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Amidst entertaining recollections of auditions at the start of his career, Arthur Butterworth has rather more serious points to make.

THE ‘Appointments’ supplements of better-quality Sunday newspapers are now quite the thing for upwardly mobile young executives. You know the kind of thing: '...Company car, medical insurance are part of this attractive package for the ambitious executive who will have a proven track-record. Generous salary in the region of 40K, plus expenses. Send full CV to...’

Such is the with-it jargon these days — perhaps inclined to frighten off all but the most brash, self-confident go-getters. Gone are the days when the ‘Situations Vacant’ columns of the local evening paper were the places to scan if you wanted to get on in life. ‘Required by firm of solicitors, office boy, suit school-leaver. Reference from headmaster or minister of religion. 13/- per week. apply in own handwriting...’ (For the young and uninitiated 13/- was the present-day equivalent of 65p). This was the kind of job I sought on leaving school in 1939. But my heart was not really in it. I wanted to be a professional musician, so what kind of jobs might be had? From what might be gleaned in the local papers - not many. Every day there were dozens of jobs advertised similar to the one quoted above but under ‘Artists & Musicians’ the prospects were drab. ‘...Pianist wanted, four nights a week. Free beer. Apply ‘Lord Nelson’, Gas Street, Oldham...’

It was a very long time before I did get to be a professional musician and getting a job did not depend on answering an advertisement in a local evening paper. It was at music college that I first became aware of what an ‘audition’ implied. Jobs in the orchestral profession were sometimes advertised in the music magazines though not hyped-up in the modern manner with all the razzmatazz of displayed information which lists the name of the conductor (and sometimes the ‘Conductor Laureate’!), the personnel manager and the now de rigueur politically-correct statement: ‘we are an equal opportunities employer’. More often than not orchestral vacancies were filled by personal recommendation: an instrumental student would be recommended by his teacher (note ‘his’ — rarely ‘her’ in those days). Then, as now, that teacher was generally a professional orchestral player who taught at one of the musical academies.

One of the prime functions of such an academy was to nurture young players who would in due course join the orchestra most closely associated with it (the former Royal Manchester College of Music was established in 1893 by Sir Charles Hallé for this very purpose, and it is a system that has worked well more or less ever since). Thus one gained professional experience — at first, playing as an occasional extra and eventually being taken on full-time.

In my case, when the time came to leave college I wrote round to several orchestras and had quick replies from all of them (unlike today, when unsolicited applications do not enjoy the courtesy of a reply). I did three auditions within a week — at the Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC Northern and Scottish Orchestras. They were the most casual, cheery, laid-back affairs you could possibly imagine.

At Liverpool, the conductor, Hugo Rignold, said something like ‘...Oh, come in old boy!.. .What have you got to play? Haydn? Something like that? Good! You’ll have to play without accompaniment — I’m afraid I’m no pianist myself — so when you’ve warmed up just play me a bit of it’. I did. Then he said ‘...Yes, that sounds OK...By the way, d’you know this old cavalry call? Let’s see now (muttering to himself) — how does it go?... Damned if I can play it with one finger on this old honky-tonk, but anyway it’s something like this...’ (We were in the artists’ green room at the Philharmonic Hall which had a rather ancient upright piano as part of the furniture).

I made a flourish on the trumpet, more or less similar to the thing he had tried to thump out on this decrepit piano. He was very affable, asked me if I had been to college, but said not a word about diploma or paper qualifications: he only seemed interested to hear for himself if I could actually play my instrument. He said they’d let me know in a day or two. Sure enough, a couple of days later I had an offer of First Trumpet at a salary of £15.00 a week — excellent money in those days.

That same week I went to the Midland Hotel, Manchester, for an audition for the Glasgow-based Scottish Orchestra. Its conductor, Walter Süsskind, was in his bedroom surrounded by orchestral parts scattered over the bed, the dressing-table and the floor.

‘Ah, you are’. ‘Yes, that’s right’. ‘I’m so sorry there’s no piano in here, but I’m sure you won’t mind that, if you’ll play a little something you’ve brought?...Yes, that sounds fine. Tell me, Mr Butterworth, do you happen to play the cornet as well?’ ‘Yes, I do’. ‘I’d like you to do a bit of sight-reading if you don’t mind: this is the important cornet part of a piece I want to put in the programme next season’. He fished out Malcolm Arnold’s jolly Overture Beckus the Dandipratt with its uproariously vulgar cornet solo. I played it. He smiled and said, Well, would you like to come to play for me in Glasgow next season?.. .Second Trumpet, £12.00 per week ...I see you want to be a conductor too - l might be able to allow you some opportunity now and then'.

A day or two later I went to the BBC studio in Manchester. This audition was conducted in a trifle more formal manner. Present were the Head of Music (Maurice Johnstone), the conductor (Charles Groves), the orchestral secretary (Winifred Roberts), and the man who did all the talking — Ernest Hall, the doyen of all trumpet-players in those days and the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s very distinguished principal trumpet. He certainly was thorough. I played the first movement of the Haydn concerto; then he gave me some sight-reading —Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. They conferred in whispers, and I was told I would be considered. So I thought it fair to tell them that I had just had an audition for the Scottish Orchestra and was tempted to take it because there had been a vague promise of some conducting too. Charles Groves courteously thanked me for saying so — and for not wasting their time further. So I took the Scottish job.

Some years later I was invited to apply for the Hallé Orchestra 1. The audition was even more casual than the Liverpool one had been. I went down to Manchester one Monday (the usual orchestral ‘free-day’). Barbirolli stood in the rehearsal room, his hat on, with long dark-brown cape, walking stick and puffing away at a cigar. The first trumpet said (in broad Lancashire): ‘Na then, we’d like yer ter play a bit ‘t ‘aydn, if yer’ve gorrit with yer’. I did. Barbirolli said nothing but merely walked about, looking through the grimy windows of the old rehearsal room. I finished the Haydn. There was a pause — then JB said, ‘I see you’ve been in my old orchestra in Glasgow for a few years, so I suppose you know the repertoire backwards by now?’ ‘Yes’, I said, smiling nervously. ‘Well then, how about the trumpet call that opens the last movement of Dvorak No 8— you perhaps know it from memory, eh?’ Yes, I did. It was all over and done with in about seven or eight minutes. ‘Ah, good, young man...when can you get away from Glasgow to come and join us then?’ Thus I joined the Hallé.

All this sounds - and in those days was - too easy. They did NOT want to know if I had any qualifications whatsoever: degree, diploma or paper-work of any description was of not the slightest interest to them — but only whether one could PLAY, with a good sound, a good rhythm and an intuitive, obvious and real musicianship. Things are no longer like that. Today’s young hopefuls are expected to have gained a good diploma and to have sound all-round qualifications in the art of music. This is perhaps necessary since the competition for jobs is daunting indeed. Auditions and interviews are rigorous in the extreme. Where did you study? Who was your teacher? Have you played in a good youth orchestra? What other experience in music do you have? How do you relate with other players? What is your ambition? How do you cope with stress? What is your marital status? — and so on. Jobs in most orchestras now attract perhaps 40, 50 or even more applicants. In some cases, of course, known good players are head-hunted, especially by London orchestras 2. Students are confronted by a difficult task in seeking a permanent foothold, and as with other vocations, a convincing CV seems to be the thing.

What relevance does this all have to amateur orchestras? Now choral societies have generally been able to demand an audition from potential members, and occasionally orchestras have insisted on some kind of vetting process. But it is not a buyers’ market like the professional orchestral scene. It is almost always the other way round: amateur orchestras often have to plead for new members, so that auditions can hardly be a condition of joining.

However, notwithstanding that amateur players come for the recreational pleasure of joining in, I believe it should always be realised that an individual’s own satisfaction in holding a position in any kind of team — sports, choral, band, orchestral or whatever — should take account first and foremost of the needs of the team, and only secondarily the satisfaction of the individual. This should give everyone pause for self-examination. Do I deserve my place? Am I really still up to it? Am I jealous of my younger — perhaps better-trained — colleagues? Do I stand in the way of someone who is really better than me? What do others really think of me? Because we are all good friends, are they too polite to ask me to stand down in favour of someone else?

These are hard questions to ask of one’s self; but the task of maintaining, and even more so continuing to improve the team, is something we all need to confront ourselves with from time to time.

 1How this invitation came to be made is a story in itself, by no means unrelated to the subject under discussion. Just before the 1954 Edinburgh Festival I had a telephone call from Wally Jones, the orchestral manager of the Hallé, asking if I and some of my trumpeter colleagues in the SNO could help out by playing the off-stage trumpet parts in the Verdi Requiem which the Hallé were to perform at the Festival. I told him we could not, since we were already due to play in Glasgow that day. However, I undertook to find him some reliable free-lance players who often played with us when we needed extra trumpets in the SNO. So that was that.

About a month later I chanced to be in London during the Henry Wood Prams, and noticing that the Halléwere playing that night I went along just out of curiosity to see how they were doing, and to have a chat with some of the players whom I knew. At the interval we met for a drink in the bar downstairs and I asked Wally Jones if the four Glasgow trumpeters I had fixed up for him in the Verdi had done the job satisfactorily. ‘Yes, yes, Arthur! They were excellent and the boss was delighted, so thanks for fixing them for us’. As a parting shot, just as the end of the interval was signalled and we were all draining our glasses before hurrying back for the second half, I said to him more in jest than for real, ‘Well, Wally, if you are ever short of a permanent trumpet, I’d love to come back to Manchester!’. ‘Right, lad, I’ll remember that’. And with that we took our leave. I stayed for the rest of the concert (Tchaikovsky 4) and then caught the night train back to Glasgow. I thought no more about it.

Five weeks later a telegram arrived from Manchester: ‘Are you interested 2nd trumpet, Hallé? telephone soon as possible Jones’. I telephoned the Hallé office that very lunch-time and the following Sunday evening, straight after our SNO concert in St Andrew’s Hall I was off on the night train to Manchester when the audition described above took place. I was back in Glasgow early that Monday evening and handed in my resignation from the SNO the following morning.

The point of my tale is that it shows just how effectively the ‘old boy network’ can operate. The question then arises as to whether such a system is as unfair as it is generally thought to be, or whether there is some assurance in choosing a person whose capabilities and background are already known. In this instance it was certainly known that I had been a student at the RMCM (which, as already noted, had been founded by Halléexpressly to be a nursery for future members of his orchestra); equally, that I had already acquired sound experience in being a member of Barbirolli’s former Scottish Orchestra.

2But that’s not all. Apparently these days it is not unknown for some allegedly ‘cash-strapped’ orchestras to fly in players from the continent to fill temporary vacancies - entirely at the whim of jet-setting conductors, and for reasons absurdly termed ‘artistic’. Editor Adrian Smith

This article first appeared in the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Journal, June 1994

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