In the coming weeks, thousands of students from all across Western New York will be auditioning in solo festivals hosted by the ECMEA, or Erie County Music Educators Association.
Approximately 4,500 students in grades 4-12 will participate, with hopes of being placed in one of the 20 all-county elementary, junior high, or senior high ensembles.
The 2,100 students selected will make up seven choruses, five bands, four orchestras and four jazz ensembles that will practice and perform in five weekend festivals throughout March. The combined audience will total around 10,000 people, watching students of all ages display their artistic development and hard work over the past few months.
ECMEA is a nonprofit organization that started in 1949, and supports music education throughout the Erie County and Western New York area. Since its creation, the organization has provided leadership in the professional growth of countless teachers and students.
ECMEA offers special opportunities, such as the aforementioned music solo auditions and festivals, and awards music scholarships to deserving high school seniors who plan on pursuing a career in music. Since these scholarships were first awarded in 1957, ECMEA has granted nearly $300,000 to worthy students in Western New York.
Lynne Ruda is a member of the board of directors for the ECMEA, as well as a judge for the solo auditions and a teacher at Lancaster High School. She enjoys many different parts of the audition process, each one unique and beneficial for the students.
"As a judge, my favorite part of the ECMEA solo audition is seeing a student come in and rise to the pressure of an audition," she said. "There is nothing I love more than hearing a musical performance of their solo."
Ruda continued explaining the benefits of these auditions when she said, "As a public school teacher, my favorite part about solo auditions is the process, and seeing the amount of student growth during their time working on the solo. Often times, my students have never attended an all-county festival before they are in my program, so it is a huge step for them to build the confidence to even be able to walk in the door and perform on their instrument by themselves."
As for the festivals themselves, Ruda said that the process of bringing young musicians together from all over Western New York, even for only a few days, is an incredible process to watch.
"Often times, the musicians are rehearsing next to other students they have never met from across the county," she said. "Every year it is truly incredible to me that these talented students, who have never rehearsed together, can perform such challenging repertoire at such a high level."
So, for a student or young musician, this seems like a lot, right? Well, according to Ruda, the positive aspects of an audition far outweigh any negatives that may occur.
First, at every ECMEA audition, students receive feedback from experienced judges on their solos, as well as other parts of the audition such as scales and sight reading.
"The score from an ECMEA audition is a good barometer for a student to compare themselves to others at their level across the county and a huge benefit is the valuable feedback that a student receives from the judge’s comments," she said.
In addition, Ruda firmly believes that while auditions put students into a seemingly stressful situation, they prepare students for the future, and other important situations that may be nerve-wracking.
"Auditions are great character-builders," she said. "I always tell my students that even if they are not continuing in a career in music, they will, at some point, find themselves in a high-pressure situation – whether that be a college interview or a job interview. It is important to know how to mentally prepare for a high-pressure situation."
Similarly, these auditions help students learn how to prepare for such situations, which requires planning, preparation and, as always, practice.
Students who may be on the fence about auditioning should just go for it, Ruda said. She said she reminds her students that any feedback you receive is good feedback, and will help you grow as a musician.
However, she also notes that students will get out of their audition what they put in to prepare it.
"If you work hard – practice smart, listen to recordings, work on technique – you will have a positive experience regardless of the score that ends up at the bottom of the sheet," she said. "You should aim for a personal best and use each audition as a stepping stone to find a better musical self."
It’s important to know that the entire ECMEA experience is only to help you grow as a musician, which may one day open the door to other opportunities.
For Ruda, ECMEA has inspired her and caused her to want to become more involved. She said, "Being at the auditions and the festivals as a young teacher inspired me to get involved with ECMEA, and I hope that more teachers take an active role hosting, chairing and participating in ECMEA because it is an incredible organization."
For more information on audition and festival dates or locations, visit the ECMEA website, www.ecmea.org. Tickets for the festival concerts are $5.
Bryan Renzoni is a sophomore at Clarence High School.