After college, Amanda Lakits missed all the opportunities she had to show off her clarinet skills, an instrument she played since fourth grade.
"Once you graduate with an education degree, you are always instructing all the time. You are not playing nearly as much as you were in college," said Lakits, of Hammonton, who graduated from Rowan University in May.
So Lakits' decided to try out for the South Jersey Area Wind Ensemble - a 65-member band in Linwood composed of professional casino musicians, music teachers and college graduates who have maintained high musical standards since playing in their college bands.
Southern New Jersey has a couple of highly respected music ensembles that in most cases draw on the talents of local musicians. Instrumentalists earn membership in these groups by taking part in auditions that vary in intensity and their tendency to produce anxiety.
South Jersey Area Wind Ensemble only holds auditions when it has vacancies to fill. It averages five openings per year.
Lakits had an idea of what she was getting herself into when she decided to audition for the ensemble. Her boyfriend, tenor saxophonist Jon Porco, 22, also of Hammonton, has been a member of the group since September.
Musicians must show up for four consecutive rehearsals for the wind ensemble's audition process.
The personnel director, the music director and the principal player of the section where the person is auditing decide whether to accept the musician at the end of the fourth rehearsal.
Musicians who are auditioning are seated next to a different musician in their section for each rehearsal, so the instrumentalists can evaluate their playing, too.
Jennifer Hodgson, wind ensemble personnel director and a clarinetist, said if musicians approach the wind ensemble on their own or through a recommendation, they are told the group's criteria for membership. The group is open to college-trained musicians, current or former band directors, professional musicians or someone who has been trained in music beyond the high-school level.
"If they just played in high school, there is another local community band that is perfect for them, that we highly recommend," said Hodgson about the Atlantic Pops Community Band.
Karen M. Poorman, the wind ensemble's president, said the group screens people before asking them to audition. If someone played 25 years ago and has not played since, but wants to play again and join the ensemble, that person would not receive an audition. Poorman estimates a handful of auditionees failed to make it onto the ensemble during the group's 17-year history.
Lakits was informed last month that she passed the audition and was an ensemble member.
"I immediately emailed back and said, 'This is awesome.' Just to get that confirmation was great. I felt like the audition process went well," Lakits said. "Having those four chances to kind of mesh in, it was more about getting to socialize with the people there, more than just the skills aspect of playing in an ensemble. Overall, that made it easier for me."
Those invited to play with the Bay-Atlantic Symphony must make it through a sweat-producing process where they have to thrive through three rehearsals and two live performances in less than one week's time.
The number of people who play with the Bay-Atlantic Symphony is driven by the repertoire, but it averages about 50 people.
As the orchestra has been expanding the number of performances it gives in recent years, it also has been increasing its number of auditions. Last year, about 10 took place, said Paul D. Herron, the symphony's executive director.
The symphony arranges for auditions when it has vacancies to fill, said Christopher Di Santo, the Bay-Atlantic personnel director and principal clarinetist and associate professor of music at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomona. Bay-Atlantic Symphony has a list of regular substitutes, but it will try out a new person for a vacancy occasionally, Di Santo said.
Bay-Atlantic Symphony receives a number of resumes throughout the year. Some people are recommended, and Di Santo has his own network of contacts. Symphony leaders are aware of the talent that is out there and will invite people to audition for them. Bay-Atlantic auditions are invitation only.
"We don't have to go through an audition process that is often laborious. That takes a lot of time and scheduling and coordination, so we avoid that," Di Santo said.
Musicians are paid to rehearse and play with the symphony, but not with the wind ensemble. Instrumentalists, who hold the position of first chair in the orchestra, can make as much as $1,000 in a week when they do three rehearsals and two concerts, Herron said.
Bay-Atlantic Symphony oboist Terry Belzer, of Berwyn, Pa., taught in the music department at Rowan University for 23 years. He knew Di Santo, who served in the adjunct faculty in the department for a few years teaching clarinet.
When Bay-Atlantic needed someone to play oboe at a concert four years ago, it reached out to Belzer. That gig led to Belzer being invited to temporarily fill a vacancy as an oboist. After Belzer, 62, played with the symphony for a year, he was asked if he would like to become a regular member.
Belzer also plays oboe with the Reading Symphony in Pennsylvania. He is familiar with the way large professional symphony orchestras hire people.
"You just play some excerpts, and you play the same stuff that everybody else plays. They listen to the players, and then, they choose the players out of that to make the final round. When we get to the finalists, what we often do in a lot of orchestras is to ask them to play a week in the orchestra," said Belzer, who added the auditioning for an orchestra by playing with it is the best way to determine a player's level of expertise and ability to mesh with other musicians.
Flutist Beth Roach was excited when she first rehearsed with the wind ensemble nine years ago.
It was a higher caliber group than the community band Roach had played with when she lived in Connecticut, which had no audition process. Roach works for Townsquare Media Group in Northfield, which owns radio stations, but she was a music minor at Ithaca College in New York.
"When I started with this, going through the audition process, that was a little different, so it felt like you had more pressure applied to you. It was a little nerve wracking for me. Plus, I saw how good everybody else was, which made me even more nervous," said Roach, 41, a Margate resident. "It's not that often that we have an open spot for another flute, but when we do, the other people seemed to be great players as well. I always feel that they seemed more confident than I did."
Trumpeter Derek Rohaly tried out for the wind ensemble in 2011. Rohaly had been playing the trumpet since fifth grade. He and Keith Hodgson, Jennifer's Hodgson's husband and the wind ensemble's music director, are the band directors at Mainland Regional High School in Linwood.
"It was a little overwhelming for me being a new resident of New Jersey. I moved from Pennsylvania, so I didn't really know anybody. The only person I knew was Keith Hodgson," said Rohaly, 25, of Ventnor. "It was a good feeling knowing that I still get to make good music with a bunch of music teachers and high caliber musicians in the area."
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