How Do I Start A Career In Orchestra Music?

"I play the trombone and right now I am still in high school, but music is my passion, and I know it’s what I want to do for a living. I don’t want to become an instructor, however; I want to play in an orchestra. I’m already well aware that this is a pretty narrow field, and that there is a lot of competition (it wasn’t easy to get first chair in the top band in my high school; I can only imagine how challenging it is to make it professionally). What can I do after high school to improve my odds of getting a job in a real orchestra? Is there a specific educational program I should be following to reach my goal of becoming a full time professional trombone player?"

asked by Cole from Philadelphia, PA

You are certainly right about the challenges and tribulations of trying to succeed as a full time musician, but it’s great that you’ve discovered something you are passionate about. And sticking with it and launching a career as a musician can be very rewarding if you are successful. So where do you start?

As a musician, you have to be prepared to deal with auditions, which are your version of a job interview. The guidelines for auditions which most symphony orchestras in the US subscribe to are set forth by the American Federation of Musicians.

This organization serves members in the US and can provide you with more information and guidance on auditions and other aspects of the job search process. You can subscribe to this organization’s monthly newspaper, The International Musician, to receive information about vacant positions and audition times and locations.

Orchestras also post their vacancies on their websites, and there are also websites which specifically specialize in posting vacancies from many different orchestras.

To be prepared for auditions, you need to have a resume, cover letter, and audition tape ready. The less experience you have, the more likely it will be required that you send over an audition tape. The next inevitable question is, “Do I need a college degree to get a job in an orchestra?” Technically, you could feasibly find an orchestra job without a college degree. If you are an amazing musician, ultimately that is going to be the number one most important factor.

That said, a college degree in music can be very helpful and rewarding. You will not only gain more experience and practice, but also build up your understanding of musical theory and prepare you for the experience of working with an ensemble. There is a very serious social aspect to becoming an orchestra musician as pertains to working with peers in your own section and those who play other instruments.

Developing these social skills is important.

Not only that, but many of the connections you forge during college may help you when it comes to spotting opportunities and landing auditions, which can ultimately lead to a job playing your instrument full time.

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