Step away from the cell phone…

A discussion has erupted on another online forum regarding the use of cell phones at auditions. My orchestra has had some very limited discussion about a related issue; the use of electronic devices by committee members, albeit in the context of doing anything at auditions other than listening. But that discussion (which manifested itself in a request by one of our internal committees to audition committees) did not raise an issue that apparently has come up in other orchestras; that of maintaining the confidentiality of the audition process.

I’ll confess that the idea had never occurred to me that a candidate could use a cellphone to alert a committee member to his/her identity. I’d like to think that’s because, in our situation at least, such a breach of the anonymity of the screened audition wouldn’t have much effect. We don’t have screens up for finals, so such a breach could only affect earlier rounds. And it’s very rare in the screened rounds that one committee member’s opinion is deciding. Most candidates get no votes; candidates who get passed on usually get more than a simple majority of the committee’s votes. Having one committee member trying to “tilt” the voting might change the outcome of one or two votes during a day of listening – but wouldn’t have any effect on the music directors I’ve worked for.

Besides, there are simpler (or more undetectable ways) for a candidate to secretly communicate his/her identity to a friendly committee member. A distinctive way of tuning, or a few notes of warm-up pre-planned as a signal would work just as well as a text saying “I’m #49,” and would be much harder to prove. No doubt this has happened on occasion, but I’ve not been aware of any instances in auditions I’ve heard.

Cell phones (especially the smart versions) and laptop computers and such can be a distraction to audition committee members, although I’ve found that the process is such a grind for committees that such distractions can be not only welcome ones but actually helpful in maintaining focus over a very long day. But I don’t think that such devices pose a new threat to the screened audition.

About the author

Robert Levine
Robert Levine

Robert Levine has been the Principal Violist of the Milwaukee Symphony since September 1987. Before coming to Milwaukee Mr. Levine had been a member of the Orford String Quartet, Quartet-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, with whom he toured extensively throughout Canada, the United States, and South America. Prior to joining the Orford Quartet, Mr. Levine had served as Principal Violist of The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra for six years. He has also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, and the Oklahoma City Symphony, as well as serving as guest principal with the orchestras of Indianapolis and Hong Kong.

He has performed as soloist with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Oklahoma City Symphony, the London Symphony of Canada, the Midsummer Mozart Festival (San Francisco), and numerous community orchestras in Northern California and Minnesota. He has also been featured on American Public Radio's nationally broadcast show "St. Paul Sunday Morning" on several occasions.

Mr. Levine has been an active chamber musician, having performed at the Festival Rolandseck in Germany, the Grand Teton Music Festival, the Palm Beach Festival, the "Strings in the Mountains" Festival in Colorado, and numerous concerts in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee. He has also been active in the field of new music, having commissioned and premiered works for viola and orchestra from Minnesota composers Janika Vandervelde and Libby Larsen.

Mr. Levine was chairman of the International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians from 1996 to 2002 and currently serves as President of the Milwaukee Musicians Association, Local 8 of the American Federation of Musicians, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the League of American Orchestras. He has written extensively about issues concerning orchestra musicians for publications of ICSOM, the AFM, the Symphony Orchestra Institute, and the League of American Orchestras.

Mr. Levine attended Stanford University and the Institute for Advanced Musical Studies in Switzerland. His primary teachers were Aaron Sten and Pamela Goldsmith. He also studied with Paul Doctor, Walter Trampler, Bruno Giuranna, and David Abel.

He lives with his wife Emily and his son Sam in Glendale.

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