Lessons come from all sorts of places. Recently an article in the New York Times described the surprising number of vacancies nationwide in major symphony orchestras, including the N.Y. Philharmonic, which will have an unprecedented 12 vacancies next season (12% of its "workforce").
Here are some things that stood out from the article:
1) The customers (audience) may not notice. Top seats do not go vacant because assistant principals step up or substitutes are hired.
2) Economic problems have impacted an incredibly wide breadth of industries. Some positions are left vacant because it is cheaper to do so.
3) Leaders sometimes defer the decision. Some conductors have passed on filling positions to give their successor an opportunity to make the pick.
4) The selection process is resource intensive and difficult to coordinate. This is primarily due to the difficulty in getting the conductor and a committee of players (let's call them SMEs) together to do the judging.
5) Sometimes no decision is made. Even after the months of advertising and auditioning a suitable person isn't found. Kudos to those organizations with the wisdom to pass, assuming a valid selection process.
6) Which raises the next point--the selection process is suspect at best. Why? Well, aside from the historical gender discrimination, the process used to select musicians relies upon a single hour-long work sample test. What if the person is having a bad day? Perhaps more importantly, the most important criteria--symphony performance--relies upon all the players working together.
7) On a related point, applicants aren't being judged solely on technical proficiency. Committee members also judge them on fit, or as one described it, they look for "thinking, thoughtful musicians who are the whole package". What does that mean? It's hard to say, since, as stated in the article, "orchestra officials and musicians are loath to discuss the auditioning process in detail." Here's a question: why? Afraid that the "correct answers" will get out there--or afraid of the critical eye that may be focused on them?