How does a musician get to play with the Spokane Symphony?

Spokane Symphony musicians come from all over the the United States, with some players from as far as Europe and parts of Asia. Every year approximately 2,000 music majors graduate from top music schools and conservatories. Of these 2,000 graduates, there are about 150 jobs open each year. Music is a very rigorous program of study, and many professional musicians spend 6-10 years acquiring advanced degrees perfecting their skills.

In order to win an audition with a professional symphony orchestra, musicians undergo a rigorous audition process. Every month, the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), the national musicians' union, posts advertisements for available symphony orchestra positions. Usually there are only a handful of positions open for an instrument each year, and instruments that are only played by one person on a part in the orchestra (harp, winds, and percussion) may only have one or two positions open in a given calendar year, if at all. For string players there may be more job openings but also more competition and only a few positions that pay a livable wage are available each year. It is not uncommon for 150 musicians to audition for a single orchestra position in the most renowned orchestras. All musicians travel to the audition at their own expense. Orchestra auditions are most competitive and it is not unusual for musicians to take between 10-20 auditions before successfully winning a job.

The audition process begins with resume screening. Musicians interested in a particular job vacancy send resumes to the orchestra advertising the audition. Orchestras then select from the most qualified applicants (between 30 to more than 100) and these applicants are then invited to attend the audition. The applicants are to prepare specific music for the audition. Audition lists are particular to each organization and usually consist of solo literature followed by excerpts from the standard orchestral repertoire. Chamber literature is often requested for principal and assistant principal positions.

Orchestral auditions are most often "blind" where candidates are each given a number and play behind a screen. Usually the first round consists of each musician playing for 5-7 minutes for a the conductor and a committee of half a dozen musicians. After hearing each candidate, the committee votes and usually narrows down the pool to around 6-10 semi-finalists. During the semi-final and final auditions the screen often comes down and players may be asked to change their interpretation of certain passages in order to demonstrate flexibility of style, and/or perform chamber music with musicians from the orchestra.

This process of narrowing down continues until a desirable candidate is hired, although there have been many auditions in the industry where no candidate is deemed acceptable. In this case, the position may be filled on a temporary basis until the process can be rescheduled. Some orchestral positions are advertised as 'one-year' in which the winning candidate knows that they are only temporarily replacing one of the orchestra's tenured musicians.

However, a successful orchestral career only begins with the audition. During the first year, winning candidates are placed on probation, and based on their job performance may or may not be given tenure. In the best of circumstances, the winner of a position performs successfully with the orchestra and is given tenure. Although the audition process is most daunting, every symphony musician knows the incredible joy and satisfaction of winning an orchestra job and is thrilled to have the opportunity to pursue a lifelong orchestral career.