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Forte: Openings and auditions: goodbye and hello


The Yakima Symphony Orchestra wind and horn sections pictured in March 2018.

This spring, we said goodbye to a horn section family member, a colleague and friend who had been with the Yakima Symphony Orchestra for 12 seasons. Her retirement was for personal reasons — a growing family combined with a long commute and a jam-packed schedule as a successful choir teacher resulted in something needing to give.

She will be missed. My connection with her goes back much further than her tenure with the YSO. She was one of my first students at Central Washington University almost 30 years ago.

For someone to leave the orchestra is not necessarily surprising for groups like the YSO. Our musicians are essentially freelancers. The YSO pays us per service and all of us have other jobs, some in music, others in non-musical careers. Some live in Yakima, while others travel quite a distance to play.

All of us have to find ways to balance our work and family schedules to include the YSO services in our lives.

When we hold an audition for an open position, several factors result in attracting high-quality musicians: the reputation and quality of the orchestra and its conductor, word of mouth among musicians, the schedule and number of services offered, the per-service pay scale, the amount and configuration of travel compensation, and the repertoire of our concert programs.

Thanks to the YSO’s reputation and its welcoming workplace, we usually draw auditionees from all over the Northwest. Auditions include a brief excerpt from a solo piece for the instrument, and then a series of excerpts from orchestral works, usually a mix of standard passages that appear on professional auditions and excerpts from works planned for the upcoming season.

Auditionees perform for a panel made up of our music director and YSO members from the section in which the opening has occurred, plus a few from other sections. When the audition is for a principal position, more principal players are involved.

Just like any other type of job interview, auditionees are evaluated according to their preparation and suitability for the position. For a member of the horn section, we are concerned not only with the quality of their preparation, but also their potential to blend and balance with the section and the orchestra as a whole.

Sometimes it takes a few rounds to find the best person for the job. Sometimes the process is easy, with the best candidate rising quickly to the top, and other times the competition can be quite intense. It is always an exciting time.

So, as we say goodbye to members who must leave us, we look forward to welcoming our new YSO family members for the future ahead.

• Jeffrey Snedeker is principal horn for the Yakima Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at

Reach Tammy Ayer at or on Facebook.

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