I spent two years freelancing from September 1999 until August 2001. This
included work with several orchestras, including the Ulster Orchestra and
other smaller ensembles. I also taught cello to individual pupils. In August
2001, I began full-time work with the RTE Concert Orchestra in Dublin.
In September 2002 I moved to the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland,
also in Dublin.
Most orchestral musicians study at one of the specialist music colleges.
The entry requirements for the Colleges are two A-levels and a high level
of playing ability. No particular qualifications are needed to play in
an orchestra - you have to do an audition and complete a trial period.
If a musician’s playing is good enough and they fit in with their
particular section of the orchestra, it does not matter what degrees they
may or may not have.
Orchestras do not normally start before 10am. Some orchestras have a regular
work schedule while others work different hours every week. For example,
the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland has a fairly regular work pattern.
On rehearsal days the orchestra would sometimes work until 3.15pm, other
times until 5pm. On performance days there would be a rehearsal until 1pm
and the concert would be at 8pm. The orchestra usually has a concert on
a Friday night and then has the weekend off, but not always!
The RTE Concert Orchestra on the other hand has no set
pattern whatsoever! All orchestras are different. Some tour a lot, others
don’t. It is important to remember that going on tour with a professional
orchestra is NOT like going on holiday. You may go to exciting places but
you won’t see many sights, if any. Most of your time will be spent
either in the concert hall, the hotel or in the bus on the way to the next
In rehearsals you can wear whatever you like. Concert dress is smart black
clothes for women and dinner jackets or tails for men.
The money’s not brilliant!
I love playing the cello and it is wonderful to be paid for doing something
that I enjoy.
Obviously the most important thing is to be good at playing your instrument.
It is important to be able to play with other musicians in an orchestral
section. Some people are excellent soloists but are unable to play in a
group. They like to do their own thing. In an orchestra it’s important
to play in the same style as the people in your section. Everyone should
play the same way as the leader of the section and blend so that no individual
musician is heard above the rest.
The amount of travel and the length of holidays vary considerably from
orchestra to orchestra.
Music is extremely competitive. If you’re interested in a job in
an orchestra, you must be determined and self-disciplined. Be prepared
for knocks and set-backs.
It is good to play in youth orchestras. The experience will help tremendously.
You must be absolutely sure that it is what you want to do. Many people
start out hoping to join an orchestra but give up along the way as the
competition and the pressure are too much.