Solo & Ensemble Competition Begins

Orchestra shares the steps of how they prepare and the goals for the contest

Aneelah Kauser

The second ensemble playing consists of two violins, a viola, and a cello, they are playing their two songs in the auditorium. On Tuesday the 25th of January seven ensembles perform their music on stage to get rid of their nerves. “I am excited for the rehearsal because I think it will be a good practice for us and it will help us grow as a team,” Freshman Maddeline Goff(second from the right) says.

Turning in the solo and ensemble form is the easy part.

But preparing for the actual competition is the real challenge.

Solo and Ensemble is a state-wide competition for orchestra where students play a solo or piece of music with a group of people, an ensemble, students can even do both. A judge gives a score after hearing the students play, and if they performed well and received a “one”,  they will earn a medal.

“My job is to provide the opportunity for them to participate, and to encourage them to use their strengths as players. Coordinating the accompanists and judging times is also very important,” Doctor Kempter, one of the orchestra directors said.

Each student, or group of students is graded by one judge on a scale of one to five. One being the best and if they get a ‘one’ on the piece, they can move onto the next competition and get a medal.

“I do feel like they are ready, having monitored their progress from the beginning,” Dr. Kempter said, “competitions are always good learning experiences and a great way to learn how to handle public performing under pressure.”

Students earning a Division One Rating at the region competition are eligible to advance to the UIL State Solo and Ensemble Contest.

“The students who get ones will advance the Texas State Solo and Ensemble Contest. This happens in May in Austin, TX. We will enter them if they want to go, we do not go as a group as other schools often do,” Dr. Kempter said.

In Solo and Ensemble students get a rating. One means superior. Solo and Ensemble contest–LZORK website stated “Students will receive the Judge’s Rating/Comment Sheet a few days afterward in school.” This sheet helps students improve for other competitions they might go to.

“In our school I would say 70-80% get ones in the competition.” Dr.  Kempter said.

The competition is on the 29th of January, and to find out your times and what room to go to on Saturday just check the pages  hanging on the whiteboard in the orchestra room.

“I do feel ready for the competition, but I also think we have some things we need to work on before we are completely ready,” Freshman Maddeline Goff said.

There is a rehearsal on Tuesday the 25th of January at 7:00pm, where all of the ensembles will play their songs to be more confident at playing in public.

“I really do not like performing in front of my peers. I can play my pieces well, but when you put nerves into the equation, that doesn’t end well for me,” Freshman Sophie Bevins said.

There are many eligibility requirements for the competition, the WMEA–WIAA State Solo and Ensemble contest website states “Participating students are required to be members of an appropriate large performing group accredited class (band/percussion, orchestra, choir or show/jazz/madrigal ensemble) at their high school.” This is also for the UIL Solo and Ensemble competition like the one on Saturday.

“Students must be passing all their 2nd 9 week classes, or get a waiver if permissible for AP level classes to be eligible for the contest,” Dr. Kempter said.

Many things have changed due to COVID-19, the Morning Journal’s article WBMS ‘students participate in Solo & Ensemble despite Covid restrictions’ states “This year with Covid, things have been quite different. The seventh-grade choir students at West Branch Middle School have worked hard with all the restrictions in place, and then had to go to remote learning for a few weeks before winter break. That time right before break is when they typically begin music for solo and ensemble competition.” This may be for choir but lots have changed for orchestra competition as well.

“Due to COVID-19, UIL has adopted a campus-based approach, so each school has their own event. This started last year, and we find it much easier to manage all the details,” Dr. Kempter said.

The Step-by-step guide to making All-State Band/Orchestra with Tips on winning Auditions stated “I recommend setting aside 2-4 hours daily for practice, and separating these into one-hour chunks. For example, in the summer, have a morning practice session from 10-11am for scales and long tones, then another from 1-2pm for a weekly etude, and another from 8-10pm for etudes, solos, or scales as needed.”

“I personally don’t practice as much as I would like to at home but when I do practice I do it for around an hour to an hour and a half just to make up for me not practicing as often,” Maddeline said.

The Step-by-step guide to making All-State Band/Orchestra with Tips on winning Auditions stated “Do not attempt to take the auditions alone! It is hard enough with guidance. While finding a good teacher may take a few trial lessons and may cost a significant amount, finding the right match is imperative.”

“My lessons help a lot, it’s so nice to have a teacher who is focused only on you instead of focusing on the whole class,” Sophie said.

In the performance regulations section in the University of Texas UIL website it states, “All solos and ensembles must be accompanied by piano.” At College Park the price for a professional pianist is $50 and you get two rehearsals with the pianist.

“My rehearsal with the pianist went well, she made suggestions on how I can improve my solo with the piano with me,” Sophie said, “even though a solo is by yourself, you are still backed up by the pianist, it’s a team effort to stay on beat and harmonize correctly.”

Solo ensemble used to be required, Doctor Kempter noted that our school has a long history of participating the most in the entire district. Many students are participating this year even though it is not mandatory.

“I am very excited and nervous for solo and ensemble,” Sophie said, “even if I don’t score a one, I know that I gained skills from my solo, and teamwork skills with other people in this experience.”