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Tips for becoming an orchestral musician


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A. Frish
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 2:04 pm    Post subject: Tips for becoming an orchestral musician Reply with quote

Hey Trumpet Herald!
I am currently a senior in high school, and I will be going to college in the fall for music education. With that said, the question that is always going through my mind is how to make a career out of music. My dream job is to perform in an orchestra and teach at the college level. The difficulty comes in the fact that I am only one of a plethora of people who have that dream. I just wanted to reach out to see if you all had some advice for me in this journey. Obviously, I must practice a lot and I must be a nice person. I take private lessons, and I do practice a couple hours each day. I have been to various festivals and competitions such as ITG and NTC, and I have been lucky enough to make a few connections. What else can I be doing? I am not looking to become rich. I just want to be able to do what I love which is music. I would appreciate any advice! Thank you all and have a wonderful day!

P.S. I will be having a senior recital next month. If any of you would like to hear the performance, you are more than welcome to come. I can send you more information if you send me a private message.
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Maid of the Mist
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 2:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Based on your very thoughtful post, I have a few things to say. As a retired professional orchestral player that actually did play a few successful auditions after much trial and error, here's what I think:

1) Don't worry about large numbers of trumpeters that aspire to play in orchestras. That is a constant that will never go away. Pursue your dreams in spite of that.

2) Try not to get sidetracked with orchestral excerpts in music school. First and foremost, focus on learning everything you can and becoming the best possible trumpet player and musician you can be. You'll have plenty of time to master the passages later.

3) Find a highly successful role model to listen to a LOT. You'll need a great concept. As Jacobs once said, the instrument in your hands is only as good as the one in your head. Personally, I would listen to Chris Martin, Tom Hooten, Dave Bilger etc. These guys are the leaders in the business for a reason.

4) Be brutally honest with yourself. To me that's the toughest thing to do. Record yourself constantly and listen and critique as a regular habit.

Good luck!
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JayKosta
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 3:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you're a HS senior now, I'm guessing you already have a pretty good idea of what college you'll attend. If you have a few possibilities, I suggest finding out what 'playing opportunities' there are in both the college, and the nearby community - e.g. community orchestra, community band, etc.

I think that successfully completing college should be your major objective. And while at college, use your time wisely.

In my area, there are numerous school music teachers who also are active in regional orchestra groups. Getting a 'career tenure track' professorship teaching at the college level is tough. Adjunct teaching in college is possible, but can't be counted-on as a career. You also should be investigating what locations actually have 'school music programs' that would require teachers.

And TALK with your school music teachers about serious career issues - I think you can learn a lot from them, and the connections and experiences they've had.

Jay
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kehaulani
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 5:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Get as much playing experience as possible. Play in everything.

Keep in mind that mus. ed. is often a five year Bachelor program in itself. If you intend to practice and play at a high level, you may even need more time.


And that's just a start. It goes without saying that your playing level supersedes the Bachelor degree level.

Also, pick your school wisely and listen to your professors but don't think just keeping them happy is all you need.
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Craig Swartz
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 6:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

1. Attend the best school and study with the best teachers you can.

2. Set aside a good 3-5 hours per day for the horn. That can be tough in MU Ed.

3. Play in every ensemble and genre that you can.

4. Network with as many players as possible and keep all options open.

5. Have a good "Plan B".
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 8:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you wanted to be a millionaire, you would talk with a millionaire. You need to get in touch with working musicians and learn all you can about their habits and approaches to their career.
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Christian K. Peters
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 8:59 pm    Post subject: Tips for Reply with quote

Hello all,
"Have a plan B..." I have said that time and time again. I realized in my third year of music school, that I would never make a living playing professionally. and that I did not want to be in school forever and have any debt. I chose the easiest, most satisfying way to make a living...Teaching middle school band kids. After 21 years, I also had the opportunity to teach choir, HS band and elementary music. 30 years goes fast.
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Iguananaught
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 9:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Practice what you’re bad at and uncomfortable with.
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Brassnose
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 13, 2019 9:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I‘ll second CKPeters’ words. I realized in late high school that I would not be able to play professionally - but was lucky to have a plan B. The reason I say this is because it touches upon the second part of what the OP said: wanting to be a college professor. I teach at a PhD granting university (chemistry, not music) and looking at how hard it is to get these jobs (and to get tenure) I just wanted to state that you will have to outperform anything between 60 and 400 applicants for a given job - probably even more in North America.

So here is what I would do: follow your dream! It is possible to realize at least parts of them (heck, I was a horrible student in HS yet got a highly satisfying faculty job) BUT if opportunities come up look at them with an open mind and consider them. Life has its own roundabout ways and is not always straightforward. Part of the reason (besides always wanting to do research) why I ended up in my job is (tadaaa) a woman I was originally going to work for Rohm and Haas in Philly, but then met my wife and moved.
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Athos
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 5:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In a highly competitive field like ours, the difference between achieving your dream and achieving something else is often your willingness to work hard, make yourself uncomfortable, and persevere.
If you want a career in an orchestra, involve yourself with the best teachers and colleagues you can to move you toward that goal. Recognize that a couple of hours a day isn't sufficient to achieve this goal, and make sure you're willing to do what it takes, probably about 4 hours a day plus listening and score study.
If you want a university job, prepare to persevere through a doctorate of some sort, and be able to perform at a very high level. If you have a major orchestra job, it's frequently possible to add some university teaching on the side, though usually it's not a separate tenure-track position.
This career isn't for the faint of heart. I am not a subscriber to the notion of having a plan B, per se, but it is important sometimes to make sure the bills get paid. Keep checking in with yourself to make sure your goals haven't changed while you weren't looking... there is nothing wrong with shifting tracks if you see that what you want isn't what you thought you wanted.
Good luck!
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trumpetchops
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 6:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my years of playing I've met a lot of players that didn't make it simply because they gave up. I gave up. I don't know if I would have "made it" but, I'm a pretty good part time player and enjoy playing part time.

I've worked with people way better than me that just didn't want to audition anymore, or were really good and just didn't care.

I met a guy in a community band that graduated from Juilliard. I asked him why he didn't go forward with his music after school. He told me that he did. He was playing all around NYC but, didn't understand where he fit in or how far up the chain he was and went in a different direction.

I don't know that this is advice. Think about 4 or 5 years from now.
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trumpet_cop
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 6:58 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

So who on this thread so far aside from Athos is actually a full time professional in a major symphony orchestra in their country? What about tenure track university professor?

Those are the people who you should seek out to get information from. I agree that you need a way to pay bills but if you have an actual plan B, you'll always think about that and then won't work quite as hard because you know you'll have a safety net. Do Music ed if you really want to teach public school band/orchestra/choir/general music, but if your heart is set on performing and university teaching you might not take the public school teaching as seriously.
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skishhhh
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 1:10 pm    Post subject: Re: Tips for becoming an orchestral musician Reply with quote

A. Frish wrote:
Hey Trumpet Herald!
I am currently a senior in high school, and I will be going to college in the fall for music education. With that said, the question that is always going through my mind is how to make a career out of music. My dream job is to perform in an orchestra and teach at the college level.

You are exactly where I was in 1971. I did what Craig Swartz recommended and I'm thankful for having a good "Plan B". I specifically picked a university that had an excellent music school and was also strong in my plan B.

Attending the best school is not only good for instruction, but you will meet other top trumpet students from around the country. They will eventually be your professional competition for orchestra and college teaching jobs. Even if you are the best trumpet player in your music school, there will be many from other schools that want the same jobs.

If you haven't done so already, I recommend you start a keyboard instrument. It will give you more rounded exposure to music and a head start for your first piano class.

After 1 year in music school I opted for my "Plan B" and am now retired from a fulfilling career. I never regretted going to plan B, not even for 1 minute. I can still pick up a trumpet and enjoy playing either at home or in a community group.
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kehaulani
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 2:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just a thought on Plan Bs. There's nothing wrong on having one, I didn't and it did not backfire on me. I never doubted that I could do something else if I needed to, so I was able to devote all my resources to Plan A.

But if you have a Plan B, just make sure it does not distract you from fully committing to Plan A, straddling the fence, as it were, or being equivocating. You have to Fully Commit!

Plan 9, anyone?
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John Mohan
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 3:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi A. Frish,

Given the fact that there just as many top-level orchestras and nearly as many medium tier orchestras (that do full seasons) as years back, but certainly not as many serious trumpet students today as there was years back, I think in term of the numbers you have a better chance of making it today than players did years ago. And if you game things right (and you'll see that's about to become a pun), you can take advantage of the fact that most in your generation are addicted to "smart" phones, games and social media. While they are LOLing, you can and should be PRACTICING.

My teacher, Claude Gordon, used to say, "There's always room at the top. There's also always room at the bottom. It's the middle, that wide section of mediocrity, that's overcrowded."

And as Adolph Herseth (Principal trumpet for more than 50 years with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) said, "You need to practice your butt off."

Now, here's my advice: If you want to become a professional orchestral player that gets a job, you need to get your education at a school that is currently putting out graduates who are auditioning for and getting the positions in the orchestras here, today. And you need to be good enough to audition for and gain acceptance to, hopefully with a scholarship, a position at one of these top schools.

Perhaps the school you're going to for your undergraduate degree in Music Education is not a "top level" school. That is not a problem, because while you attend that school and get your Bachelors Degree at that school, you will need to practice and practice and practice so as to be ready to enter a top level school for you Graduate degree (and perhaps get Skype lessons during these four years with someone that can actually help you become a great player, if the teacher at the school you are attending is not known for creating great players). Whatever path you take, your goal for now should be to get good enough to get accepted into a Graduate program in four years at one of the top schools (meaning the schools that are currently putting out players who actually are getting the jobs).

Do your research. Go to the websites of the various top orchestras and medium level orchestras and look up the resumes for their trumpet sections. Find the players who've gotten jobs in the past four or five years, and see what schools they attended. I think you'll find most of them coming from one of maybe five or six different music schools. Getting into one of these schools for a graduate degree in Trumpet Performance, again, hopefully with a scholarship and/or Stipend, is what your four-year-from-now goal should be.

Best wishes to you,

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John Mohan
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 3:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

kehaulani wrote:
Just a thought on Plan Bs. There's nothing wrong on having one, I didn't and it did not backfire on me. I never doubted that I could do something else if I needed to, so I was able to devote all my resources to Plan A.

But if you have a Plan B, just make sure it does not distract you from fully committing to Plan A, straddling the fence, as it were, or being equivocating. You have to Fully Commit!

Plan 9, anyone?


From Outer Space?

Seriously to the OP: Read the above-quoted post twice. Do NOT let a "backup" plan get in the way of your goal.
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JoseLindE4
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 4:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I’ll chime in on the college teaching portion of the OP since that’s my gig.

1. The job market: the market is really tight, even for people who go to the big schools. Lots of many capable and qualified people are cobbling together a living in the adjunct wilderness, teaching privately, and gigging. Some make it work just fine, but I don’t think it’s what they had in mind when they started their DMA. They have to hustle.

2. Tenure: not every full time position is tenure track. Some institutions don’t offer tenure; some positions just simply aren’t tenure track. Search highered jobs and take a look. I’d bet that there are many more positions like this than tenured/tenure track.

3. The wait: there was a time where going to one of the big schools was an open door to a decent gig, often before finishing the degree. Now many more players end up waiting years after finishing their DMA before landing anything with any kind of stability. These are excellent players and teachers who went to great schools and have really impressive professional accomplishments, but the market is tough. Be prepared to float in the in between wilderness for years before landing somewhere. This is psychologically very difficult.

4. The job: most teaching gigs involve a lot more than just teaching trumpet lessons. You’ll direct a band, teach music major classes, teach music appreciation, etc. The prep and grading for these classes can be substantial. You’ll learn a ton and grow as a musician, but there will be many late nights and working weekends.

5. Recruiting: most places live and die by recruiting. This school year, I’ll probably end up with about 50-60 days spent recruiting. That’s just during the school year, so it’s about 1.5 days a week. This can be fun, but it’s tiring and wears on you.

6. Meetings: committee work can be substantial or almost nothing. No one likes meetings yet they always seem to happen and they always seem to run late.

7. The perks: I have almost complete musical freedom. If something interests me, I’m free to pursue it in ways that players in other gigs can’t. Despite the workload, the lifestyle is family friendly: my toddler spends lots of time with me during the day; my wife and child eat lunch and dinner with me almost every day; I get extremely cheap rates in the school cafeteria so that it’s cheaper and easier than cooking at home; I can take care of personal business during the workday without any hassle. The day-to-day work life is quite pleasant, even if it’s long and busy. Summers are nice.

How to get the job:

1. Become the best player and musician possible. This should go without saying, but it’s important. Unlike in a performance gig though, it’s not the only thing. I was hired into my current job without them ever hearing me play a note. This is unusual, but not unheard of.

2. Become the most flexible musician possible. You’ll be teaching things you never imagined. Most college jobs aren’t hyper-specialized. Be ready to teach anything. If you’re asked on an interview, say yes.

3. Have a story to tell. Every posted job will be flooded with applications. Lots of applicants went to fancy schools. Lots of applicants have impressive performance experience. Your resume will probably look just like half of the applicants. Unless you know how to sell how your are special as a musician, educator, and person, no one will give you a look. You need the educational and performance credentials, but that isn’t enough. I started a rather unusual community music initiative during my doctorate that gave me an interesting story for my applications and ultimately got me a job.

4. Where you go to school matters, sort of. When it comes time for the doctorate, look at who are getting the gigs you want. Figure out what schools are placing students. For your undergraduate degree, great players come from everywhere. Minimize your loans so that your time in the post doctorate wilderness is manageable. Find a place where you will grow and succeed. It might be NEC or it might be Podunk Hillbilly College.

5. Get an Ed degree as an undergraduate. Many college gigs are band/brass. Some of these require an Ed degree and public school teaching experience. This may not be your vision for your future right now, but you might think differently a decade from now.

7. Have a thick skin. You will get rejected a lot. Jealousy can eat you up. You will apply for jobs and never hear a peep. You’ll be dismayed to learn that Johnny Cantplayalick was hired and you didn’t even get a phone call. That’s life. Move on and apply for the next one.


Last edited by JoseLindE4 on Sun Apr 14, 2019 6:16 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Ed Kennedy
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 4:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Study this guy: https://www.tomhooten.com/

I knew him as an undergraduate, solid but not exceptional. He won a spot in the Marine band and the rest is history. Good work ethic and a positive attitude.
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trpthrld
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PostPosted: Sun Apr 14, 2019 6:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Maid of the Mist wrote:
Based on your very thoughtful post, I have a few things to say. As a retired professional orchestral player that actually did play a few successful auditions after much trial and error, here's what I think:

1) Don't worry about large numbers of trumpeters that aspire to play in orchestras. That is a constant that will never go away. Pursue your dreams in spite of that.

2) Try not to get sidetracked with orchestral excerpts in music school. First and foremost, focus on learning everything you can and becoming the best possible trumpet player and musician you can be. You'll have plenty of time to master the passages later.

3) Find a highly successful role model to listen to a LOT. You'll need a great concept. As Jacobs once said, the instrument in your hands is only as good as the one in your head. Personally, I would listen to Chris Martin, Tom Hooten, Dave Bilger etc. These guys are the leaders in the business for a reason.

4) Be brutally honest with yourself. To me that's the toughest thing to do. Record yourself constantly and listen and critique as a regular habit.

Good luck!

THIS THIS THIS!!!
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bean_counter
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PostPosted: Mon Apr 15, 2019 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Like Brassnose above, I determined in late high school that I wasn’t going to make it as a pro; I was very good, but not the best. I could have been an Ed major, but being a school band director just wasn’t my personality back then.

But as far as teaching in higher Ed, I can offer some observations from the cheap seats:

One of my last private teachers in high school was a recent graduate from a major college graduate program, where he had studied with a very highly regarded teacher. He was in his first job, a non-tenure track position at a large regional school with a good program. I only spent one school year with him, he moved on, with progressively better programs, regional orchestras, etc until he landed a tenure track gig. He runs a very successful program now, I see him recommended here now and again. So, what? Be the best player you can be, study with great teachers, go to a top grad school, and be prepared to take your time moving up the rungs of the ladder as you gain experience.

My wife is in higher Ed – community college English professor – and she has sat on hiring committees, including for tenure track music faculty. I asked her last night - what do the successful candidates have in common? Teaching experience, wide range of knowledge; ability to teach theory, beginning piano, music appreciation, different types of ensembles. So, what? Be flexible, be broad in your knowledge, and suck up as many teaching opportunities as possible, and not just teaching trumpet. There was only one musician on the committees; they relied upon him to assess musical ability and knowledge, but they relied on the candidates’ teaching demo to see if they could teach in the classroom.

Hope this view from the cheap seats is helpful. Good luck!
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