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How Does a Violinist Get a Job in The DSO?

 

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Elayna Duitman now plays as a member of the Cleveland Orchestra. In the DSO, she served on the musicians’ string, orchestra, pension, and audition committees. She received her master’s degree from the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, the Netherlands.

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When I tell people that I am a violinist in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, a very common question I hear is, “How much do you have to practice every week?” Of course, when an orchestra ‘practices’ together it’s called a rehearsal and we generally have four rehearsals a week (in addition to three to five concerts). But we also spend a lot of time preparing our parts for rehearsal and practicing just to stay in condition. And this practicing and learning process doesn’t start right before the audition to join the DSO, or even during high school or college; most musicians begin training at a very young age. It would be impossible for a high school senior with no musical training to decide to be a music major in college, because the requirements to be accepted into a music program are extensive and the competition to get into a good program is intense. It would not be too late to decide to become a doctor, engineer, lawyer, diplomat, police officer, or nurse during a post-secondary education, but a violinist needs to be an extremely accomplished player just to be accepted into a competitive music school or conservatory.

I started taking violin lessons on my fourth birthday. String players may begin playing as early as age three, while wind players usually begin several years later. All of the musicians in the DSO have taken many years of weekly private music lessons, chamber music coachings, orchestra classes and repertoire classes, not to mention summer camps and festivals, study abroad, and expensive university or conservatory training. 92% percent of the members of the DSO have at least a Bachelor’s Degree, and 46% percent have graduate degrees. Even the 8% percent of the members who won their position before completing their post-secondary education had already invested many years of studying and practicing on their instrument.

The financial cost of becoming a professional musician is staggering, while the time and effort add up as well: practicing two hours a day from age 5 to age 18 adds up to almost 10,000 hours of practice by the time the player heads off to college, and during college many players will practice far more than this. My own teacher at the New England Conservatory of Music expected his students to practice 30 hours a week (five hours per day for six days with one day off). The financial costs include private lessons, music books and materials, instruments, tuition and travel expenses for summer festivals, and post-secondary studies. String players especially need to spend a large amount of money on instruments, as many are antiques in addition to being musical instruments. A good violin for an advanced student can cost as much as a new car, and many players in major American orchestras could buy a new home if they traded in their valuable instruments.

My family made some big sacrifices starting when I was in grade school so that I could study the violin. I was blessed to be born into a family of musicians (my mom is a pianist and my dad is a conductor/music educator), so they realized the kind of training I would need and were willing to make those sacrifices.

We moved from Florida to rural Iowa when I was nine years old and my dad took a position as band and orchestra director at a small private college. Unfortunately, that meant that for me to study with a great teacher we had to travel long distances. In middle school, I took lessons in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 60 miles away, and then in high school I studied for three years with an excellent teacher at the University of Iowa, 360 miles from home!

My mom drove me, and we would generally start out at four o’clock in the morning to drive to Iowa City. I would have a two-hour lesson and then we would head back home the same day. That my mom did this for me twice a month for three years during high school was crucial to my development as a musician. She probably heaved a sigh of relief when I went off to conservatory and could walk to my lessons!

There are many costs associated with becoming a member of a major symphony orchestra like the DSO. Attaining a high enough degree of technical proficiency and musicianship to win an audition requires dedication and a large amount of time and resources. I am sure each and every one of my colleagues has a story to tell about the sacrifices they and their families made in order for them to get to the DSO.