suspect it's somewhat like
that famous definition of pornography - all of us know it when we see it!
But the practical matters of the orchestra business make some of the
ideal steps impossible to achieve. I don't think that justifies it
particularly. I think each orchestra has to think long and hard about
what they want to achieve, and how they're going to get there (in terms
of hiring practices, anyway). I think it's very likely to involve some
compromise from the "ideal". Like I said at the beginning, I think the
system is flawed. But I also haven't seen the practical, fair,
all-inclusive way to fix it.

I'd sign off with "my $.02", but I seem to have used a couple dollars
(US) worth!

David
Orchestra Drone
"Good Old Boy" (these titles just keep accumulating!)

David Niethamer
Principal Clarinet, Richmond Symphony
dnietham@-----.edu
http://members.aol.com/dbnclar1/

   
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