teenage girl trombone

Solo Festival season is upon us, as thousands of young musicians prepare to perform scales (from memory), solos and sight-reading for adjudicators (judges) across every state. Here in NY, we call it “going to NYSSMA”, which is the acronym for the state music organization (New York State School Music Association).

For some students, this event brings much trepidation, fear or performance anxiety, and for others, pure excitement. The opportunity to perform in front of a musician, who is trained to critique fairly and positively, is a great learning opportunity for the student, the parents and the judge. (In a future blog, I will address how to deal with performance anxiety.)

What can the student get out of the festival?

The whole point of the solo festival experience is performing music and HAVING FUN! We play music to feel certain emotions and make the listener feel those emotions too, but the student needs to have fun performing.

The outcome can be positive or negative, depending upon how the student perceives their performance and what their goals are for the festival. (“What you think about, comes about” Mark Victor Hansen) Why not “think about” having a great, fun performance?

If the student has thoroughly prepared their memorized scales and solo, and has practiced sight-reading diligently every day, he/she should be well prepared. The goal is, as stated above, have a fun time expressing yourself through music and sharing your performance with someone else.

Students can use the objective feedback and comments from the judge to improve their craft on their instruments or voice. But I find that many students don’t care about the comments, and only worry about their grade. The idea behind the comments is to help the student improve on a technical or musical aspect of their performance, where a point value cannot address a particular issue.

How can the public/private music teacher prepare their students?

I always have my students pick out their solos in November for the following spring festival. I play through three selections that I think they will like (or play recordings) and have them choose which piece they enjoy the most. (By the way, I don’t show them the music for the piece until after they choose. I want them to not be distracted by what they think may be too challenging for their abilities.) I try to pick pieces that have recordings available so the student can listen to style, articulation and phrasing.

One of the great ways to prepare for the festival is to do mock auditions. You can provide positive feedback and critique to make the student aware of the areas that need work.

This is a perfect opportunity to get to know how your student thinks. You can notice their reaction, and can explore other ways for them to deal with critique. Does your student take critique too personally, to the point of stifling their performance? If the student gets very anxious, use personal stories from your own experiences. Tell them how you dealt with your own auditions, how you prepared, and how you accepted the critique from the judge. It’s important for the student to know that their score and performance does not reflect who they are as a person.

Another way to be prepared is to register to become a certified judge (adjudicator) with your local or state music association. With each festival that you judge, you will improve your critiquing skills and notice problem areas much sooner. You will also improve your ability to articulate the best solutions because you will notice that many students make the same types of errors. As added bonuses, you will hear pieces that you can use for your students, and you can network with a whole bunch of other caring educators.

How can parents help their child prepare for solo festivals?

Parents usually are not aware of what exactly a solo festival is; don’t be afraid to ask your child’s music teacher about the process. The more informed you are, the calmer your child will be on that day.

Make sure your child has chosen their solo at least by December for the following spring festival. Order the original copies of the music in December before the mad rush of everyone else ordering at the last minute. Remember, no photocopies are allowed at the festivals (unless they are approved copies).

Encourage your child to practice consistently, and to follow a well-thought out practice plan. (See my article on setting up a practice plan: http://donnaschwartzmusic.com/blog/setting-up-a-practice-plan/)

At first the piece will not sound great; be very supportive! Your child wants your approval. If possible, see if there is a recording available on iTunes or www.amazon.com. Ask the music teacher if they have one available.

In future blogs, I will talk about preparing for the logistics of the audition day and how a typical audition goes, how to deal with performance anxiety, and what the judges are really looking for.

Action Steps:

1. Choose the piece in November or December (before the spring festival) and order the original copies needed at that time.

2. See if there are recordings available to purchase.

3. Teachers can get to know their students better by seeing how they react to critique. Share your own festival experiences.

4. Teachers should become certified adjudicators with their state music organizations. It benefits you and the students.

5. Parents can encourage their children to consistently practice and follow a practice plan.

6. Most importantly, students need to HAVE FUN! Isn’t that what music is about?

7. If you liked this article, please Like, Comment and Share on your social networks.

8. If you want more articles from me, please sign up for my newsletters at http://DonnaSchwartzMusic.com. By singing up, you will get my free article and video on Three Steps to Learning Your Favorite Song, and my free article on 4 Quick Tips to Knock Out Performance Anxiety.

(Image credit: guruxox / 123RF Stock Photo)