Saturday, July 21, 2012

And you thought YOUR job interview was nerve-racking

The rigor and the sacrifices involved in being a member of a world-class orchestra are depicted with brutal clarity in this article by Jennie Dorris in Boston magazine. My appreciation for the joy they bring (and the sacrifices they make to do) so just went up 100%.
The classical audition ranks among the world’s toughest job interviews. Each applicant has 10 minutes at most to play in a way so memorable that he stands out among a lineup of other world-class musicians. Tetreault has prestigious degrees from the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music and the Royal Academy of Music in London, and he’s studied under the world-renowned performer Christopher Lamb, but at his audition, the only thing that will matter is how he performs in the most pressure-packed few minutes of his life. If he squeezes his glockenspiel mallet too hard, choking the sound, or if he overthinks the dotted rhythm or fails to adjust to the BSO’s oddly scaled xylophone bars and misses a few notes, the whole thing will be over. Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston Symphony, sums up the audition process this way: “I want someone to be so brilliant that there’s no question.”…. When Tetreault’s turn to audition finally arrives, a proctor appears and leads him upstairs to the stage, where the lights are hot and bright. The first thing he notices is that the floor slopes slightly forward. The second thing he notices is the sound he hears. There’s a lot of rustling — the jury is restless. But he can’t see anyone. A screen is separating him from the audition committee, concealing his identity to ensure impartial judging. This anonymity has helped women and minorities break into the field, but now, up on stage, Tetreault finds it disconcerting. The proctor announces his assigned number and Tetreault quickly studies the mallet instruments he’ll be playing. Though the symphony has previously sent an e-mail telling him the width of the bars, he doesn’t know how they’ll react when he strikes them.….
Mike Tetreault was one of 294 percussionists who sent a résumé to the BSO in the fall of 2011 for the two openings. Rumors circulated that the applicant pool included a number of heavy hitters, including two candidates from Big Five orchestras, former players from Chicago and Cleveland.
That October, the BSO contacted Tetreault with instructions for preparing for his live audition in January 2012. But first, he’d have to make the preliminary cut. He was given a month to submit a videotaped recording of 14 musical excerpts, all of which had to be recorded without a break, and without him leaving the frame of the camera during the take. He could make no mistakes during the 10-minute-long segment. If the BSO was suitably impressed with his offering, he’d be allowed to formally audition in person.
For about a week around Thanksgiving, Tetreault rehearsed eight hours a day with the Colorado Symphony, then drove 30 miles to practice at the university in Boulder. He would use the university’s recital hall from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. to work on the excerpts. After a week of recording, he was at last satisfied with his audition tape, and sent it off to Boston.
On December 3 he got the e-mail he was hoping for: Of the 74 people who’d sent in tapes, 35 had been invited to audition, and he was one of them. In a little more than a month, he’d be auditioning live in Symphony Hall.
As he neared his visit to Boston, ­Tetreault scheduled a “hard day” to simulate the audition. He didn’t eat at all. He moved heavy things around in order to wear out his shoulders, back, and hands. Then he played through all of his music without warming up.….
Anonymous behind a screen, Mike Tetreault readies himself to begin his Symphony Hall audition. But just before he starts playing, he’s overcome with a sense that something’s not right. He doesn’t like being alone on the stage, behind a screen, without being able to see anyone else. He can hear people shifting impatiently in their seats. As a seasoned auditioner, he’s always found this moment to be the most unnerving. It’s not how he experiences music. It should be collaborative.
It’s time to begin, so he tries to shake these thoughts from his mind, focusing instead on the music he’s come so far to play. He makes the Delécluse snare-drum etudes as inclusive and expansive as they can be. He goes for crisp and clear with the light snare-drum excerpt of ­Prokofiev. Each piece, he knows, gives him an opportunity to project a feeling, to tell the jury who he is. But then comes the marimba solo by Akira Miyoshi. ­Suddenly a thought enters his mind: I really don’t want to screw this up.
And at that very moment, he does. “It wasn’t terrible,” he says later. “I missed probably five notes. But my impression was that at that point my audition was over.”
In the end, he doesn’t advance past the first round. His number isn’t called.


  1. I hope Mike finds an even better gig. My mother, a classically trained pianist, could not find work way back in Shanghai, until she picked up her Hawaiian guitar and sang "Naughty Hula Eyes", with a tasteful amount of "pineapple cheesecake."
    Musicians work harder to maintain their skills than anyone I know. Orchestra positions add a political element that makes success even harder. My best wishes to Mike and his ilk.

  2. What a vivid story about your mother ... when was this?

    1. In the 40's, in wartime China, and what a movie that could make!