It took me 17 auditions to get this seat

It took me 17 auditions to get this seat


norman lebrecht

April 22, 2017

Kelly Zimba, from Pittsburgh, won principal flute at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra last month.

She tells Classical Music Network what it took to get there:

photo; Shannon Langman


‘Including Toronto, I took 17 (auditions) in the span of 2.5 years.  In the beginning, I think I put too much pressure on doing well and advancing to the next round.  It didn’t work well.

‘When I stopped thinking about the results and tried to enjoy the process more, I started to see hints of success.  For me, the process wasn’t linear at all.  I would make the finals in one audition, and then not advance past the preliminaries in the next one.  It was random, and I don’t think I played that differently in each audition.  There are many factors in an audition that are out of your control, and I learned to be okay with that.

‘Financially, auditions can get expensive!  I took advantage of frequent flyer miles and hotel points when I could, but mostly I became obsessed with travel deals.  Staying in an Airbnb was often much less expensive than booking a hotel, and I usually tried to stay somewhere along a public transportation line with easy access to both the airport and the hall.

‘Occasionally, Groupon would have a hotel deal of which I could take advantage.  Sometimes, I would piece together two different flights/drives if it was cheaper than flying directly to a particular city. ‘

Read the full interview here.



  • Bruce says:

    17 is not so bad! Congratulations!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    And she never had to buy an extra seat on the plane for her flute!

    17 auditions doesn’t sound bad when there was success at the end.

    For most auditioners there will never be success. I wonder what the median number of auditions is before aspirants realize it’s not going to happen and give up.

    • MacroV says:

      It depends on how you do. If you routinely get knocked out in the first round, chances are you’ll give up fairly quickly, but if you’re making later rounds often enough, you’ll probably feel enough encouragement to keep trying, because if you’re making finals, you’re qualified. But in orchestra auditions, if you’re not first, you’re last.

    • Bruce says:

      It also depends on the person’s level of perseverance, which might also depend on the reasons why one is trying to become a musician in the first place. In school (and after), I’ve known people who decided to pursue a career in music because it was something they were good at — not necessarily because they loved it, but they were good at it and got more praise and encouragement for their musical talent than for anything else. Those people have tended to get discouraged after a relatively small number of auditions (say, around 5 or 6). Others, like John Ferrillo mentioned above, may have the emotional stamina to take 50 or more (I remember hearing from a relative of a Boston Symphony horn player that Boston was his 99th audition — if nothing else, that speaks to the ability to get back on one’s feet after taking beating after beating).

      • Robert Holmén says:

        However, even though “it depends” applies in each individual case, there is some number than can be attached to this.

        A finite number of players have gone to a finite number of auditions and a finite number of players have given up at some point. I wonder what the median is.

  • Patty Zimba says:

    Just a clarification … Kelly is from Pittsburgh, not Philadelphia.

  • Steve P says:

    This is a great read. So happy for the young flutist and her realization of a professional dream. Best of luck and continued success!

  • Jonny says:

    I went to undergrad with Kelly, I didn’t know her well but we had one music ed class together. She was always hard working, level headed, kind, etc.

    I got to watch her teach a few times. She was exactly as comfortable in the classroom as on stage.

  • Dileep Gangolli says:

    Good interview (I clicked on the link for the complete interview). I wish her the best of luck in her new position!