Career as a classical musician

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Tracy Evans is a cello player with the an orchestra in Belfast, a symphony orchestra with 65 players. She has a permanent contract with the company to play at weekly concerts as well as overseas tours, and also plays the cello for a string quartet.

What is a normal week?

Rehearsals usually take place three to four times a week, ending with a weekly concert. As well as performing, I teach two private students each week, and run music workshops in schools for children with special needs. I am also involved in Live Music Now, a community project which brings music into prisons, hospices, and residential homes.

How often do you practise?

Many hours each day. I need to spend a lot of time practising my cello and learning the music, as I have not been a professional musician for long and have not yet had time to build up a playing knowledge for a wide range of musical pieces.

What about rehearsals?

Before the rehearsal I look at the music and work on any particularly difficult fingering and bowing. After the rehearsal I practise again, bearing in mind the tempo and rhythm suggested by the conductor. We work with several different conductors, and they often interpret the music in different ways.

The Orchestra is also contracted to do work for the BBC, and we often perform new music, such as commissions by local contemporary composers on BBC Radio Ulster and Radio 3. This includes rehearsals and making recordings for the BBC, which are either broadcast or recorded for the archives.

What hours do you work?

On average I work about 38 hours a week (plus travel), although this could be more or less depending upon the work I am doing. I occasionally perform at weekends. A rehearsal can start at 10am and last until 6pm. An evening performance lasts for up to three hours. However, on performance days we may only have a short rehearsal in the afternoon.

What skills do you need to be a classical musician?

An extensive training in music is essential – I started to learn the piano when I was four years old, the cello at eight and the saxophone at twelve. The ability to get on well with people is essential, and when playing you need to blend in with the other musicians in your section. You also need stamina, as the work can be physically demanding.

What attracted you to this career as a classical musician?

I attended a specialist music school and have always loved music. When I was 17, I decided that I wanted to become a professional musician, and I had the support of my teachers.

What do you like about your job?

I love playing good music with a good conductor. Feedback from the audience is important, so you can tell if it has been a good performance.

Tracy's route

  • Specialist music school.
  • A levels in music, English and French.
  • BMus Degree at music conservatoire.
  • Part-time cello teacher.
  • Trial with Orchestra.
  • Permanent contract with Orchestra.

Tracy's tips

  • Look to join a local youth orchestra.
  • Listen to as much music as you can, attending a wide range of live concerts wherever possible.
  • Practise as much as you can and get a good teacher.

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Salary of a classical musician

  • Many orchestral players, particularly in London, are contracted on a freelance basis.
  • Regional orchestras often employ permanent staff.
  • Starting salaries are around £20,000, rising to £25,000 with experience.
  • Section leaders may earn between £25,000 and £36,770.
  • In London, freelance players could expect to add £10,000 on these salaries.

Getting in

  • Classical musicians need extensive formal music training. The first part is normally a specialist degree course in a music college (conservatoire), or a degree in music at a university followed by a postgraduate qualification at a conservatoire.
  • Most orchestral players have been playing at least two instruments since childhood. There is great competition for posts, and this varies according to the instrument you play.
  • You would be unlikely to find employment with an orchestra without extensive experience of performing. The Armed Forces also offer training.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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