Those same emotions were also at play in the Debussy Nocturnes. From the haunting opening for English horn, beautifully played by one of the symphony’s many unidentified freelancers, the piece transports its listeners to another world.

This is what happens when a sub or extra is called in to play a concert. Rarely do programs print their names. (I think Opera San José actually does, though, if the player is playing the run and is hired before the programs are printed.)

The above quote is from the SFCV review, and is about the Santa Rosa Symphony. Perhaps a reader will see this and fill me in.


  1. I just tried to go to the review page on the SFCV site and for some reason the review has either been “deleted or moved”.


  2. Try it now, Cameron. Maybe I copied it and missed the last letter or maybe they changed it. Dunno! … it should work now (I checked).

    Did you play?

  3. I was finally able to read the review. It was rather inscrutable.

    No, I did not play. I would LIKE to play with that orchestra, but I understand from a freelancing horn colleague who used to sub with the orchestra for years that she is no longer being called because she didn’t take their recent horn audition — apparently they’re now confining their horn hiring to the ones who DID audition. I did not take the audition.

  4. My understanding is that a large number of orchestras require players to audition to be on the sub list. I really don’t like working that way, but I suppose that’s because I don’t take auditions! I think I’m a fairly decent player, but I’m just not willing to do the audition thing at my age. It’s probably stupid of me, but there you go.

  5. Wow, I had not heard about that audition policy before. I guess I’d better climb out from under my rock a bit more! 😉

    The thought of taking auditions at my age is NOT fun. Over my career I’ve won a few, I guess I could torture myself a bit more before I hang it up….


  6. I’ve had friends do ballet, opera and symphony auditions in SF to stay or get on the sub lists. I’ve only been told about this; I can’t say it’s “fact”. But you could ask around to see if they are right.

  7. A gig I played in December at a church left the musicians’ names off the program on purpose- in case we were in the union and didn’t want to get in trouble!

  8. Hmmm. I’m not exactly sure what that says about the church! (I believe unions do have “allowances” for churches, but I never even think about it.)

  9. Darby Hinshaw

    Hi all (mostly Cameron),

    I know I’m a little late to the party, but I couldn’t simply let this one go, since there are some untruths being bounced around about our hiring policy. I only stumbled on this through a random google search for the terms “Santa Rosa” and “Horn Audition.”

    The substitute lists in the Santa Rosa Symphony are created by the section principals with approval of the music director. When I won the principal horn job in that orchestra, I created a new substitute list, because it was my job to do so. The previous list that I received from the personnel manager hadn’t been touched in years, and I felt that some of the younger players on the scene deserved a chance to play. Some of those who played regularly in my first season were also in the finals of the audition that I won, but they were also folks who I’d played with before, i.e., known entities.

    In short: I make the substitute list, and that’s who gets called. It’s in the CBA. If someone isn’t getting called, it’s because someone who is higher ranking on the list happened to say ‘yes’ to the gig (the top of the list is populated by some VERY strong players who work well in the section, in our terrible excuse for a concerthall, and who also by chance happen to be frequently available). When I have to make a list, I go with a ranked order based SOLELY on artistic merit. Yes, that’s subject to my taste and what I think will work in my section and move things in the direction that I want to go. Yes, that means I’m limited to hiring people I’m familiar with. You don’t have to show to an audition to get called (though it does help), but you can’t be an unknown to the person running the section. I’m always open to newcomers and old hands who haven’t been around for a while. Want to play in my section? Let me hear what you can do and we’ll make it happen. Complaining here won’t really get you very far…

    Darby Hinshaw
    (Principal Horn, Santa Rosa Symphony)

  10. Thanks for the info, Darby.

    I don’t think Cameron was complaining. He was just surprised by the “audition to get on the list” thing that I mentioned. But then you say you don’t necessarily do that … so maybe Cameron will be contacting you and playing for you. Who knows?!

    Me? Hmmm. I can play English horn … no big diff, right?

    (Have we worked together? I’m just down in San Jose and don’t get to many other locations to play. Not on many lists, and too lazy to try ….) 😎

  11. I think I meant my parting line as somewhat more tongue-in-cheek than it actually looks… after all, isn’t this all quite off topic? ^_- Anyway, I just got a little set off by this… it’s pretty common for nasty rumors about sub lists and audition results to get started through slight misunderstanding of the system. Thanks for humoring my pet peeve…

    (I’m not sure if we’ve played together or not. I’m mostly up in the north bay with some occasional forays down to Monterey and Fremont, and the occasional extra-horn on big Mahler symphonies in the Big Orch.)

  12. After you wrote I did search on your name and see your impressive bio. I’m just “small time” … but it sounds like you’ve played in every bay area orchestra so I suppose we’ve worked together here at some point! (I’m in Symphony Silicon Valley and Opera San José.)

    (Of course the original post was only about the fact that subs aren’t listed in most programs. Some reviewers seem surprised by this. One SF reviewer critiqued San Jose Symphony (RIP) very harshly for it. I’m puzzled by their surprise … programs are often printed prior to hiring, as I’m guessing you know!)