There’s nothing like the experience of a live audition—part improvisation, part performance, and all nerves. And when the auditions are for places in district ensembles, competing against music students from four counties, the stakes are even higher.
Five students from The Williston Northampton School took on the challenge of such auditions earlier this year when they went to the Western Massachusetts District Festivals, held at Westfield State University and sponsored by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association.
The students competed in two groups: upper school students went to senior district auditions on Nov. 10 and a middle school student went to junior district auditions on December 1.
Three students scored high enough on sight reading, a prepared solo, and scales to be invited to perform with the district groups. Haoshu Xu ’13 was accepted into the Western Massachusetts Senior District Orchestra; Alex Li ’15 to the Western Massachusetts Senior District Chorus; and Cara Hudson-Erdman ’17 was accepted into the Western Massachusetts Junior District Band.
“I love playing the violin and just thought it would be fun and challenging to do it,” Xu wrote in an email about the festival. “[It was] a good chance to see kind of where I am in terms of individual skills and how well I work in an orchestra of another context, because I usually play in a school-setting small ensemble.”
Xu said she passed part of the time before her auditions comparing notes with a freshman girl from Miss Hall’s. To overcome their nerves, the students worked on scales together and chatted about their athletic games scheduled for that afternoon.
“Waiting to be called into the audition room in the long, empty hallway was a little nerve-wracking,” Xu wrote, adding that “The judges were both really nice and got me excited about playing in front of them and getting comments to help me improve.”
Music teacher Catherine Kay said the auditions were an invaluable experience for the students—a chance to push themselves musically.
“When students have the opportunity to stretch themselves, they also become more interested in continuing to do that,” Kay said. “It builds on itself.”
Xu, Li, and Hudson-Erdman will now spend two Saturdays practicing with their respective groups before performing in concerts at the University of Massachusetts Fine Arts Center on January 12 and March 16, for the senior and junior districts, respectively.
This is the first time in a few years that Williston students have auditioned for the district festivals, Kay said. In past years, the logistics of auditioning and rehearsing on Saturdays proved too large of a hurdle to overcome, she added.
“It takes a level of commitment on the part of the students,” Kay said. “I felt it was important to offer again something that’s so different from what we’re able to offer on a daily basis here.”
Kay said she hopes to return to the district festivals next year, and expects that recent changes to Williston’s music program that allow for more ensemble work will only increase student interest in such high-level auditions—and in the opportunity to potentially play or sing with a larger group.
“We’ve got wonderful vocal opportunities here, but not a chorus of close to 200 people,” she said. “It’s a whole different experience to be able to sing at that level and in that context.”
12/17 Update: On Saturday, Dec. 15, Alex Li auditioned successfully for All State Chorus. He was invited to sing with the chorus during a Feb. 28-March 2 festival, which includes two jam-packed days of rehearsals and culminates in a concert in Boston’s Symphony Hall on Saturday, March 2.