From the Orchestra Library

Auditions, Auditions and More Auditions

Posted in Preparing Parts,The Business by kschnack on February 14, 2010

Timpani Showroom (Photo credit: Melissa Rogers)

Timpani showroom?

Nope, just an audition.

Or rather, one phase of several auditions here at the DSO of late. We have had three days of preliminary, semi and final rounds for the Principal Timpani chair during the last month, and will finish the rest of the semis and finals on Monday following a long day of Assistant Principal Horn auditions. We just last week completed the Second Trombone auditions, and, on top of that, auditions have also been going on for several weeks to fill the choral director position.

You might wonder why I would be writing about auditions as a librarian, because you might think we don’t have much to do with them. But auditions can take a fair amount of careful music preparation. I’m sure most of us in this business have a pretty good idea of what the general audition process is for the players. But I bet most people, even the players, don’t realize what is involved behind the scenes in preparing music for the auditions.

Take a look at this list:

The repertoire lists are determined by the section principals (or, if the audition is for a principal position, by the next ranking person or committee) and conductor, and are sent out to the applicants by the personnel manager. Here at the DSO, we also often have a shorter list drawn from the full one for those who are asked to send tapes. We work with the principal or audition coordinator to identify the excerpts that will be required, getting exact starts and stops marked. Once the repertoire is determined, we then go into production of the audition book itself.

First, we assess which pieces on the list are under copyright, because the players will not be able to purchase those parts and we prepare them to be sent out. Amongst MOLA libraries there is an understanding that we will make these excerpts available to our orchestra’s applicants, but that we will try to do it in the proper, legal way. Currently, that means contacting the publisher for even an 8-bar excerpt of something like Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra and gaining their permission to make the necessary copies to distribute or post on our websites (sometimes this involves a fee). Some of the publishers still have the view that allowing us to freely copy or post audition excerpts is a threat to their “revenue stream” and that an orchestra could somehow misuse those excerpts. (I’m not sure how having access to 8 bars of the Bartok timpani part could create any kind of situation in which we could put on a concert and charge a ticket price, but you never know. Perhaps audiences would come to a concert with 50 timpanists playing the audition excerpts in unison…..hey, maybe I should talk to marketing!)

Anyway, after we get permission from each publisher of a protected work, we then create a little book to send to the candidates. This means extracting* the excerpts along with title, composer, key and time signatures, tunings if applicable, and anything else we want the player to have. Here we prefer to send out clean but corrected parts so that the committee can get a sense of how the player approaches the work without imposing our own markings. I should mention that some libraries create the entire audition book to be sent to all the candidates, but at the DSO we generally do not. For the mailing we only reproduce the copyrighted excerpts, since all of the other parts are readily available for purchase. The personnel manager then sends the auditions materials out including the specific list of works with bar and/or rehearsal numbers.

After that part of the process is finished, we move on to preparing the rest of the complete audition book for the actual day of the audition. In addition to those copyrighted excerpts already prepared, we extract the specific passages that may be asked from the other repertoire on the list. For example, if the list calls for Beethoven Symphony No. 7, we know that the candidate will not be asked to play the entire symphony during the audition. (Oh my, can you imagine??) So we extract only the portions that the principal determines are realistically possible to include. This cuts down on lots of extra and unnecessary work for everyone and moves the audition along more efficiently. We makeĀ  one or two performance-size candidate books (including all the excerpts for prelims, semis and finals) depending on how many players are anticipated, and up to 10 copies of the book for the committee (8.5 x 11) for reference during the auditions. A cover sheet is put on the front with the list and page number of each excerpt. And then our work is, mostly, done. If the committee and conductor want to allow for the possibility of sight reading, we may have some things ready to hand out on the day if they haven’t been predetermined and included in the book. The candidates are given the information at the audition about what will be asked just prior to each round.

One aside: discretion on the part of the librarian is important. We make sure we don’t talk about, show, or post (like in blogs!) what will be asked on the audition so that everyone has the same info. Of course, most players — especially wind, brass and percussion players — pretty much know which excerpts will be targeted anyway but no one, even in my own orchestra, is going to hear the specifics from me!

Many players bring their own music to auditions, and that is perfectly fine for them to do. I certainly understand this, and did it that way when I was taking violin auditions. But it is incumbent upon the player, then, to read the orchestra’s list carefully and be sure to acquire the proper parts so they don’t have a problem using an incorrect version or something.

Once we are finally finished with our work. we save everything physically and electronically so that we don’t have to start over the next time the same instrument or position comes open. When I am long gone from this job, my successor will have, hopefully, less work to do for auditions.

As for auditions for orchestra librarian positions, that is a separate post (and, yes, I meant to write “auditions”). I will regale you with the good, the bad, and the ugly of that process another day!

*Extracting excerpts used to mean cutting out parts like paper dolls and pasting them in order on clean paper before copying them. Now, with our document manipulation software, we do the cutting and pasting electronically and it is incredibly fun. We are proud nerds.

Timpani Everywhere! (Photo credit: Melissa Rogers)