Who knew playing and enjoying music was so dependent on being able to gather with fellow musicians? The coronavirus pandemic has forced so many cherished past-times to adjust to social distancing guidelines, and music is no exception.
In September, students from all over New York received invitations to this year’s All-State Orchestra. Four of them were our very own SHS seniors: violinists Joanna Wang ’21 and Vivian Guo ’21 for Symphony Orchestra, violinist Keerthana Chari ’21 for String Orchestra, and cellist Karen Lee ’21 as an Alternate.
The announcement came as a surprise in many ways, but everyone was happy to hear that the pandemic had not canceled All-State. Wang did not realize that All-State was still happening until SHS Orchestra Director Amédée Williams congratulated her in class. “I was surprised because I didn’t know it was happening this year at all,” recounted Wang. Similarly, Chari was surprised but ecstatic to receive an invitation in the mail amidst the pandemic. “Getting accepted to All-State has been a dream of mine for many years,” explained Chari.
The announcement came as a surprise since the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) Festival, which rates the quality of playing and is used to audition for All-State, was canceled in spring. Although the pandemic also canceled the annual conference at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center, students were able to be selected from previous NYSSMA scores.
“It’s too bad for the students who didn’t audition last year and might have this year before NYSSMA was canceled, explained Williams. Without scores from the previous years, there was no way for the team to evaluate the student. “I thought the method was a little strange, but… there’s not much else that they can do, and I was happy to hear that I was accepted,” said Guo.
Although the orchestra cannot gather in-person, there are plans for virtual rehearsals, and musicians will send in recordings of themselves playing the pieces separately. Later, those videos will get edited together and published. “I’m not too sure how the final All-State performance will turn out, but I’m feeling open-minded and excited!” said Chari.
For many, this would be their first and only year in All-State Orchestra, which is saddening because they will not get the full experience. “I was… disappointed because I know that normally for people that get in, they get to take a couple of days off from school… [to] go upstate,” said Wang. Wang understands, however, that safety always comes first.
“I feel like the experience of going to Area All-State or All County was always fun because I got to eat dinner with my friends or make funny faces at them across the orchestra… At the same time, there’s not much else that [the organizers] can do, said Guo. “I understand what they did, and it is probably for the best,” she added.
Typically, teachers would also travel with their students to the All-State Conference, but this year they will be supporting students from the school. “You do the best you can with what you have, but I hardly get to see [the students] right now, so that’s why we’re doing the early mornings,” explained Williams. Williams is currently working hard to make his orchestra classes as organized as possible in the hybrid schedule. “The thing that worries me is that the school might close again because we really need to be in-person to rehearse… But I think students are doing a great job social distancing, so hopefully, by January, we’ll be able to open up more,” Williams added.
Nothing is crystal clear at the moment, but everyone is happy for a chance to make music together, albeit virtually. A community of musicians is like no other, and music-lovers everywhere await their swift return. “I’m just glad to be able to contribute to… [an] orchestral performance and hopefully to learn some new repertoire. Orchestra repertoire can be so beautiful and educational, and I always look forward to the new pieces that each orchestra will bring,” Chari concluded.