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What do orchestral conductors look for in a musician?

I play the flute, and know that it is a competitive world out there for us flautists. How can I stand above the rest, besides my playing skills? Should I learn to play the piccolo just as well as the flute for better chances? #orchestral-music #classical-music #orchestra #flute

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B.J.’s Answer

Hi Gwen!

I'm glad to hear that you're serious about your instrument and love it enough to consider pursuing it further. The orchestral music world is a tough one, and frankly, your playing is far and away the most important factor in determining your success. Only the best of the best are able to land those jobs, so your primary focus should be on improving your musical skill.

While you're at it, learn as much music theory, music history, etc. as you can. It will give you a stronger overall musical background, as well as provide context that will allow you to become a better player. Learning piccolo (as well as any other flute family/woodwind doubler instruments) is definitely a good idea, but only to make you more marketable to more gigs. In other words, professional flautists are more or less expected to be able to play piccolo, and even though an orchestra wouldn't likely be looking for you to play other woodwind instruments, some gigs like pit orchestras, have books for multiple instruments. Your ability to handles those means you could take that gig (and the money that goes with it).

So basically, get as good at your instrument as you can, learn as much about music as you can, and find ways to make yourself more marketable for more gigs.

Best of Luck!
B.J.
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Joey’s Answer

Orchestra auditions are not just done with a conductor. You are often sitting behind a screen, with select orchestra members (the conductor [usually] with a combination of wind/string/percussion musicians) on the other side. You have a list of set excerpts from standard orchestral works you have to play (you will almost NEVER choose your repertoire for professional orchestra auditions). At any point in that list, they can just say "thank you" and your audition is over.


There are many ways to approach an orchestral audition, but generally speaking, there is an objective part and a subjective part to how an audition is won. At the base [objective] level, a good orchestral musician has to play in tune and in time. Preliminary audition lists generally are based on those principles. As a bassoonist, excerpts like Beethoven Symphony no. 4, Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, and Ravel's Bolero are part of that list. If you cannot demonstrate good intonation and good rhythm in the first round, you're out. If you advance, then your musicality is asked for. Can you play with style without being completely radical and beyond anything the composer wrote? This is subjective. One person could think you play with absolute beauty and abandon. The person right next to them could think you're a mess. One of the bassoon faculty members at Juilliard (who stole this from a faculty member at Rice) told the studio in a masterclass: "The person who wins an audition plays within the box, but has the biggest box." This means you really have the right combination of originality and convention that is agreeable with a lot of people on an audition panel.

I have to admit, I have never won a professional audition, and I have never gotten past the first round. But that's the story for a lot of us who are on the audition circuit currently. Regardless of how we do, we still have this fundamental understanding of how an audition is conducted. And I'm fine with still auditioning: I'm learning from every experience, and I'm applying that knowledge to my practicing and performing.

Joey recommends the following next steps:

Practice smart. Learn what you do well and use that to enhance what you need to improve.
Do research into pre-professional programs that are based on orchestral playing. My personal recommendations are New York String Orchestra Seminar and National Orchestral Institute. I've done both of those programs, and they really helped me.
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