Some Answers to Questions About Auditions

01/02/2019

During the time that I have served as an officer in this local, I have been a little surprised by the number of questions I have received about orchestral auditions. Here is a sample:

• Why wasn’t I invited? Can I do anything about it?
• Don’t they have to listen to me since I am a union member?
• Don’t they have to have an audition for that opening?
• They can’t just appoint someone, can they?
• I never heard about that audition! I didn’t even know they had an opening! Why did they not advertise it to everyone?
• Why didn’t they hire anyone? Shouldn’t they have to hire someone?

I would like to try to clear up some misconceptions that still exist about how auditions and audition committees work, and what the union can and cannot do about them. The first thing that happens when there is an opening in an orchestra is the forming of the audition committee. Usually this is elected, and that process is spelled out in that orchestra’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the union. They are all slightly different in makeup and in how they are formed.

Next, the committee must decide whether or not to have an audition. The CBA may allow them to appoint a player who has regularly performed with the orchestra in the past. Perhaps the decision is made to appoint someone temporarily and then have an audition later. There are many possibilities, but I want to emphasize that neither the union nor an individual can “force” an orchestra to have a live audition for a vacancy, unless the CBA specifically requires it, and even then, this could be waived via a special agreement.

Following the decision to have an audition, the committee must now decide how many people to invite. Many orchestras, especially small ones, will listen to everyone who applies. Many bigger orchestras first require a recording from less qualified candidates, only inviting a small number outright. Sometimes, they will have an audition which is advertised only locally, perhaps because it is only a one-year position. Other times, they will not advertise the opening at all, and have an invitation-only audition. This is more likely to happen for a principal than a section position.
Even within the same orchestra, different audition committees may screen resumes very differently. If the ad says that they will only hear a limited number of highly qualified candidates, they are not kidding! Often they will also say in the ad that they reserve the right to immediately dismiss from the audition any candidates who do not exhibit the required level of performance, or something like. They are not kidding about this, either – very often their time within which to have the audition is limited, and they are not going to waste their time or yours if they know they are not going to seriously consider you. A side note – although some committee members are willing to share comments on individual auditions afterwards, many are not, and every group handles this differently. After all, as one of my former colleagues once said – it’s not a lesson!

While the AFM encourages orchestras to listen to as many people as they can, it must be strongly emphasized that the union cannot force an orchestra to invite/hear any specific individual. There is no rule that requires an orchestra to listen to you because you are a union member – this is the biggest “myth” about auditions. The union can sometimes help by talking to the personnel manager and/or audition committee members and asking them to reconsider hearing a specific player – our Local has done this – but there is no guarantee of success. Some people decide to “crash” auditions that they were not invited to. Though there are some personnel managers who might allow a “crasher” to play if they have cancellations, almost always this is a complete waste of your time and money, and the AFM does not encourage this.

Another thing that can be frustrating about auditions is when there is no hire. Perhaps the committee was split and no one candidate received enough votes. In some cases, the committee feels that no one met the standard, or played with the exact sound/style they were looking for. Especially in the very best orchestras, the committee’s mindset is that they are looking for a player that they will be comfortable playing with for the rest of their careers. This is not necessarily going to be the very best player at the audition, either! That is the next biggest “myth” about auditions.
Sometimes a candidate feels that something in the process was unfair, or that the audition was “fixed.” This is very difficult to actually prove. Often a CBA will allow for a person to be automatically advanced to a later round in the audition who has subbed regularly with the orchestra, or who has made the final round in a previous audition. Sometimes the music director is allowed to advance a candidate directly to a later round as well. Again, every CBA is different – what one orchestra will allow, another may or may not. Usually, at least preliminary and semi-final rounds are behind a screen, and sometimes even in the final round, to protect anonymity. But usually the screen comes down at some point – many musicians and conductors feel the need to see as well as hear a finalist play, and often there is section playing involved. The AFM does not take a position on the use of screens. The union can investigate if a candidate truly feels that the result was predetermined. If there is a conclusive determination that it was, then the union can help work to get travel expenses for candidates reimbursed.
In 1984, the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM), one of the player conferences of the AFM, approved a Code of Ethical Audition Practices, which was formulated jointly with the Major Orchestras Management Conference. It suggests procedures for management and orchestra musicians alike, and those who endorsed it have maintained that they will conduct their auditions in accordance with the principles therein. It was also approved by the AFM, the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Regional Orchestra Managers Conference, and by similar bodies in Canada. However, it is not a contract, and no one is bound to it, nor are there any provisions for punitive action. If you are interested in a copy of the document, email me at apino@musiciansdfw.org.

The AFM also has a Symphony Audition Complaint Hotline, which is monitored by Todd Jelen of the AFM’s Symphonic Services Division. If you have a complaint about an audition, it will be handled anonymously, unless the nature of the complaint would require your identity. The number is 330-322-2265.

A note on scheduling auditions – sometimes different orchestras have to schedule auditions on the same date, but to minimize this problem, the AFM does maintain an audition scheduling website for personnel managers. If your orchestra’s personnel manager does not know about this, please have them email Laurence Hofmann of the Symphonic Services Division at lhofmann@afm.org to gain access.

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