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Many people might assume that symphony orchestra jobs are primarily available to people who have a high level of musical ability. Although the average symphony does employ 30-100 musicians and at least one conductor, numerous other positions are available behind the scenes. The featured performers in a symphony are the individuals seen by the public, but symphony orchestra jobs also exist for composers, arrangers, stage hands, lighting and sound engineers and electrical experts. Managerial and marketing personnel also are found in symphony orchestra jobs. The musicians themselves are the stars of the show, but the show would never take place without a large and varied support staff.
In terms of musical opportunities, symphony orchestra jobs are divided among those who demonstrate expertise on string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. Competition is fierce for these slots, and landing such an assignment requires talent and perseverance that permit the musician to survive many rounds of grueling auditions and a schedule of nonstop rehearsals. A performer who is hired by a major symphony orchestra tends to have a long career, mostly because his or her exceptional talent makes replacement difficult. Musicians who specialize in stringed instruments usually remain with a symphony for more years than woodwind or brass players. The reason is purely physical, in that lung capacity tends to diminish sooner than manual dexterity.
The conductor of a symphony orchestra is comparable to the director of a theater or film production. Conductors guide the musicians through the rendition of a musical interpretation, emphasizing or restraining certain instruments or sections to provide the most spellbinding performance. He or she typically is an expert musician and usually receives the highest pay of anyone who holds a symphony orchestra job. A composer sometimes provides an original musical score, and an arranger transcribes the composition for the style of a specific symphony. Composers and arrangers are often paid on a royalty, freelance or per-piece basis.
A large symphony orchestra might work with any number of electricians, lighting technicians and designers, sound and construction engineers and a force of general laborers and stagehands; though these people are usually employed by the hall in which the orchestra plays, rather than the orchestra itself. These individuals need not have musical ability. What the positions do require is a practical and specialized set of skills that allows a performance to proceed without technical difficulties. Backstage employees usually are under the supervision of a stage manager or symphony director — someone who has achieved occupational prowess in all areas of production setup and design.
Managerial and business administration staff members are required to oversee the finances of symphony, provide marketing services, book and schedule performances and seek nonprofit funding. These sorts of symphony orchestra jobs are frequently divided between financial specialists and people who have a sub-specialty in arts management. Symphonies also require a force of part-time box-office employees, ushers, concession operators and janitorial workers.