FAQ for Prospective Auditioners

What is the Yale Symphony Orchestra?

The Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO) is an extracurricular club of around 90 members that are a mix of the serious and hobbyist musicians across all undergraduate years. The YSO performs 6 programs annually that include 4 Subscription Concerts a  ‘Halloween Concert’ and the Messiah. The year is rounded off with a Commencement Concert in May that celebrates the Graduation of its members.  

The Orchestra’s repertoire is based upon the Western Canon (Bach-Mahler), American Heritage (Beech to Carter) and American Contemporary. Developing awareness of both American heritage and what music is being created in contemporary America is an important element of a YSO musicians experience during their years at Yale.

What is the YSO Halloween Show?

The Halloween show is the most popular Halloween event on campus.  Each year, over 2,300 Yalies cram into a sold-out Woolsey Hall at midnight on Halloween to watch the YSO perform a multimedia extravaganza, featuring a completely self-produced silent film with orchestra performance, featuring on-screen cameos by famous celebrities and not-so-famous faculty and administration.

Do we tour?

As an International University Ensemble touring is an important part of the student’s experience whilst at Yale. These tours help build a greater appreciation and understanding of the world, its peoples, and the importance of music within it.

Since 1971 the YSO has been on 12 tours to a variety of countries and hopes to continue this activity with a biennial tour. You can see where we’ve been, and links to a bunch of great images, on our Tour History page.

What does the YSO do for fun?

The YSO is one of the largest and most diverse groups on campus, populated with people from every social and academic background, united in our love for music. We like to think of ourselves as more of a family than just a musical ensemble. We have YSO dinners after every rehearsal and concert after-parties. We also organize all members into YSO families that span instruments and class years. Our less formal events include everything from listening parties to movie nights to game days and karaoke. In short, we have a lot of fun inside and outside the rehearsal room.

What kind of time commitment is involved?

The Yale Symphony Orchestra regularly rehearses Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:00pm to 6:30pm.  During concert weeks, additional rehearsals are held on Friday and Saturday afternoons.  It is imperative that all members attend each rehearsal in a timely fashion. The more dedicated you are to the orchestra, the more rewarding your experience with the YSO will be. Repeated, non-excused absence is subject to dismissal.

During this 20/21 academic year, rehearsals have been modified to reflect the current pandemic climate. Rehearsals will take place Mondays and Wednesdays from 4:30pm to 6:00pm, and be held remotely until it is determined that it is safe to congregate again.


How competitive is it to get into the YSO?

As with any orchestra, it depends on how many people audition in your instrument in a given year. We encourage everyone who plays an orchestral instrument to audition for the Symphony. The YSO requires all of its members to re-audition each year, so prospective members should not be daunted if their section already seems full. Auditioning provides a great experience, and the worst that can happen is you don’t get in. Audition, audition, audition!

Your audition will be 10 minutes long. You will be asked to play two minutes of a solo work, either from a concerto or from your instrument’s solo repertoire, and some of the excerpts pre-selected for your instrument. The Music Director might ask you a few questions about your musical experience. Once all auditions are heard, the Music Director will create the season’s roster of musicians, and you will be notified in person if you’ve been selected to play with the orchestra. The roster will also be posted on the YSO’s website.

You can start preparing right now by downloading PDFs of the audition excerpts for your instrument on our Audition Page. A link to our online audition sign-ups will be posted on our website a few weeks before the term start, so check back often. Additionally, we encourage you to attend our Organizational Meeting for specific information about the current season and to let us answer any questions you might have. 

I want to audition, but I don’t have an instrument with me. Does the YSO keep its own instruments?

The YSO owns three upright basses, a bass trombone, and supplemental woodwind instruments (alto flute, e-flat clarinet, bass clarinet, English horn, and contrabassoon). There is no rental fee for the use of our instruments, but players are responsible for keeping instruments in good working condition. The YSO does not loan its instruments out to other ensembles or students, nor are YSO members permitted to use YSO instruments for outside events. For any other instrument needs, please contact YSO Manager, Brian Robinson.

What other musical opportunities are available to me if I don’t get into Symphony

(or, even if I do, what if I want to play in other ensembles, as well)?

Yale has many musical opportunities. There are several student-run residential college orchestras, including the Berkeley College Orchestra and the Davenport Pops Orchestra. Wind and brass players can also set their sights on the Yale Concert Band and the Yale Jazz Ensemble. If you’re interested in chamber music, musicians abound at Yale and most are extremely eager to start a small chamber group of their own. Students can even get credit for their chamber music and a school of music coach by taking MUSI 220, The Performance of Chamber Music. Additionally, you can play in the pit orchestra of a musical or an opera. 

How do I get music lessons at Yale?

Highly trained musicians at Yale College may qualify for a program that awards course credit for students taking free music lessons.  Students audition in September at the Yale School of Music, one of the top music graduate schools in the country, and are matched with excellent teachers, including School of Music faculty and highly trained graduate students.  Students who take two semesters of music theory may receive free lessons and college credit. Placement examinations for theory classes are administered by the Department of Music in the first week of school.  Students who have not fulfilled the theory requirement can still take lessons for a fee but may not receive college credit. For more information, please visit the Department of Music web page at music.yale.edu/academics/lessons.html


How can I learn more about the YSO? 

The easiest way to get more information is through the YSO Office. The Manager will be glad to help you with any questions you might have via e-mail, or you can visit him in Hendrie Hall. To contact the Manager by phone, please call the symphony office at (203) 432-4140. If you would like to get in touch with a student, please write to the orchestra’s president.