Symphony jobs in the USA


Getting an orchestra job in the USA for a clarinet player, or many other instruments for that matter, is probably the most difficult job position I can think of. All four of my kids have good jobs, none of them in music, though they all played. A lawyer, an engineer one in a stock market company and one in public relations. I spent a fortune on college tuition but at least they all got jobs in their fields. Unfortunately I can't say the same for most of my students. Yes, several of them have gotten jobs performing their instruments but a small percentage. Multiply that by the dozens and dozens of teachers and schools graduating so many students each year with only a few orchestra jobs opened each year and the numbers are disturbing.

There are less than 50 professional orchestras in the USA and less than half of them are full time, 52-week orchestras.  Less than half employ four clarinetists, and one is a bass player and one an e flat player, the rest carry three, also one a bass player and one has to play e flat as well and a few smaller ones have only two.  Of course there are several more but they would not be considered full time at all, paid by the service so one can hardly make a living, it’s really only a part time job.

I've tried to discourage students from going into to much debt to get a degree in music because it will be impossible to pay the loans back for most of them by making a living playing. An example, Peabody, where I’m now retiring from, is over 50 thousand dollars a year for a freshman since they are required to live on campus the first two years. If they receive as much as twenty thousand dollars in financial aid it still means thirty thousand a year, that’s an impossible amount to have to repay if your family can’t contribute most if not all of that.  I thank the clarinet gods for the military bands, that's the one best outlet for clarinetists and even those are very competitive for the really good ones.  Some of the larger ones even pay off some of the student’s loan debt.

We all read about how difficult it has been to fill the NY and Chicago principal vacancies but that happens with lesser positions and orchestras as well. We've had an assistant first flute opening or about five years now in Baltimore and had at least three national auditions. No one ever seems good enough, it's ridiculous.  The other problem is that many musicians remain at their position for a lifetime, 30,40 even 50 years before retiring.  Stanley Drucker played in the NY Philharmonic for 60 years by the time he retires.  Our former second clarinet player played in the BSO for 52 years. There simply isn’t much movement in the symphony field.  Once someone gets a decent job they tend to stay put unless they move up the orchestra ladder.

My advices, if it’s in your blood and you have to give it a shot at least don’t go into debt. Do a double major, get a minor, go into music Ed, recording arts, instrument repair. Learn to teach privately, do a double in computer music or theory, music history or something like that. Double on bass and E flat, even sax if possible, and learn all styles of music. You can do masters in performance later if necessary.  In other words, give yourself as many opportunities as possible to make a living in music because very few of you will ever get a good symphony job even if you’re studying with one of the big name teachers at a big name school. There just are not enough jobs to satisfy the Hugh demand. If you’re family can't afford to send you to an expensive school, or you can't get a large scholarship, think about a state school, there are a great many good ones with good teachers. Of course there's nothing like getting a free ride at the school of your choice if you can get it. You can practice 3-4 hours a day at a state school just as you can at an expensive private one. Yes, that's what it takes for most students to be good enough to even compete. I hate to say this but many of the students I’ve had that are the happiest, other than the few that made it, are those making a living doing something else and having a ball playing their clarinet in community orchestra, bands and playing chamber music with friends.  You can free lance too, form a small chamber group and promote concerts but you will need a source of income at the same time.  Teaching privately, at a small local college or community college, working in a music store, working at what you minored or double majored in or any other way you can earn an income while you seek employment in your chosen field but it’s nice to do it in the music field.   One problem with freelancing of course is that many smaller performance mediums have folded due to the poor economy.  Here in Baltimore the Opera Company went under and the chamber orchestra cancelled their 09 season. 

Most of the management staff of the BSO are musicians that could not get a decent playing job to sustain them selves.  It’s not just clarinet.  I know many very good string players and other wind players that just could not get a decent full time playing position.  Remember, you need to be very good, in the right place at the right time, play your best when it means the most and hope they like what you have to offer.  A really good reed helps too.