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How long has the Tucson Symphony been around?
The TSO was founded in 1929 — 2013-14 is our 85th season. This makes us the oldest orchestra in the southwest and the oldest performing arts organization in southern Arizona.

What sort of work does playing with the Tucson Symphony involve?
The TSO plays many different concert series throughout the season.  The 20123-134 season includes the following performances:

  • 8 Classic series (16 performances)
  • 5 MasterWorks chamber orchestra series (19 performances)
  • 4 TSO Pops! series (8 performances)
  • Classic, Masterworks, and Pops! Specials (5 performances)
  • TSO Rocks the Fox (2 performances)
  • KinderKonzerts
  • Just for Kids concerts
  • Music in the Schools performances
  • Young People’s Concerts
  • Young Composer’s Project events (including performances by the full orchestra and the TSO String Quintet)
  • Moveable Musical Feasts
  • Run-out concerts (to places such as Oro Valley, Green Valley, Bisbee, and Ajo)

The Recital series (8 performances) and most of the Moveable Musical Feasts (4 performances) have been canceled as of the 2010-11 season.  Additionally, fewer performances are scheduled for several of the TSO ensembles, which are responsible for performing recitals and carrying out TSO's Music in the Schools program.

Depending on the position a musician has in the orchestra (salaried, per-service, ensemble member), a musician may play all of these events, or only a portion.

In addition to all the rehearsals and performances, musicians spend many hours on their own practicing. Maintaining a professional level of playing takes year-round work each day on scales, arpeggios, and other exercises, while practicing the parts for each concert takes additional time. It is expected that musicians will have their parts fully prepared when the rehearsals for each cycle begins, as rehearsals with the group are for working with the conductor on how the entire group sounds rather than perfecting individual parts.

What is a “service”?
In the orchestral world, musicians are often paid a set fee for each rehearsal or performance (service) they attend, rather than being paid by the hour.

Do musicians in the TSO make their entire living from playing in the orchestra?
No! Everyone in the TSO must supplement their income with other work of some type. Some players have full-time day jobs, with many of them teaching orchestra or band at local schools. Many players do not have full-time jobs, but teach many private students and/or work in other part-time jobs. Some TSO musicians teach as many as 35 or 40 private students per week. TSO musicians often juggle work with the TSO, a part-time job or two, as well as private students.

What sort of other jobs do TSO musicians have? Some of the outside jobs held by TSO musicians include:

  • Professor at the U of A
  • Orchestra/band/general music teacher in schools in Tucson
  • Opening Minds through the Arts teaching artist in TUSD
  • Accountant
  • Church musician
  • Instrument maker

Additionally, nearly everyone in the TSO plays other gigs in the area with such groups as the Tucson Pops Orchestra, the Tucson Chamber Artists, the Phoenix Symphony, visiting Broadway shows, and church performances.

At what age do most musicians start playing their instruments?
All of the musicians in the TSO have been playing their instruments (and often more than one instrument) since school-age or even earlier. Many string instrument players began taking lessons before even starting kindergarten. By the time a professional musician wins his or her first job, he or she has been training on an instrument for as much as 20 years.

What sort of training is involved in becoming a professional musician?
By the time most musicians finish high school, they have already spent a number of years taking private lessons, playing in their school orchestra or band, playing in a local youth orchestra (such as the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra), and attending summer camps and festivals. Many of our musicians attended the finest conservatories and music schools in the country. We have Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral degrees. Even once a musician’s formal education is done, they often attend master classes or take lessons with world-renowned teachers and artists.

Our musicians have attended schools such as:

  • The Juilliard School
  • Yale School of Music
  • Eastman School of Music
  • The New England Conservatory
  • Manhattan School of Music
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Arizona
  • Arizona State University
  • Cincinnati Conservatory
  • Oberlin College
  • Carnegie-Mellon University
  • The San Francisco Conservatory
  • Northwestern University
  • Rice University
  • and many others

How does someone win a job in a professional orchestra?
As in most professional orchestras in the US, live auditions are held for openings in the TSO. Openings are advertised nationally, and candidates submit resumes for consideration for the audition. The classical music profession is extremely competitive. For a wind or bass opening in the TSO, we might have as many as 60 people audition for the job, even if it pays less than $20,000 per year! Each applicant is sent a set list of music (known as “excerpts”) to prepare for the audition. Each instrument has their own relatively standard set of excerpts that we all spend many hours practicing throughout our lives. These are usually the hardest bits of the orchestral literature. At the audition, a committee of current musicians in the orchestra and the music director listen to candidates. The candidates play behind a screen to ensure anonymity—we even put a carpet on the floor to muffle footsteps. The audition is conducted in rounds—everyone plays in the first round, usually for about 6-8 minutes, and after each round, a decision is made about which candidates should advance to be heard again. After the winner is selected, it takes 2 seasons before a musician has tenure in the orchestra.

All the expenses for traveling to an audition—airfare, hotel, taxi or car rental, meals—are paid for by the musician traveling to an audition. Additionally, players of large instrument such as cello and tuba often must buy an extra plane ticket for their instruments to avoid having to risk checking them. All of this cost can easily add up to over $500 for one audition!

What are the ongoing costs of being a professional musician?
Buying a top quality instrument is the biggest cost for a professional musician. The value of an instrument can range from several thousand to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of us took out loans in order to buy the kind of instrument that we needed—often this was done while in college or graduate school.

All instruments have on-going maintenance costs. The strings on string instruments must be regularly replaced and the bows must be re-haired. Brass instruments need to be kept free of dents, and all the moving parts must be kept lubricated. Reed instrument players must always have enough reeds (which wear out regularly), with oboe and bassoon players making their own reeds, a time-consuming and frustrating process. Of course, the valuable and relatively fragile instruments must be protected from any damage that could occur!

As you can see at our concerts, every musician must purchase formal black clothing for concerts. For men, this involves buying both a tuxedo and a tail coat, along with all the appropriate accessories. For women, this involves formal black clothing of many sorts.

TSO musicians are not provided with any sort of allowance for all these out-of-pocket expenditures.

How are TSO musicians involved in the community?
Most TSO musicians teach private lessons in Tucson. Many other musicians are employed as band or orchestra teachers in schools in Tucson. Through TSO ensembles, musicians play dozens of educational shows at public and private schools all across southern Arizona. Every musician in the TSO plays educational programs with the TSO. TSO musicians also play at churches, resorts, restaurants, and other locations in Tucson.


Oboist Cindy Behmer spends her break making reeds.