Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Yale Symphony Orchestra?

The Yale Symphony Orchestra (YSO) has long been considered one of the premiere college orchestras in the country.  The orchestra has a rich 45-year history and has performed a wide array of orchestral pieces. More than eighty musicians perform in the YSO every year for large audiences at Yale’s Woolsey Hall.

How competitive is it to get into the YSO?

As with any orchestra, it depends on what each section’s needs are for a given year.  Depending on who graduated the year before or what instruments are in need, certain sections may be more competitive than others.  Nonetheless, everyone who plays an instrument should audition for 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!

What is the audition process like?

As a new member, 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.

How should I prepare for my audition?

You can start preparing right now by downloading PDFs of the audition excerpts for your instrument here. A link to our online audition sign-ups will be posted on our website a couple of 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 (e-flat clarinet, bass clarinet and English horn). 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 Managing Director, Brian Robinson.

How is seating determined?

Strings rotate every concert, and the Music Director assigns wind seating for a given concert after consulting the wind principals. The principal string players are determined by a separate audition.

What kind of time commitment is involved?

The Yale Symphony Orchestra 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.

How many concerts does the YSO play, and what is the repertoire like?

The YSO generally performs five concerts in New Haven each season in addition to the annual Halloween show. The YSO has always been known for its sophisticated programs.  An example of our typical season might include Stravinsky’s Firebird, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, and Mahler’s Second Symphony, Resurrection. Our updated schedule for this year is available online or from the Symphony Office at (203) 432-4140. 

What is the YSO Halloween Show?

In short, the Halloween show is the most popular Halloween event on campus.  Each year, over 2,300 Yalies cram the aisles of sold-out Woolsey Hall at midnight on Halloween.  Though the Halloween show defies explanation, we can tell you that it is a multimedia extravaganza involving a silent movie, live-action scenes, smoke, stunts, a healthy dose of Harvard-bashing, and a typically high-quality live YSO soundtrack. Even the likes of President Levin, Provost Salovey, Dean Miller, and Dean Gentry have made guest appearances.

Do we tour?

Do we tour? Is the Queen of England an irrelevant symbol of Britain’s past glory? Of course we tour! We have toured such Eastern European cities as Prague, Vienna and Budapest. More recently, we toured Turkey in the summer of 2010 and Brazil in the summer of 2013. In addition, the orchestra performs runouts and special events as they become available. 

What does the YSO do for fun?

The YSO is populated by all sorts of people and is characterized by its diversity.  Students from many different social and academic backgrounds come together to play in the orchestra.  The YSO likes to think of itself as more than just a musical ensemble where students rehearse five hours a week. For starters, the entire orchestra eats dinner together following rehearsals. The YSO occasionally organizes movies screenings, trips to various concerts put on by the school of music or the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, and every YSO concert is followed by a reception and an after-party.  Of course, all non- rehearsal activities are optional, but we highly encourage you to take part.

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 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

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 his lofty tower among the clouds at Hendrie Hall, room 304. 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.