AuditionsWhen a student decides to try out for Districts, they have most likely been asked by their music teacher. In my case, I often put it out to the whole group. If I have a ton of interest, I just go with those kids. If I don't have as many as I hoped or if I know there is someone the experience would be very good form I will just find the student and ask them. Both girls who got in had decided they wanted to try out when I first mentioned it.
The first step in preparing for Districts is learning the audition piece. My student said "Getting into Districts is something I really wanted, so I practiced the piece for over a month." She also graciously said that if you have a music teacher that will help you that this step is very easy. My other student said "If you could imagine excitement and anxiety together as one emotion- that was exactly how I was feeling [while preparing for auditions.] I remember singing the audition piece for the first time and it was really exciting, just very scary. It involved a lot of really advanced skills, including having the best breath control, which I had a lot of trouble with, but in the end, the audition turned out great." Once students have learned the piece, they attend the auditions.
At auditions the students meet in the auditorium with all of the other choral students who are auditioning. (I giggled a bit when I read my students' responses and realized neither of them had written about the actual audition.) Many of my students mention being intimidated hearing all of the other singers from the district. One of my students got extremely nervous and didn't get in. He had never really sung 1 on 1 with an adult other than me. After auditions, students wait to hear if they got accepted to the festival or not. Since I was working at the festival, I knew that night and told my students that night. One thing that was interesting to me was that I asked my students if they wanted me to tell them when I knew or if they wanted me to just tell them on Monday when we got back to school. One of my eighth grade girls asked me to tell her over the weekend "so I can process everything, especially if I didn't get in. It would be really hard for me to find out if I didn't get into the festival when I was trying to go through my normal school day."
After the students find out they get in, they are mailed a packet of music. It is their responsibility to learn it before rehearsals. When they come together as a group, they have about 12 hours to get it to performance level. I rehearsed with each of my students whenever they could- usually during our lunches. One student said: "Rehearsals at Districts at first was not as great as it could have been because there had been some kids like me who had practiced the music multiple times, and there were kids who were sight reading it for the first time. On the second day, it was much better because everybody had already practiced it at least once. The morning of the concert (dress rehearsal) was the best practice of them all. Learning the music was kind of difficult because since I am an alto, I had to learn both alto 1 and 2 because it didn’t specify what I was singing. When I tried out, I auditioned for alto, not alto 1 or 2. After I knew what part I was singing and I practiced the music with all the girls in the choir, it was pretty easy. " This girl practiced with me close to 40 times. Every lunch and then some.
The other student said: " Getting in was a huge honor since I had seen how advanced the chorus was from the year before. I remember coming into the big chorus room at the high school and seeing all these girls. I felt so intimidated, but it was so cool to sing with these talented girls! Our conductor was great. She commended us for everything she likes, but never feared stopping us when we did something wrong. I believe the most important quality in a music teacher/conductor is understanding the music and not just the notes. It is necessary to feel the emotion that comes with a certain piece and I would say that was her strongest quality and I really admired that."
After rehearsing for their final 3 hours or so, the kids eat lunch, change into concert attire and prepare to "do their thing."
Student 1: "The concert was amazing! During the concert, the people there shut the lights on the parents, so the people performing could not get distracted. In my opinion, it was very helpful. After the concert everybody had to leave the auditorium and go to the cafeteria. It was very chaotic and crowded. It was very hard to find my family. After awhile I found my family and got to go home. I had a great time at Districts singing and hope to get in again next year." (Side note: We have 2 concerts. The first concert is for the choruses. The orchestra, band and jazz band have the 2nd concert. This has the potential of being a logistical nightmare when 1 set of parents is leaving the concert while the other set is arriving for theirs. This is what she was talking about when she mentioned the cafeteria.)
Student 2: "The concert turned out SO well. I had my little group of friends that I had made and the whole performance I couldn't stop smiling! The District chorus is by far one of the greatest experiences I have been gifted with and I hope to be involved with it in high school."
If your child ever expresses interest in one of these festivals, say yes! It is a lot of work but there are great benefits. For your student: exposure to new repertoire, learning under a new conductor, performance skills, audition experience, chance to make new friends, confirmation that they know their craft, and obviously a great opportunity to learn. I always see a great change in my students who have participated in Districts after they are home from the festival. Just this week student #1 has been singing louder than she ever has in class before. She sat herself down in the middle of a bunch of younger students when we were rehearsing a 5th-8th grade piece (for the 2nd time) and was a great leader. Student #2 I have only seen once since Districts but she also acted as a leader in the girls' piece. Student #3 (the boy) was a great leader in the 5th-8th rehearsal of the boys piece by trying to encourage the older guys to sit with someone they didn't know and help them in their music. He also made a suggestion in the warm-ups of my after school chorus, I asked if he'd like to try taking over the warm up section of that rehearsal and, surprisingly, he did. (He did well too. I might do this with some other kids for the rest of the year.)
I have already started preparing for next year's festival. I have to submit 3 choices of conductors by June 1.