Saturday, September 6, 2008

Facebook's Clarinet Jobs - An Interview with James Zimmermann (Sept 2008 column)

In May of 2007, clarinetist James Zimmermann decided to form a group on Facebook dedicated to announcing and discussing orchestral clarinet auditions. The group, Clarinet Jobs, became immediately popular with clarinetists on Facebook -- it now has over 1,000 members, including the principal clarinetists of the Dallas, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestras and the Minnesota Orchestra. Zimmermann (a former student of Yehuda Gilad at the University of Southern California and Burt Hara at the University of Minnesota) recently spoke with Clarinet Cache about his Facebook group and how social networking is changing the clarinet world.

Clarinet Cache: What inspired you to begin the Clarinet Jobs group?

James Zimmermann: Last spring, there was a stretch of auditions - Memphis, Minnesota, Pacific, Detroit, and Kansas City were all holding auditions, basically one weekend after another. The first one (Memphis) was on May 14th, and I created the group a few days before I left for the audition. At USC, Yehuda always encouraged post-audition discussions in his master classes. Whether it was for summer festivals or jobs, we would always return and report. As an undergrad, it was tremendously helpful for me to hear what the graduate students had to say about their experiences auditioning for real jobs. So, with the auditions coming up, I decided to make a group so all my friends and I could talk about our results.

CC: Why did you decide to use Facebook as the platform?

JZ: I decided to use Facebook purely because it was so easy. I made the group, wrote the description of the group, put up the clipart for the group's picture, and invited my fifty or so clarinet friends that I am friends with on Facebook in a span of about five minutes.

CC: You have documented some interesting audition experiences on the Clarinet Jobs discussion board, including your winning audition for the Pacific Symphony and an audition for the Boston Symphony in which your final round was interrupted by a fire alarm. What are your current career plans? Are you still auditioning for jobs?

JZ: My only career plan is to try to become a better musician. Like most young professionals, I am always looking to move up in the industry and make more money, but that's not my main motivation - if a person thinks solely of becoming a better musician, better jobs will hopefully be a natural side-effect. So yes, I have taken some auditions.

CC: On the Clarinet Jobs discussion board, there has been some debate about the fairness of the orchestral audition process. In your experience, have you been treated fairly in the auditions you have taken?

JZ: Well, I have taken about a dozen auditions, and I've sometimes been treated like royalty, other times like an animal. Generally, the better the orchestra, the better the audition. With the exception of the fire alarm, the Boston Symphony was the most perfectly run audition I've ever participated in. The Minnesota Orchestra also held what was essentially a flawless audition last May for their bass clarinet position. All that anyone can ask in an audition situation is for the playing field to be level.

CC: Clarinet Jobs seems to be equal parts support-group, classified listing, and geeky message board. Have you been surprised by the way members have made use of the discussion board?

JZ: I don't know if I'm surprised by it, and I'm definitely not bothered by it. The main function of the group is contained in the name - it's about Clarinet Jobs. What jobs are out there, when are the auditions, and who won. I am thrilled when people share their experiences (particularly winners) -- I wish there was more of that going on. However, the other stuff is great too. For example, a couple months ago I needed an E-flat case, so I posted on the wall, and somebody got back to me and two days later I drove to his parents' house, which was ten minutes away from where I live, and picked it up. Clarinet Jobs is a great place for people to advertise instruments that are for sale, or to recruit young players for summer festivals.

CC: How do you feel about members using the group for advertising?

JZ: Usually I'm fine with it. Like I said, I personally have benefited from it. I'm not a big fan of plugs for other Facebook groups, but I just let it get buried deep in a thread or way down on the wall. Occasionally I get people joining the group and spamming the wall with advertisements. Those people get removed from the group and all their posts get deleted.

CC: A recent wall post read, "1,000 members of this group and, what, 10 jobs? Bon voyage." What is your reaction to this perspective? Do you view the current orchestral/band audition scene to be overcrowded?

JZ: Not at all. This is why you tend to see the same handful of people in the finals for most jobs. I have never seen more than about 100 people at an audition, and that average number has dwindled over the years. Also, at many of the auditions I've been to, there are a lot of people doing it "just for the experience," so that dilutes the applicant pool a little bit.

CC: You seem to have a lot of unnamed "informants." Where do your get your information about upcoming auditions and the coming and going of people in orchestral and band positions?

JZ: I get my information from the same place everybody else does: the union. They publicize audition ads in the International Musician and the website. I occasionally look on as well. Lately, with the success of Clarinet Jobs, if there is a job open, someone will usually contact me and ask for my help in publicizing it. This happened with the openings in the Vancouver and New Mexico Symphony Orchestras -- I was in touch with both Jenny Jonquil and James Shields a few weeks before those auditions were advertised, and they helped me get the info out sooner. Those two, who are both principal players, want to get the info out as soon as they can, to attract a larger applicant pool and thereby find the very best candidate. That should be the goal of any audition, though sometimes as a candidate it does not feel that way at all. As far as my informants about other more controversial topics, I can't reveal those sources. I am contacted by tons of people now with great, juicy inside information, but most of that never goes public.

CC: Many readers enjoy staying informed through the inside gossip and rumors posted in discussion groups. Have you experienced any backlash to the nature of some of the discussions?

JZ: Yes, there was a heated discussion on the wall in February, right after the Cleveland Orchestra's second clarinet audition. That was about the same time that Ricardo Morales was offered the job by the Chicago Symphony and people started tossing around salary figures and stuff like that. People then started to raise questions about whether non-winners of auditions should have their names posted on the Internet, or if we should be discussing people's salaries. Mostly, I try to be the voice of reason in the group. I try to just deliver the facts, and occasionally I'll express my opinion. Mostly though, I just try to stay out of it.

CC: In your opinion, are social networking sites such as Facebook fundamentally changing the often-secretive community of job-seeking clarinetists?

JZ: Facebook has definitely changed the landscape of how people socialize. As far as the community being secretive, that's just not how I am. Being a performing musician is about the most unsecretive profession you can have. You're on stage in front of hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people, pouring your soul into what you're doing -- what's secretive about that? However, I know a lot of people who read everything that's posted to Clarinet Jobs, but they won't join the group because they don't want any evidence that they're affiliated with it. So, I guess I don't think that type of approach will ever change, I just think that groups like Clarinet Jobs will make all the information much more accessible to whoever wants it.

CC: What has led to your continued interest in administering the group?

JZ: Well, lots of things. For the most part, the clarinet community is a fraternity - we're all in this together, and the more people who share what they know, the better we all get. This goes back to what I was saying before, about how everyone's goal should be to reach their full potential as musicians. I think keeping the group up to date and creating a channel for information helps everyone gain the knowledge they will need to accomplish these goals. Secondly, it makes me happy to know that people are benefiting from the group. At two different auditions in the past year, total strangers have thanked me for making Clarinet Jobs, saying that they were able to pick up an obscure excerpt or something of that nature because they posted on the wall about it. It's gratifying to know that my little group has helped others navigate the audition landscape. It's my baby, and I am proud of what it's done for us all.

[note: Since this article went to press in The Clarinet, James has won the position of principal clarinet with the Nashville Symphony.]


Myles Davis said...

Dear James,

We love your website. We were looking for you with the Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble. We are so happy for you but you will be missed in California...Myles Davis and Marlene

Anonymous said...

"Tapestry: New Music from the Americas"
This CD, available through the American Composers Forum, features a number of newer compositions for clarinet and various combinations of instruments. Two of these include trios for clarinet, violin, and doublebass. Challenging and exciting works! Another features clarinet, soprano sax and marimba. Again, very challenging and rewarding to perform! Lots of wonderful musicians participated and the efforts were supported by research grants. Listen for yourselves!