A Look at the Off-Season of an Orchestral Clarinetist

with James Zimmermann



As an orchestral musician, you are currently on break from the performing season. What do you do during this break to prepare for the upcoming season?

I'll spend the month of August doing studio sessions, teaching, and producing my own music at home.  I like to take time off as much as I can from playing during the summers – it helps me forget bad habits, and helps clear my mind.  I usually start getting back in shape a couple weeks before our season starts.  


Nashville is known to have a fantastic music scene, the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame come to mind when you mention Nashville, Tennessee. How receptive is the community there to Western Art Music?  

We have a good community of symphony supporters that helps make it possible for us to have a robust classical series.  The ubiquity of local musicians helps us be heard by lots of other music fans who aren't necessarily die-hard classical fans – when we collaborate with country or bluegrass or rock musicians who have a big local following, we introduce people to the symphony who may not have otherwise been exposed to us.  This keeps the symphony relevant in the large music community of Nashville – a lot of other American orchestras probably don't have as many unique opportunities as we do.


Does the music culture affect your concert programming in the symphony?

Yes, we get to play with a wide variety of artists.  Also, we have a serious commitment to American music, and I think one of the reasons we stay so true to that endeavor is because Nashville is a city with such a rich American heritage.  


You run the website, clarinetjobs.com, did you ever think it would take off as much as it has in the community?  

I had no real expectations for it when I started it, but I will admit to being delighted that it's become what it has.  It's been helpful for lots of clarinetists, it's helped keep the audition process a little more transparent, and it's been fun to help people share their good news.


What do you think of the orchestral audition process? 

I think it's flawed, but the best system that's out there.  It's not always fair, it's not always smooth, but it's hard to picture any other way of doing things.


What was it like going through the audition process before becoming the principal clarinet of the Nashville Symphony in 2008?

There was a lot of heartbreak, a lot of close calls, a lot of money spent on travel and lodgings, but I always tried to learn from every audition so that I'd do better at the next one.  It also taught me that there's an element of luck in every audition, and it really helps to have that on your side.


Do you have any advice for anyone going to the audition circuit? 

Study the process.  Ask all your friends who are out there to share their experiences so that you can learn from them.  Study athletes, chess players, anyone you can!


*Bonus Feature

Check out what James is up to now with this recently recorded piece: Steve Reich's New York Counterpoint


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