Did You Know? Musical Notes from the Penn State Laureate

January 26, 2009

Q: How do you start a career in music performance, such as an orchestral position?

A: Getting a job in music performance is like training for the Olympics. Most musicians begin at a young age to practice and learn how to play their instrument. To audition for a job in an orchestra, most applicants have studied at a conservatory or high-quality music school (such as the School of Music at Penn State) for many years. They may practice four hours or more a day to perfect their technique and to learn the repertoire. If they are participating in ensembles and chamber music, they may be playing their instrument from 35 to 40 hours a week. For most orchestral positions there may be as many as 100 applicants, many of whom are excellent players. For the audition, it is a matter of being able to play your best at that moment, right on cue. Just like having to run a race at the Olympics, if you drop the baton, you’re out. When you get a position, you are expected to always play your best on cue. This is particularly difficult for the solo instruments of the woodwinds and brass. You may be waiting for a long time to play, and then you have to pick up your instrument, and without warming up, you must hit that high note, or low note, at precisely the right time, and with the perfect sound to blend with the other musicians. A career in music performance can be extremely stressful, but with solid training and preparation -- and the music of great composers -- it can be one of the most rewarding.

Please send any other musical questions that you always wanted to know but were too shy to ask to Penn State Laureate Kim Cook at kdc3@psu.edu.

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