- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Typical auditions for spots in the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra can yield hundreds of applicants. Screens and rugs are set out on stage to ensure anonymity.

For these tryouts, however, the Heinz Hall stage instead had a mop bucket in case there was an accident.

Ten canines and their handlers tried out for a chance to perform with the PSO in Leopold Mozart’s “Hunting Horn Symphony,” which calls for dog-musicians to bark alongside horn soloists. The first movement of the piece will be played during a free concert at Point State Park during the Three Rivers Arts Festival in June.

The finalists were culled from 11 online video submissions in which the pups were asked to sit, stay, bark, and be silent on command. All but one was chosen as finalists for Tuesday’s live auditions at Heinz Hall. (In that case, the dog did not bark, which was deemed a deal-breaker.)

Hounds and handlers came on stage in pairs. As a short recording played throughout the hall, resident conductor Fawzi Haimor gave cues to handlers, who in turn signaled to the dogs to bark.

Haimor was a judge along with horn players Bob Lauver and Ron Schneider; Dan Rossi, executive director of the Animal Rescue League; and Kristen Lane, director of marketing and public relations of the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

They considered several factors, including the ability to bark and stop on command, project loudly, not be distracted and stay still. The judges also looked for a variety of tones.

“Each dog has to have its own unique sound,” Haimor said.

Jetty, a seven-year-old Newfoundland, opened up the auditions. With whispered commands, subtle hand-motions and a few treats, handler Bethany Karger brought out a strong performance from the 140-pound canine.

Then came Grizzly, Anuka, Sonny, Oscar, Leo, Jermiah, Otis, Sergeant Preston and Bailey.

Sonny, 7, is a veteran competitor. He won the American Kennel Club Rally National Championship in Harrisburg in March and on Tuesday was ranked the third-best border collie in the country, said his handler, Lucy McCloskey of South Park. Here, he demonstrated a ringing tenor, consistent tone and even rhythm.

“Good job, baby boy,” McCloskey said as they walked off stage.

“I think raising a paw at the end, there’s got to be bonus points for that,” Schneider said.

Oscar appeared to get stage fright and sneezed during the performance. Otis, a bloodhound, had prodigious jowls that were not conducive to equally prodigious barks.

PSO employee Francine Schiffman Lumia volunteered her mutt, Sergeant Preston, who had strong stage presence and a voice that blared like a trumpet.

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