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Career Story: Violinist In A Symphony Orchestra

Violinist In A Symphony Orchestra

Job Title: Violinist

Type of Company: The National Symphony Orchestra plays classical music concerts, as well as some pops.

Education: BM, The Juilliard School •• MM, University of Minnesota

Previous Experience: I have been in the National Symphony Orchestra since 1992. Before that, as a grad student, I taught violin lessons at the University of Wisconsin (Stevens Point) and played with the Minnesota Orchestra.

Job Tasks: Being a violinist in the National Symphony Orchestra is a full-time job. A typical week involves five rehearsals and three concerts. We play a different program every week during the subscription season (which runs from September to June), and a new program every night during the summer. A typical week has us rehearsing the week's music for the first time on Tuesday, from 10 am to 3:30 pm, with a break for lunch. Wednesday is usually the same as Tuesday, and then on Thursday we have our "dress rehearsal" in the morning, followed by evening concerts on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Unlike in a school orchestra or band, we are expected to know the music completely before the first rehearsal, so most players spend a long time on Sunday and Monday learning the new music for the week.

My orchestra travels a little every year. We usually take a trip to New York City to play at Carnegie Hall. And since 1992 we have gone to one or two states each year for a "Residency," during which we play both orchestral and chamber music concerts, and do educational activities with students in grades K-12, as well as at the university level. Every couple of years we have a foreign tour, going to Russia, China, Japan, and Europe.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: Like any job, mine has both highlights and frustrations. I really enjoy having a conductor who is both a great musician and a great communicator. Another favorite thing is playing a concerto with a fantastic soloist. Sitting on stage, very close to an amazing musician playing a beautiful piece of music can be exciting and thrilling -- not a bad job at all.

On the other hand, if a conductor is not very good, and I don't like the way the rehearsal is being run, I spend a lot of energy just trying to keep a good attitude and trying not to care very much about anything other than doing as good a job as I can on my own part, since that's the only thing I can control.

Job Tips: Become very careful and detail-oriented in your practice. Practice with the metronome everyday, so that you learn what it feels like to be perfectly steady. Practice slowly for intonation. Play lots of chamber music so you develop your ensemble skills and sensitivity. Listen to lots of music everyday to get to know the orchestral repertoire, and play in a youth symphony if possible.

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