Insight Into Eastern Districts!

-by Emily Chen- Music is not a sport. At least not in the conventional sense in which musicians team up and attempt to score points with racing hearts and cheering crowds. However, music has its own special set of competitions and activities that allow our hearts to beat just a little faster and make those long hours of practicing seem worth it. In mid November, nine students of the Winsor School had the opportunity to represent our community at the Massachusetts Music Educators Association Eastern District Senior Festival auditions. Over 1,000 musicians from all over the Eastern District of Massachusetts gathered at Milton High School for a seven minute audition that would determine whether or not they moved on to the next round of competition for a position in the Massachusetts All State orchestra.

(photo credit: Emily Chen)
How musicians are judged at Eastern Districts (photo credit: Emily Chen)

10:30am – Upon arrival at Milton High School, overwhelming chaos descended upon me. The noise of thousands of instruments warming up was both intimidating and a reality check that I was actually participating in the Districts Festival.

10:32am – The number of different instruments at the Festival was incredible. There were singing groups warming up in the auditorium, their voices flying high above the honking trombone sounds coming from the brass warm up room. As I tried to navigate my way to the warm up room for strings, the twittering noises of a dozen piccolos came out of nowhere. The sounds were definitely unique to this frenzy of activity known as Districts. It was somewhat exciting to have so many musicians all in one place, although hearing the same piece over and over again was not the most pleasant experience. It made me wish that we were allowed to play our own choice of piece rather than having the standardized Czardas drilled into our heads for weeks.

10:33am – Finding the group of Winsor girls clumped together in the strings warm up room was a relief. Even though we had nine representative string players, our group was still too small for one of our music teachers to come as a chaperone. Thankfully, all of the parents were there, supporting and being our authoritative representative for the school.

10:35am – Around this time, I realized that I probably had to unpack my instrument and start to warm up, or I would look like the black sheep amongst the many nervous musicians frantically practicing last minute.

10:50am – The news went around the warm up room that the adjudicators were asking the violin players for a G major scale and a Bb major scale. It was also revealed that the excerpt from Czardas would be the first three lines and the last page. I was impressed by how everyone, no matter what school we went to, helped each other out. There was an air of intensity in how everyone nervously eyed each other, but this situation wasn’t your typical cutthroat competition either.

11:00am – The first Winsor girl was called in! Having someone from the same school go into an audition made me think that my turn wasn’t so far away. This realization made my palms sweat and my heart race a tad faster.

11:15am – Well, this time was the supposed call time for all of the Winsor students to start auditioning, but most of us were still waiting to play. There is such a thing as “over-practicing,” and I think that I was definitely starting to reach that point!

11:30am – The warm up room got continuously emptier as more players were pulled out in groups to start the audition process. While it became easier to hear myself play with less people screeching around me, my self-consciousness increased because I personally do not enjoy having other people hear me practice if they don’t have to. It also meant that my turn was coming sooner rather than later! The situation reminded me of the Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None. As more and more people stepped outside, my nervousness became worse, as evidenced by my damp hands. I just wanted to get this over with!

11:45am – No need to be nervous anymore, right? After all, I’m still waiting after being here for over an hour! I was one of six other players left in the warm up room. All of us looked at each other wearily, not sure whether to practice or just sit there and contemplate our upcoming audition.

11:50am – Finally! They called my name! Let the audition commence.

11:53am – The runners brought me to the room where I would play my scales. As I walked into the audition room, I took in my surroundings. It looked like an elementary classroom, even though this was a high school. The desks were really close to the ground, and the colorful posters on the wall had the typical cheesy slogans like “Confidence!” At the teacher’s desk sat the adjudicator, hidden behind a poster board. For some reason, I was expecting a much more sophisticated set-up, but the classroom poster board worked too! The runner read off my audition number and the male voice from behind the poster board intoned, “Please play a G major scale.” Here we go!

11:54am – The first audition didn’t go even half as long as I had expected. Immediately after stepping out of the first room, I was whisked away to the second room where I would play the standardized concerto for this particular competition, Czardas by Vittorio Monti. The entire process was like a well-oiled machine; there was a person to hold your audition ticket, a person to open the door, a person to read your audition number out loud, and even a person to walk you down the hall! I contemplated the number of people involved in this whole process as I stepped into the second room to play the concerto. Inside, there was the same poster board configuration, but this time a lady’s voice came from behind the board, “We don’t have much time, so please play only the first three lines and the last page.”

11:57am – Two auditions down, one more to go! The last room was where I would show my sight-reading skills. Looking at the unfamiliar piece on the stand, I had about 15 seconds to figure out how to play it before the judge (behind yet another poster board) chirped, “Please begin.”

11:58am – And the auditions were over! As I walked down the hall, I felt a sense of accomplishment, but also some uncertainty. Once the process started, everything went by so quickly that I was left wondering if I had forgotten a part of the process! Nevertheless, I was glad that I had had the opportunity to play at the Districts Festival. Just playing in the same competition as hundreds of other musicians in the surrounding towns was pretty incredible.