I heard this great audition story a few years ago firsthand from the people who were involved. This was one of the rare times where I actually knew both the committee members and the audition candidate in this story.
Auditioning for the Grant Park Symphony
The Grant Park Symphony of Chicago, Illinois was having violin auditions and needed to assemble a committee. This orchestra has a ten week season in the summer, and the majority of the musicians live out of town and only come in to play for the summer. This is a perfect situation for musicians who play in a orchestra that doesn’t have a summer season (most professional orchestras still do not have a summer season here in the U.S.) The orchestra plays in the beautiful new Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Pavillion in Chicago’s Millennium Park. This is an outstanding place to see a concert. I have played in this facility before, and you can read my story about those experiences here.
This place smells bad, is cramped, and is right next to Chicago’s Columbus Drive, with ambulances, buses, fire trucks, and other noisy activity. Homeless guys would sometimes try to panhandle the orchestra while they were rehearsing. Moving to the Pritzker Pavillion was a huge step up.
Figuring out Audition Committees
One challenges of having an orchestra made up of out-of-towners is the difficulty of assembling audition committees. The auditions happen during the typical orchestra season (Fall through Spring), so only those musicians who live in Chicago are typically on the audition committees. Several of my colleagues are in the Grant Park Symphony, and they spend an awful lot of time being on these committees in the winter and the spring.
The Grant Park Symphony is an extremely fine ensemble. Even though it is an outdoor summer park orchestra, it has a very high musical standard and really outstanding players. In the past, however, there have been some pretty eccentric characters in the orchestra. This story is about one of those characters.
Where’d They Get This Guy?
One year the orchestra had an especially hard time finding committee members for an upcoming violin audition, and they asked one of the aforementioned characters (I’ll call him Mr. Strange) to serve on the committee. They must have been really hard up for committee members, because this is the sort of guy you really don’t want making decisions on he future of the orchestra.
One should be able to get away with being a little weird while on an audition committee–after all, you just have to sit there behind the screen and vote yes or no. Mr. Strange was a pretty noisy guy, however. According to my colleagues, at one point while a violin candidate was playing Mr. Strange all of a sudden started fidgeting extremely loudly with his newspaper, paging through it, clearing his throat, and making “harumph” sounds.
Later in the day, as one violinist was playing his audition, Mr. Strange apparently had to sneeze. He must have tried to stifle it, but what came out instead was an enormous sound, like a yelping whoopee cushion:
The violinist behind the screen stopped playing.
From behind the screen, the proctor (the person assisting the audition candidate) asks the committee:
“Is everything all right?”
“Yes,” said one of the committee members.
“Because the candidate thought they heard a sound.”
From the Candidate’s Perspective
Can you imagine how loud that “BRAAAAAAACK!” must have been to have made him actually stop playing and ask that question? I have heard coughing, shuffling feet, or whispering behind the screen many times in auditions, but I can’t imagine how loud that sound must have been to actually stop the audition and make the guy ask that question.
The funny thing is, I knew the guy auditioning! He now plays violin for the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and we played together for many years in the IRIS Chamber Orchestra. I had originally heard this story from my colleagues on the committee, but I was having dinner with the violinist down in Tennessee a year later when my violinist friend started telling this story about auditioning for the Grant Park Symphony! He told me that he was right in the middle of playing and he heard this extremely loud sound. He wasn’t sure if it was directed at him or if someone was injured behind the screen, and he stopped, not sure what to do. He asked to proctor to check and see if everything was OK behind the screen. He ended up winning a one-year position from that audition, so it ended up working out well for him anyway.
You never really know who’s behind the screen in an audition. Sometimes you may end up auditioning for someone like Mr. Strange, so if you ever hear a “BRAAAAACK!” you may just want to keep playing and save everybody some embarrassment.