Nathan Kahn  

Auditions: The Challenges for Candidates and Committees

Nathan Kahn
May 14, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." - Winston Churchill.

Perhaps the same could be said for the modern audition process utilized by professional orchestras throughout North America. Regardless, serving as the Administrator for the AFM Symphony Audition Complaint Hotline, Nathan Kahn has come across nearly every conceivable audition situation you could imagine, and maybe even some that you couldn't.

Drawing from his vast experience, Nathan relates some of the occurrences that have found their way to his desk over the years. He also outlines what he has identified as the predominant challenges facing audition candidates and audition committees as well as dispelling a few well-traveled myths about what orchestras do and do not have to allow at their auditions. Make sure you take the time to visit the final page in the article where Nathan thoughtfully includes a copy of the AFM, ICSOM, and ROPA approved Code Of Ethical Audition Practices.

- Drew McManus


What is it that audition candidates want?The response is usually the same; a fair chance to compete for a symphonic position, and to be treated as a professional in the process.That is entirely reasonable and desirable.All it takes is a little forethought and empathy on the part of the orchestra management and its audition committee(s) that are holding the audition.

In 1987 the AFM, ICSOM and ROPA passed resolutions strongly encouraging orchestras to not deny live auditions to candidates based on written resume or tape resume.That resolution was passed ata time when the number of candidates applying for orchestral positions was dramatically increasing.Due to the schedules of Music Directors, orchestra rehearsal and performance schedules, hall availability, as well as other factors, many orchestras could not or would not accommodate all the candidates who applied for their respective vacancies.

In response, the AFM created the Symphony Audition Complaint Hotline.On a daily basis and to the extent possible I address a wide variety of audition complaints, ranging from problems getting admitted to a live audition, to poor audition conditions or other circumstances deemed unfair by candidates.All complaints are handled anonymously, unless the nature of the complaint would require identity (such as getting an audition deposit returned to a candidate.)I suppose one could become jaded to the daily barrage of audition complaints I have received via the AFM Symphony Audition Complaint Hotline for the last 18 plus years, but I cannot.It’s likely that just about everyone that has taken an audition has some story to tell; I know what it feels like to have spent endless hours preparing for an audition, invest a great deal of money to get to the audition, and then be treated unfairly in this most stressful process.Therefore, I am an advocate for audition candidates to the extent possible.

The requirements for taking symphonic auditions is quite different than other professions, and too often, some just entering the symphonic audition trail are seemingly unaware of all that must be taken into account. As such, here’s what a candidate should take into consideration when preparing to enter the audition circuit.

Travel expenses

To apply for a job in other professions you simply send or post your resume, and usually the travel expenses to the interview/audition, if any, are paid for by the potential employer. That is most certainly not the case for symphonic auditions.I have yet to hear of any symphonic orchestra who pays the expenses of preliminary round candidates, although I will be the first to applaud those who do.However, many orchestras do pay the travel expenses for audition finalists called back to final rounds of auditions for titled positions(final auditions held at a later date), and certainly for those finalists who are invited to perform with the orchestra as a part of the final audition.

Audition scheduling

Suppose you opened your copy of International Musician and found that there were five forthcoming and very desirable orchestra violin vacancy auditions, and all of them are scheduled for Monday, February 5, 2019. This may seem like an unusual situation but it can happen more often than you think, because Monday is often an orchestra’s day off and, therefore, the most frequent weekday in which auditions are held.

In response, The AFM Symphonic Services Division set up and continues to maintain an audition scheduling website for AFM orchestra personnel managers, so that different orchestras can avoid scheduling auditions for the same instrument, on the same day.This helps maximize audition opportunities for all aspiring professional musicians.This service is free to the personnel managers of AFM orchestras.If your AFM orchestra’s personnel manager has not yet availed themselves of this service, please have him/her contact me at process benefits both the candidates and the orchestras.

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