Gloria dePasquale on orchestra careers

Career Opportunities within American Symphony Orchestras

Gloria dePasquale
The Philadelphia Orchestra

In 1968 when I made a conservatory my college choice, there were only two defined career options for musicians; performing or teaching. The landscape of America’s vibrant symphony orchestras has expanded in the past 40 years to embrace a huge array of career opportunities for musicians.

As a ‘cellist in The Philadelphia Orchestra and artistic advisor to the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra organization (two symphony orchestras, two string orchestras, two brass ensembles) I have the privilege of fielding questions from many parents and students about college choices and areas of study. And, while the career options for these young musicians have multiplied as orchestras have grown in numbers and stature, there is very little information available to guide the high school musician who still feels that the choice is limited to performing or teaching.

The following are the most frequently asked questions and my general advice:

Q. Should I choose a conservatory or a college/university if I’m not sure that I can “make it” as a performer?
A. Examine the curriculums of the conservatory and college in question as well as the resulting degree to be earned. Most higher education jobs require a DMA or PHD and those degrees often must be built upon BA degrees. It is possible to find a rigorous, conservatory-level music department at several top-notch universities.

Q. What jobs have the highest compensation packages in the field of orchestra management?
A. The top-level CEO and other management positions are those which have the most responsibility and therefore, command the most money. The following is a list of senior management positions, under the CEO position: Artistic Administrator, General Manager, Director of Marketing, and Public Relations Director.

Which positions in an orchestra management deal most directly with musicians?
A. Personnel manager deals with the musicians the most closely. Production manager (in house and touring) is responsible for musicians’ performing and travel conditions. The Education director not only works on student concerts but on creating partnerships with the community which often involve working with small groups of musicians.

Q. What other jobs are there working for a symphony orchestra?
A. Development and Advocacy (local, state, and federal) help raise the money for the orchestra.  Historians write the program notes and preserve the history of the institution. Music librarians (considered official orchestra musicians) work to prepare the music for the performances and prepare the scores for conductors.  Media specialists work in developing and maintaining websites. Audio engineers are needed for recording and putting the orchestra’s work on the web and video technicians are necessary for enhanced imaging projections in the concert halls and for sending out the concerts via the internet. 

In this era of globalization, there are many jobs for musicians that utilize technology and these opportunities are developing at a rapid pace. This is an exciting time for American orchestras to be able to send their broadcasts of high quality performances thru-out the world and an exciting time to plan for a career with a symphony orchestra in either on stage or off stage capacity.

Additional Suggestions and Ideas to Learn about Opportunities Working for Orchestras

  • Create a Shadow Day at your local Orchestra
    I encourage any high-school musician who is passionate about music to try to get a behind the scenes look at the operations of their local symphony orchestra. I have hosted many high-school students for a day of job shadowing with The Philadelphia Orchestra and the students have come away with an expanded awareness of a variety of career options and an excitement about seeing the symphony’s inner workings.
  • Work with your Youth Orchestra to host a College Fair
    Many local youth orchestras host college/conservatory fairs and encouraging your youth orchestra to host a career day with speakers from the local symphony would be the perfect complement to the exposure of the school fair. If you have a clear career path, it is easier to select the best fit for higher education.
  • Internship Possibilities
    Many local orchestras will entertain the idea of a summer internship where the student will actually have hands on experience with seasoned professional mentors.  There are also summer internship opportunities with music festivals in many of the orchestra management related career areas.  Check the League listing of available Internships or contact the festival directly.