should you play in a "german style" to win a german orchestra job?

happy new year, guys!

i have a list of resolutions, plans, and announcements about the direction of the auditionhacker academy for 2017 coming to you next week, and i'm excited to see what you think. but in the meantime, i need to follow up on the topic of german orchestra auditions that the gewandhausorchester timpanist tom greenleaves wrote last week.

he's SUCH a good writer and articulator of thoughts. i failed to convince him that he should start his own blog, but i'll keep trying. ;-) after he wrote last week's article about how german orchestra auditions work, you guys had a ton of interesting questions, like:

  • do you have to study in germany to win a job?
  • what should you really put on your resume to get an audition?
  • is there an age limit for applicants?
  • how soon must you be fluent in german?
  • ...and a few percussion/timpani questions, like what kind of mallets should you use?

never in my life have i heard someone so eloquently explain how you absolutely don't have to play in a specifically "german" way to win a german orchestra job, yet paradoxically orchestras in germany tend to sound very german.

also, a funny thing is that apparently you're supposed to say guten tag when you walk on stage in the first round.

he has great advice about not only how to think about these questions, but also how to practice and approach auditions based on these principles.

and now, all of tom greenleaves' answers to your questions about german auditions:


 

­Should your CV/cover letter be written in German?

question submitted by Laurel on Facebook

There's no general rule on this; many orchestras will ac­­cept applications written in English, and some may not. For me personally, however, there is a rule. Very simple. The fact that English is widely understood in the music world just can't be a reason to submit an application in a language foreign to an orchestra from which you're hoping to receive an audition invitation. If your interest in a job - no matter where it is - is serious, then be serious about it. Why do something that makes a potential employer ask itself "How important is this opportunity to this guy??" Of course this involves spending money, but invest a small amount in your own future and make sure you're sending a perfectly translated CV and covering letter to any orchestra to which you apply.

What should be contained in the covering letter?

A covering letter is just a conventional courtesy that we generally don't seem to want to do away with (it's also an option when applying for a job online on muv.ac). I accept there may well be differing views on this, but my opinion is very simple and I know it is shared by many colleagues in many different orchestras:

Do NOT attempt to sell yourself in the covering letter.

A good application (as I (maybe wrongly) presume is the case in every other part of the world) is one in which you manage to convincingly convey your wealth of achievements and experience in as few words and on as little paper as possible. Having reams of information to sift through is a huge turn-off.

The covering letter should be 100% bullshit-free and totally devoid of any praise for either yourself or the orchestra in question. It's always so painful to read and will never have any positive effect on your chances of being invited.

 In short:

  1. Never write a single word about how wonderful conductors and other musicians always think your playing is. I know I certainly don't manage to impress the musicians with whom I work with my playing all the time!
  2. Never include any self-assessment of your other related abilities: social competence, communication skills, positive disposition, etc. Who are you to judge? And after all, anyone can write that; it's meaningless.
  3. Never wax lyrical about how much a position in this extraordinary, awe-inspiring orchestra would be the fulfillment of all your dreams for which you're prepared to do anything. It should be a given that anyone applying is at least pretty keen on the band in question. Honestly, it's inclined to make the reader nauseous and, again, anyone can write it, so it's meaningless. 

Stick entirely to facts: with whom you've studied and participated in masterclasses, relevant experience, be it professional or in good youth orchestras, and any solo or chamber music activities of note. And that should all be (only) in your résumé anyway.

If it's objective, include it; if it's subjective, avoid it like the plague.

How soon must you be fluent in German?

question submitted by Greg on Facebook

Speaking a foreign language you haven't learnt is a different matter to writing an application, of course. Again, there's no general rule for this applying to all German orchestras, but the majority of players taking charge of auditions will be happy to say the few things that are actually necessary during it in English, for example "Can you now play the beginning of the second movement please" or "Could you play that again with a bigger sound?" Of course, showing some basic communication skills isn't going to damage the impression you make...

One essential thing is to say "Guten Tag" when you walk on stage to play in the first round. If you win an audition and start a probation year, the importance of becoming able to communicate well as quickly as possible is obvious!

Since the difference of styles is very large even between different German orchestras (more so than American), how important is it really to match the sound of the actual orchestra you're auditioning for versus a more general European sound?

question submitted by Jason on the blog

This question is a huge one, and certainly the most fundamental of all. There is no direct answer, though, since it's as inaccurate to say "It's vitally important to match the sound of the orchestra for which you're auditioning" as it is to say "It's NOT vitally important to match the sound of the orchestra for which you're auditioning." It's probably better for me to approach the question from another direction and just make some observations about how the individuals who compose an orchestra come together to make that band the band it is...

  • There is emphatically no one style of orchestral playing, or school of playing any particular instrument, in any particular German orchestra. In my opinion, as a student it's vital to totally free your mind of that fallacy.
  • At the same time, there is no question in my mind (or for my ears) that many German orchestras, for whatever reason, just do sound like German orchestras. Orchestras are far from being globalized, and I can imagine most of us couldn't be more thankful for that.
  • Those two points may seem frustratingly paradoxical, but that's just the way it is...
  • Sound isn't everything - in fact it's not even the half of it. There are so many more facets to approaching and playing music that contribute to whether or not a musician fits into a particular orchestra's Spielkultur (culture of playing, loosely) than just the range of sounds he/she produces. But that would be too much for ten blog posts...
  • My orchestra (to take an example that is by no means unique) comprises 185 musicians. That's (at least...) 185 sometimes wildly differing musical tastes, temperaments, opinions and approaches. We have three concertmasters, two cor anglais, three principal horns, two harpists, etc., etc. They're all totally and more-or-less immediately distinguishable from one another. They all sound different, they all play differently. There IS no one 'Gewandhausorchester trumpet sound' which one can try to emulate. 
  • Each time we're in the process of looking for a new musician to join us (and again, this is in no way unique to us) we don't only go to great pains to find a player who will fit into the Gewandhausorchester and our approach to making music, but also, crucially, a player who will bring a new stimulus and new ideas of his/her own to the orchestra. We don't just want to tread water - we want to keep moving on. At the end of the day, we only invite a musician to join us if they've turned us on with their playing. And most people don't only get turned on by what they're familiar with!
  • To win any job, against such enormous competition, you have to leave a very, very special impression on an orchestra. This only happens when an exceptionally talented musician goes out on stage in front of the orchestra and bares his/her soul and is totally and utterly convincing. And being convincing entails being absolutely yourself and expressing the musician you truly are. In my experience, musicians auditioning for us who are trying to emulate what they think is 'the Gewandhausorchester way', or what they think we want to hear, just don't convince. 

I hope these thoughts provide enough insight into this totally unquantifiable and unqualifiable issue, so everyone can find some sort of answer for themselves!


want to nail your next audition (german or otherwise)?

here's the 5-part audition preparation method i used to win a job in the met orchestra.

(for any instrument!)


 

I'm 30 years old with various international experience and have never once received an invitation to a German orchestra audition. Typically, what does an applicant need to have on their resume to receive an invitation to a German orchestra audition?

question submitted by Brian on Facebook

There really is no "typical," I'm afraid. Each member of the section is question who is reading all the resumes will have his/her own individual criteria for feeling it would be interesting to hear particular applicants and not others. And as likely as not, he/she probably couldn't always exactly define those criteria. The fact is, you just can't hear 200-300 applicants at an audition. So, most orchestras attempt to make the selection process both as effective and as fair as possible by means of a democratic vote within the section.

Are auditions screened in Germany?

question submitted by Nicola on Facebook

Many orchestras do conduct screened auditions, and many orchestras don't. Of those that do, it's invariably used only for the first round. I honestly can't tell you why that is.

How accepting are the Germans of Americans? How do you as an American understand the playing difference between the two countries?

question submitted by Ryan on Facebook

Each German is as much an individual with his/her own views as each American is! But collectively, I have no hesitation in saying: absolutely, totally accepting. Americans are well-represented in orchestras in Germany.

As an American or anyone else, if you feel a genuine interest in the culture of making music in another country, then just immerse yourself in it: live and in every recorded form possible. And as many different orchestras as possible! Go there and take lessons with leading players. And then do all that again. And again. If you're a good musician, listen and trust your ears!

Is it necessary to study in Germany to be able to audition there?

question submitted by Javi on Facebook

No, it's not necessary to have studied here. There are no rules of that sort. Don't think in terms of there being a load of arbitrary conventions which exist to make things difficult for you. Think of it like this: an orchestra has to make a shortlist of applicants to invite to the audition. If you think studying in Germany will make your resume more attractive, then come and study here. If you think studying in Germany will make you a better and more rounded player, then come and study here.

Everything I have read says that in Germany, due to state pension rules, one is not likely to be hired or receive an invite if they're under 32. Can you elaborate on this?

question submitted by Jason on Facebook

No, as I honestly can't imagine what you've read! How many years you may or may not pay into the state pension fund isn't of the slightest consequence to an orchestra. There are no restrictions whatsoever. It is possible that less young applicants might be slightly less likely to receive an invitation to an audition, as there are certainly orchestral musicians who feel that the older a player is, the less likely he/she may be able to adapt well. And adapting to a new orchestra is obviously a fundamental part of a probation year. Unfortunately, those reading resumes and making decisions on whom to invite are forced to deal in "likelihoods," as in the case of most vacancies an orchestra simply can't hear everyone.

As someone who has not yet finished university but has some orchestral experiences and has also succeeded in national competitions, what are the chances of being invited for an audition like the one at the Gewandhaus?

question submitted by Barni on the blog

Impossible to say in an individual case! Higher education qualifications are, however, of no relevance in German orchestras on the whole, and certainly not in the Gewandhausorchester. We have appointed plenty of players who, at the time of the audition, hadn't yet graduated from college.
 

I am wondering what your thoughts are for clarinet players. Since German and Austrian orchestras use a different key system than is popular in the US, is it essentially a barrier to entry?

question submitted by Brian on the blog

The key system on Boehm clarients is not the issue; the bore is what's responsible for the difference in the basic sound. The vast majority of sections in Germany and Austria do play exclusively German system clarinets. Other orchestras may well have a different rule on this, but certainly in the Gewandhausorchester we are happy for candidates to play in Boehm clarinets. If in the audition we're convinced that this is the musician we want to have join us, he/she will be offered the job on the condition that he/she then plays on German system instruments. This was indeed the case with a new clarinetist about 15 years ago.

As an Australian, how does it work with visa/work permit paperwork? Does all that have to be in place before the audition?

question submitted by Alex on the blog

No. Residency issues are of no consequence for the candidate selection and audition procedure. If you win an audition for a job in the Gewandhausorchester, you move here and go to the local Residence Authority with your contract. They are then required to ask the Gewandhaus whether there wasn't an equally highly qualified applicant from an EU member state, to which we reply, "we held an audition." End of story, and work permit granted!

Do you have any tips for those auditioning on calf heads for the first time?

question submitted by Guillermo on Facebook

If you're not familiar with calf heads and doing an audition on them, then you're probably a braver guy than I am. :)

In principle, though, the issue of coping with calf heads is no different to every other aspect of doing an audition: if you're serious about a particular job, then be serious about it and give it absolutely everything. Why leave any stone unturned in your preparation? You can be sure there'll be enough candidates who haven't.

For anyone needing help on this in general, there's quite a good website by a guy called Rob...

Are the sticks, for the most part, similar or different than those used in other parts of the world?

question submitted by Will on Facebook

Different players here use the most diverse range of stick types imaginable! Try to avoid any kind of compartmentalized thinking on the lines of "these sticks are typical American, these sticks are typical Japanese, and these sticks are typical Viennese." Find sticks - whatever they may be, and be it four pairs or 44 pairs - that allow you to make the music how you want to make it. that's the only way you'll ever sit behind the instruments and really convince an orchestra that you are their new timpanist.

Do they allow people auditioning to play with an American set-up?

question submitted by Sarek on Facebook

I don't know if other orchestras have a rule on this, but considering the Berlin or Dresden pedal system on the vast majority of timpani in Germany, it's pretty much out of the question. If you want a job in a German orchestra badly enough, take the time to totally nail everything the other way around - it's possible!


want to nail your next audition (german or otherwise)?

here's the 5-part audition preparation method i used to win a job in the met orchestra.

(for any instrument!)


rob knopper

lincoln center plaza, 10023

hailed by @nytimes and james levine as needing 'louder triangle notes'. recorded delécluse: douze études for snare drum, percussionist in @metorchestra.