A career of musical chairs
Madison native enjoys bigger stage with Atlanta Symphony
Wednesday, March 20, 2013 11:00 AM
When Dave Vonderheide walks on stage for an audition, he carries his trumpet out to a single music stand and chair in front of a screen.
Dave Vonderheide discusses his journey as a professional trumpet player during a visit to Madison. Vonderheide has taken a sabbatical from the Virginia Symphony Orchestra to play with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, which is considered to be one of the top 10 orchestras in the country, he said. (Staff photo by Seth Grundhoeferfirstname.lastname@example.org)
The 38-year-old professional musician is introduced as a number assigned to him, before playing the music set on the stand. Sometimes he's had time to review the music and sometimes he has to play it on the spot.
"When you go to an audition, it's all blind," Vonderheide said. "There's probably five to 10 people behind the screen that you can't see."
"Auditioning is its own thing. It's a whole different ball of wax," he said.
Last August, Vonderheide - a Madison native and the son of Betsey and Mel Vonderheide - won a temporary position as acting principal trumpet player with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
It was the sixth time he had auditioned for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
After the season is over in June, he will go through the audition process again in hopes of filling the spot of principal trumpet player permanently.
"The job in Atlanta right now is not tenure track, that's the job I'm applying for this summer. That's what I have in Virginia."
Vonderheide is currently the principal trumpet player for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, though he is on sabbatical so he can play in Atlanta.
He's been playing with the Virginia orchestra since he was 23 years old. He landed his first job out of college as the associate principal trumpet player. He held that job for 12 years, teaching music at College of William and Mary in Virginia at the same time.
Three years ago, he won the job of principal trumpet player for the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. During that time, Vonderheide said he's been on at least 75 auditions for different orchestras across the country.
"That's always the dream, right? To play at the highest level with the best people," Vonderheide said.
There are several rounds to the auditioning process. The first is a blind round, then a semifinal round followed by the final round. Vonderheide said that by then, the process is usually narrowed down to between three and five musicians.
Before landing the temporary job in Atlanta, Vonderheide had been a finalist in some of the leading orchestras in the country.
"I've been a finalist for the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, the L.A. Philharmonic, the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center and the St. Louis Symphony before eventually finally winning one," he said.
While the auditioning process is tough, Vonderheide said he never really gets discouraged.
"Most people give up long before I did," he said. "They finally decide to settle down and put down roots. My wife's a violinist and we just kind of kept each other hungry. She was doing it, so I was doing it. We both wanted to get to a higher level."
Vonderheide said the audition process is tough because of the number of music majors graduating from college every year.
At the same time, orchestras around the country are being locked out or going on strike because of financial issues.
"Music schools are turning out people all the time and there are no jobs for these people. Orchestras all around the country are having trouble. They're playing at a higher level than ever and it's getting harder and harder to win jobs. I'm just really lucky that I've been able to find a job, let alone a job at such a good orchestra," he said.
Vonderheide has been playing the trumpet since he was a sixth-grader. The Madison Consolidated High School graduate said he started thinking about majoring in music in his later high school years.
"I was in marching band, and I went through all that and eventually kept going," Vonderheide said. "My dad started taking me to Louisville to get private lessons. That was kind of when you veered off into something a little more serious."
He was accepted to Northwestern University, which he says is a great school to study trumpet.
"That pretty much decided it," he said.
In October, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra was invited to play at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Vonderheide said it was one of the highlights of his career so far.
He's hoping to land the permanent job in Atlanta, not only because of opportunities like playing in New York, but because the previous two permanent principal trumpet players for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra have moved on to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the L.A. Philharmonic, which he says are two of the top organizations in the country.
Even though he has to go through another tough audition process, he says he's not worried.
"I never really get discouraged. I just keep thinking that somehow this is all going to work out. I sort of have blind faith I guess."