Robert Estrin - piano expert

The Life of an Orchestral Musician

How do you get a job as an orchestral musician, and other questions...

In this video, Robert talks about the life of an orchestral musician, the music job situation for orchestral musicians, and other aspects beyond this particular music field.

Released on April 23, 2014

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Welcome to and I'm your host, Robert Estrin. We have a question today about the life of an orchestral musician. There are many aspects to this, how to even get a job, what the hours are like. Well, what is it all about? Well, let's cover this a bit. Well, one thing that you should know right out of the gate is that there are actually very few jobs in North America that pay a living wage playing in an orchestra. That's why, even though you see a lot of symphonies out there, the vast majority of orchestras are part-time jobs that don't pay enough to live on.

So most orchestral musicians teach or play other engagements, freelance, and it's a kind of a supplemental part of their income. Now, what about the top-notch orchestras that are full-time positions? Because there are some great orchestras that pay very well. For every position that opens in one of these orchestras, there are hundreds of qualified people who come to audition. So even the top-flight players who go there only have a very small chance of getting anywhere. Even getting to the quarter finals is an achievement. Getting called back at all on an audition shows a real mastery, not only of your instrument, but also of the audition process.

So I'm going to talk briefly about auditions, because sadly the only way to get a job in an orchestra is by auditioning. I say "sadly", why? Because people who are great musicians might not be the greatest audition-takers, and the opposite is true. Some people are really good at auditions. When it comes to actually playing in an orchestra and blending, and listening, and following the conductor, these things can't be measured easily at an audition. There's a real tough challenge trying to fill spots in orchestras, even with all the great qualified players out there.

People by and large who do get orchestral jobs have made a career out of auditioning. What I mean by this is they have to have some means of support, where they can do nothing but hone in their skills, practicing every waking hour, working with top coaches. At that level, not so much teachers, but people to coach the specific repertoire called upon on the list. So if you're doing a "Don Juan" by Richard Strauss, you better know the performance practices of every part of that so that you sound like you know what you're doing. Having experience, of course, playing in other orchestras, sometimes working your way up is a possibility.

Now, what is the life like? Well, there's not that many services, but you have to be in top shape all the time. So even if you have time off, you still have to practice every day to stay in shape, and you also have to learn your parts. Now, if you've played in an orchestra for 20 or 25 years, you probably know a good portion of the stand or repertoire quite well. But when you're starting, when you throw a Mahler's Symphony that you've never played, you're going to have to practice a whole bunch to learn the repertoire.

So the good news is that if you enjoy symphonic repertoire and if you can find a job, it can be a richly rewarding experience. But it is a very great challenge to get a job as an orchestral musician in the 21st century. I suggest that you keep your options open, be versatile, and try to freelance as much as you can. Because sadly, that might be as much as you can get is maybe a part-time orchestra and some freelance work. But even if you get that, what better way to prepare you for auditions if you have the time to take them.

Thanks so much for joining me. Robert Estrin here with and
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Antonio Garcia-Palao * VSM MEMBER * on April 23, 2014 @4:50 pm PST
Thank you very much Robert and congratulations for your fantastic work. I am a spanish composer and conductor and I am sure your videos will be very appreciated for spanish and latin american musicians too.
Best Regards
Antonio Garcia-Palao * VSM MEMBER * on April 23, 2014 @6:50 am PST
It would be wonderful videos with Spanish subtitles.
Robert - host, on April 23, 2014 @1:16 pm PST
I will pass on the great suggestion!
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