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The Commons
Photo 1

Anne Lawrence Guyon/Special to The Commons

The Bellows Falls Union High School band.

News

A 'note'-worthy weekend

Students throughout Vermont come to town to perform at All-State Music Festival

Originally published in The Commons issue #408 (Wednesday, May 17, 2017).



BRATTLEBORO—“Every year that I go to All-State, it’s inspiring to see the number of students in our state that really have a deep commitment to music making and music learning,” said Steve Rice, head of the Music Department and Band Director at Brattleboro Union High School.

This year’s 90th annual Vermont All-State Music Festival was held May 10-13 in Brattleboro. The festival offers Vermont’s high school music students a chance to perform in a band, orchestra, chorus, or jazz ensemble under the supervision of some the country’s best conductors.

This year included a parade in downtown Brattleboro; jazz, chorus, and band and orchestra concerts; and one scholarship concert. All concerts were held at BUHS in the gymnasium and auditorium.

“Things have gone really well,” Rice said. “You hope for good weather, and [Wednesday’s parade] turned out to be a beautiful afternoon and evening. We ended up having about 13 bands that performed. Some from a couple of hours away, and some local.”

Though the majority of students were high-schoolers, some elementary and middle schoolers from smaller schools performed as well.

“There was even one band that marched all of their instrumentalists from their school district, grades 4 through 12 all in one band,” Rice said.

A rigorous process

What does it take for students to become All-State performers?

“The audition process varies a little bit depending on what ensemble you’re hoping to audition for,” Rice said. “We’ll start with students who are auditioning on instruments to be considered for the orchestra or band. They have to prepare a very challenging solo piece of music and then they also have to be able to play all of the major scales and the chromatic scale. [They] also have to sight-read a piece of music — in other words, play a piece of music that they’ve never seen before.”

Rice said the jazz process is similar, but it involves more improvisation, a skill at the heart of the genre.

“For chorus, they audition in quartets. Each time a student in the chorus auditions, they’re singing one of four parts — soprano, alto, tenor, or bass — so they sing their part, along with a quartet of other students from their school.”

Students are then evaluated in terms of how they sing their individual pieces as well as how they sing within an ensemble.

“In addition to that, singers also have to do two different sight-reading components — one that is just rhythmic, and one that is just melodic.”

About the audition process, BUHS junior Meara Seery, a trumpet player, said, “The judges are always really nice, but it’s very intimidating. Personally, I play a lot worse in auditions than I do when I’m practicing because I’m so hyper-aware of everything, and critical.”

BUHS sophormore Ari Essunfeld, a percussionist, added, “There’s competition, of course, so it takes a lot more preparation than just music you might play in another situation.”

New friendships

This year was Seery’s first time involved in the All-State festival, and Essunfeld’s second. Seery is from Brattleboro and is involved in softball, and Essunfeld is from Putney and plays tennis.

For now, Seery is focusing on school, music, and softball, and considering college in the future. Essunfeld hopes to study aerospace engineering at a college in California — “either Stanford or UC Berkeley,” he said, in a tone that blended confidence and humility.

“We are practicing 12 hours each day,” Essunfeld said. Both added that they are missing their sports games and school time in order to participate in the festival.

There is a rigor to the festival, however, “[All-State] is a very enjoyable, pleasant atmosphere,” Essunfeld said.

“It’s so much better than normal band,” Seery said. “I mean normal band is good too, but this is more intense. I like it.”

“I agree with the challenging aspect,” Essunfeld added, “it’s more independent [with] higher expectations and a higher level of standards.”

The students interact with peers from throughout their state for the festival, creating enrichment both musically and socially.

“You make lots of new friends,” Essunfeld said, “and it’s good because it’s both in your section because you have to work with them, and also in other sections. Then you can have lunch and play Frisbee outside. And it’s nice because you wouldn’t think you were going to meet so many kids from, say, Burlington, if you’re down in Brattleboro. But it’s a nice opportunity, and many of us share mutual interests.”

“I just made a new friend like 5 seconds ago!” Seery exclaimed with a laugh.

Community support

Rice also expressed admiration toward the students, “and the way that they dive into this experience so whole-heartedly, and absorb it ... and are able to bring that back to their school programs and make their school programs even stronger. [They] inspire the other students from their school to achieve even higher levels.”

Rice added, “I want to express the deep gratitude that we have, as teachers who hosted this festival, to the greater Brattleboro community, especially [for] the ones who opened up their homes to house the students.

“When you’re hosting the All-State Festival, that’s the thing that you worry about the most: ‘Are we going to be able to find places for these kids to stay?’”

“There are so many details and aspects to the festival, and it’s really been a team effort. It really is a great testament to the values of our community.”

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