By Mia Schenenga
Each November, middle and high school music students across Rhode Island prepare and audition for the Rhode Island Music Educators Association’s All-State ensembles. The RIMEA All-State ensembles include a band, orchestra, chorus, and jazz band at each the junior, grades 7-9, and senior, grades 10-12, levels. Through auditions, the best musicians from around the state are brought together typically for a few evening rehearsals in February. It culminates with the three-day All-State weekend in mid-March, where students rehearse all Friday and Saturday, and then the ensembles each perform a concert throughout the day on Sunday at the VETS memorial auditorium for their families. Sadly, last year’s All-State festival weekend was cancelled due to the unfortunate timing in how it coincided with the beginning of our COVID-19 lock-down.
In a typical year, the audition weekend would have student musicians performing an audition piece, scales, sight reading, and occasionally technique pieces for adjudicators in various locations across Rhode Island depending on the student’s age, ensemble, and instrument. Students who audition are then ranked based on their performance, and from that ranking, the top musicians are accepted into the ensemble, and their chair, meaning where they sit in the ensemble, is selected. The exact number accepted depends on the ensemble and instrument, but acceptance into All-State is both an honor and a source of great excitement among student musicians. This year, however, the auditions are being held completely virtually. Students are expected to record selected scales and their solo piece in one sitting, and then submit it to RIMEA for evaluation. The audition window is open this year from Saturday, November 14 at 6:00 a.m. through Saturday, November 21 at 11:59 p.m.
Although this year is anything but normal, many EGHS students are still auditioning throughout next week. After speaking with both orchestra and band members, it seems that the general consensus is that auditioning virtually has both its pros and cons. According to junior violist Lauren Pomeroy, “The auditions this year are harder to navigate.” While submitting auditions virtually is not ideal, most students are glad that All-State is still trying to work around the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Lauren continued, “I hope that they will have the orchestra [be able to] meet safely, because it is very hard to practice with an orchestra virtually.” Virtual music is a challenge, as the lag in video call platforms, whether over Zoom or Google Meets, upsets the timing of music. Additionally, it is harder for teachers to work with students on technical concepts, and the normal musicality – dynamics, phrasing, etc. – often has to be completely ignored in favor of recording with a metronome in order to be able to put group pieces together.
Freshman Dean Ganji, who plays the bass, also made an interesting point. “We technically have as many tries as we can do in one week, so like everyone, I will probably do a lot of tries.” Dean continued, “I have to practice even more because everyone else will probably do many tries.” The idea that you can record as many videos as you can until you find one you like puts pressure on students to make the best recording possible in order to compete with others who are auditioning, rather than usual where you would get one chance in-person. On the other hand, virtual auditions are less stressful for some students. Sophomore violinist Griffin Clark noticed a significant decrease in nervousness for auditions this year. “There’s something about not having to perform live that’s relieving for sure,” he said. Griffin continued, “By having a week to take as many videos as we want, we have a chance to kind of control how we do.” This year, the auditions are bringing about a different kind of pressure, spread out over a longer period of time. Students are aiming higher for their video auditions, and while competition may be higher, virtual auditions seem to be a lower-stress situation for this year.
This year is one like no other, and RIMEA All-State auditions are no exception. Hopefully, come the spring, there will be some in-person options for music and other extracurriculars like that, as it just isn’t the same when working online. Virtual auditions are new to all musicians, and many students really appreciate the effort that RIMEA is making to work around the restrictions that the pandemic has brought in a way that is both effective and safe for all those involved. Good luck to all students who are auditioning for All-State ensembles in this coming week!