Résumé Writing Tips for Orchestral Musicians

There was great recent news recently for the Hong Kong Philharmonic when we heard the the orchestra is adding 6 new positions, including 4th trumpet. After advertising internationally, we received 171 résumé applications for the 4th trumpet position.

When I examined the résumés we received I noticed that many players are not writing their CVs in the most effective way and many people made critical errors. My colleagues in the other sections have reported the same problems in their résumé pool. Apparently this subject is not being effectively taught at music schools, so I will try to help with some useful basic résumé writing tips for orchestral musicians.

1) The header should contain the following information: Name, instrument, phone number and email. Your birth date and nationality are optional here. Optional also is a photo. While photos are not required, a photo can help the committee remember who is who after listening to scores of mind-numbing auditions.

2) The first thing after that should be your professional orchestra playing experience. Not your education, not what the critics say, but who you’ve played with, when, and how long. Putting something else on top is the #1 mistake we see in résumé writing.

If you are applying for a job, any job, make the first information you provide the most relevant to the job you want. For orchestra playing that is orchestra experience. Sorry everybody, but your university degree is basically useless when you apply for an orchestra position. So is your university band experience, masterclass appearances, recitals, or other non-relevant work. If you are auditioning for a specialty instrument like bass clarinet or piccolo, list your specialty instrument experience before principal gigs you have done. Make this first section as relevant as possible to the job you are applying for. This may be the only part of your CV that people really look at, so make it useful.

3) Keep your professional experience concise. If you’re young and don’t have a lot of professional experience, be honest about it. Keep the résumé simple, clean, and uncluttered. If you’ve done some decent gigs and some bad gigs, leave the bad ones off. In fact, bad gigs listed next to the good ones make the good ones look worse. When in doubt choose quality over quantity.

This is what my résumé looks like for professional experience:

Current Position:

Hong Kong Philharmonic, principal trumpet, 2012 to present.

Previous Orchestral Positions:
Saint Louis Symphony, second trumpet, 2003-2012.
Colorado Symphony, principal trumpet, 2001-2003.
Baltimore Symphony, acting principal trumpet, 2000-2001.

That’s it: relevant and concise.

Look at the situation from the committee’s view. We have 171 resumes and we need to figure out who to invite to the audition. We want to scan quickly, not to do research. Sorry, I know it’s your life, but for us, it’s a distraction. Digging through a bunch of résumé fluff is a nuisance and not the best use of anyone’s valuable time.

4) Be truthful. If you really didn’t perform in Disney Hall with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, but actually did one side-by-side rehearsal, that doesn’t count. We will find out eventually. It’s amazing however, how much lying happens on resumes in and out of the music business. For example former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson recently lost his job after it was discovered he had lied on his résumé saying he had a computer science degree in 1978 from Massachusetts’ Stonehill College. Problem was that they didn’t even offer that degree in 1978. Oops.

5) List dates, positions, and details. We got many résumés with something like “London Symphony” on it, without dates, positions, or any other information. What did you do? Are you currently a member of the LSO or their first-call sub? Or did you play one gig last minute at a run out concert in 1978? If there are no details listed, we will assume the latter and ignore your claim almost completely.

6) Don’t write autobiographies. This drives committees crazy, and when I asked my colleagues for idea for this article, this topic came up first. We got many mini-autobiographies from many candidates, with paragraphs written about themselves in the 3rd person. They describe how great they are and tell their life story chronologically in florid prose. Sometimes the professional information of interest isn’t even until the second page. For some reason, we see this always from Spanish résumés. Attention Spanish trumpeters: If you apply for a job outside of Spain, do not send biographies instead of CVs. I and my colleagues do not have time to read 171 biographies in order to to pick a 4th trumpet player.

7) The résumé must be 1 page. Anything else is unacceptable in the orchestra business. This is easy if you stick to relevant professional experience, keep it uncluttered and avoid embellishment.

8) Audition success experience is relevant. If you’ve been making finals for big orchestras, list that for sure. Semifinals are less impressive nor are small orchestra auditions. A good rule of thumb is only list audition experience for other orchestras as big as the one you are auditioning for. For example, if you audition for principal of the Chicago Symphony and recently made the finals for principal in Boston, the committee wants to know that. If you made semifinals for second trumpet in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Symphony (a job I used to have), the Chicago Symphony will not be impressed.

9) Chamber music, recitals, etc are OK to list near the bottom. However to catch our attention they have to be unusual or well known. Solo appearances with real orchestras are good too, especially when applying for a principal position.

11) References are good, especially if it’s a prominent performer and not your university teacher who was paid to teach you. If it is someone you know is good friends or highly respected by someone on the committee, that’s great. Personally I like to list well known conductors as my references. Conductors are usually the final decision makers at an audition, so having a well known conductor as a reference could be good peer pressure at the moment of truth.

In my opinion résumé writing should be a seriously considered subject at conservatories worldwide. It is obvious that it is being only haphazardly taught at best. However, one school where they are doing it is at the New England Conservatory, and for further reading on this subject I recommend this resource from them, which has lots more useful tips and examples for writing all types of musical résumés.

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