There has been some intriguing discussion as of late among some cultural bloggers about the audition process. It started off on 4/5/2009 with a post by Jeffrey Weisner at the Peabody Double Bass Blog examining the sometimes slippery process that results in a “no-hire” audition. Weisner’s post is refreshingly candid and offers a valuable glimpse into the audition process. A few days after Weisner’s post, Robert Levine posted something at Abu Bratsche based on his years of experience as principal violist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (or in his words, lead viola operator). Although each post presents offers thoughtful observations, it is difficult to avoid noticing they both acknowledge some procedural tension between audition committees and the music director…
From an orchestra manager’s perspective, this is especially useful since procedure is one of the areas where managers can be most effective at creating a productive audition environment. Historically, one of the most common times for audition unrest between stakeholders is during the initial years of a music director’s tenure. Although the amount of influence a music director wields at an audition is usually considerable, how it is put into practice varies from one organization to the next.
Odds are, an incoming music director hasn’t taken the time to review the master agreement’s audition procedure language first hand; as a result, a shrewd manager will make certain to take the necessary time to review that language prior to the onset of auditions. The music director may not like certain aspects of it but that’s no excuse for subverting the process and ultimately, it is something he/she will have to discuss with the CEO at a later time.
Yet, after reading Weisner’s and Levine’s respective posts, it is hard to escape the reality that some of the troubles they defined might have been marginalized by employing some better-safe-than-sorry best practices for all stakeholders.
- Each day of a new round of auditions, set aside time to review the audition process as defined in the master agreement and/or any other institutional documents defining the process.
- If the music director doesn’t enter the process until a later round, revue those same procedures again with everyone in the room so he/she understands how candidates have been advanced (yes, you might get a few eye rolls and complaints about wasting time but it will be worth it).
- Leave at least one print copy of the rules and procedure for the committee during each round.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much a manager can do to prevent musicians or the music director from engaging in the sort of negative behavior Weisner describes as “personal enmity between committee members, resentment of principal players, a desire to “stick it” to the favored candidate of another committee member, or even simple racism, sexism, or ageism.” Granted, people with bad intentions will behave badly but setting the tone by making certain everyone is aware of the official process just might be what it is needed to keep good people from giving in to lesser instincts. Worst case scenario is the music director or audition committee blatantly refuses to abide by the contractually mandated process and in those cases, it is handy to have the CEO or General Manager on call to enforce the defined process.
Ultimately, managers don’t care very much which audition candidate is selected; after all, that’s the prevue of those entrusted with artistic decisions, training, and experience to implement said decisions. However, managers are the stakeholders that have to deal with the byproduct of a dysfunctional audition process which includes everything from irate candidates and petty artistic stakeholders to the added expense and loss of precious man-hours associated with implementing a subsequent audition (not to mention the possibility of time spent investigating shenanigans related to the unsuccessful audition).
Postscript: Imagine how useful it would be if a professional development course with the goal of training new operations professionals on how to implement an efficient audition process existed. Ideally, it would be staffed by a group of veteran managers and musicians instructed to behave with prescribed PITA personality traits and throw as many curve balls as possible to said ops newbies. What fun.