Musicians WantedAugust 25, 2010 - 7:10 AM | by: Laura Ingle
Many people know how hard it is to land your dream job, let alone a solid, well-paying one. Unemployment is hovering at close to 10%. There is one highly-specialized field though that has hung out the “Help Wanted” sign – major orchestras.
If you’ve always dreamed about playing with the Boston Pops or the New York Philharmonic, now’s the time to bust out your violin, flute or trumpet and go for it. Orchestras all around the country are ready to hear your audition. We talked with Mark Volpe, Managing Director at the Boston Symphony Orchestra about the rare openings he has. Volpe says, “There are a few string openings in the fiddle section, a bass opening, a few in the horn section, a trumpet… so we have roughly 10 openings. That’s a little on the high side. In any given time we have 7 or 8 and I think the highest has been probably 11 or 12. It takes a good 3-4 months to have an audition for us. We have hundreds of people from all over the world send in tapes and then they have to come – about 50-60 get invited to come to Boston.”
So, why are there so many job openings suddenly in a field that usually takes years to get an audition? Volpe chalks it up to a perfect ensemble of retirements, departures and positions long un-filled. Actually scoring one of these coveted positions is no easy task. Toby Oft, principal trombone at the BSO, says, ” The supply of amazing musicians greatly outweighs the demand. So what you’ll have is several hundred applicants apply for a single position. And this isn’t just for the BSO – it’s actually for… like the orchestra I came from, the San Diego Orchestra, it’s just that there is such a glut of amazing trombone players out there and it’s true for every other instrument.
The only fair way or the most fair way that orchestras in the industry have come up with is to have a nationwide audition where everybody gets a moment – and by moment I mean about 5 minutes – to play. They choose from behind a screen and have several rounds sometimes over months to arrive at one player. Each round they eliminate more and more people – so they start off at let’s say 100 and whittle it down to 20 and then whittle it down to 12 and then 5 and then 2 and then hopefully 1.”
Around the country, major orchestras are seeking elite musicians to hit the right notes. In Manhattan, the New York Philharmonic has 11 openings, a number not seen in over 20 years. Chicago is looking to fill 9 seats… Los Angeles is hiring 7, and the list goes on. Orchestras also provide more than just easy listening. Nationwide, the arts and culture industry brings in over 166 billion dollars in economic activity, and provides 5.7 million jobs. Bruce Ridge with the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians explains, “When there’s a concert downtown, cab drivers work, parking lots make money, restaurants are full.” Many orchestras rely on donations to help stay afloat and the recession greatly reduced the number of people donating.
As a result some places are not filling these positions to save on costs. Ridge weighed in on that, saying, “In many places we find that the response to the economic downturn is an attempt to reduce the size of the orchestra and cut the product, which we feel is a terrible idea. We feel that no business has ever solved a financial problem by offering an inferior product to its public. An example of this is in Detroit – the Detroit Symphony is one of the world’s greatest symphony orchestras and a wonderful investor for that community. Currently the management of that orchestra wants to reduce the size of that orchestra from 96 players to 82 players.
We feel this is no solution – it does not lead to a recovery and in fact will almost certainly diminish the ability of the orchestra to serve as an ambassador to the city of Detroit.” Every city with a major orchestra has its own unique set of circumstances in the help wanted section, but there is no better time for musicians to tune up and take a shot at living the dream.