Music festival auditions put young musicians on edge

The sound of scales reverberated in the halls of Foran High School on a recent weekend as singers warmed up their voices and instrumentalists prepared to play solos they’d been rehearsing for months.

Tension was high for the high school students who were preparing for the Connecticut Music Educators Association Southern Regional High School auditions.

Scoring high enough would land the students a spot in the Southern Region Music Festival in January in Meriden, and a chance to audition for the state-level festival later. Both are big achievements in the world of high school music.

About 1,000 students from the region descended on Foran High School Saturday for their chance to sit before two judges, by themselves, behind the closed door of a classroom and show their musical skills.

Hallways and rooms were sectioned by instrument or voice: “Soprano sight reading,” read the sign on one door; “trumpet sight reading” read another.

Katelynn Algarin, a Foran student, waited with her oboe outside one classroom for her turn to enter. She’d been practicing her scales and solos since the end of June, and was a bit anxious.

“It’s pretty important to know you got in and to know you accomplished something,” Katelynn said about earning a spot in the festival.

Her music teacher, Jessica Shearer, walked up and offered words of encouragement.

“Just relax,” Shearer said. “Think of who you were then and who you are now. Now you have this passion; go in there focusing on those feelings.”

Katie Buckheit stood across the hall from Katelynn, holding her bassoon. The door opened and she was called inside. Katie looked nervous, and Katelynn said, “Good luck.”

The door closed and the sound of scales seeped through the door as Katie performed her pieces. After about 10 minutes she came back out, smiled and said, “I’m glad it’s over.”

“Now I’m nervous,” she added.

The two girls chatted a few minutes about the scales the judges asked Katie to play.

“It’s stressful because you don’t know what they’re going to ask you to play,” Katie explained. “It could be a portion of a scale.”

“I started practicing in May,” she added. “So it’s been a long time.”

Shearer had a busy weekend as one of the main movers and shakers behind the weekend auditions at Foran. Schools in the region take turns hosting the event, and it’s a lot of time and coordination to put things together, from scheduling student auditions to lining up the more than 80 judges needed.

“My dad is a judge,” Shearer said with a little laugh. Her father is a retired music teacher.

But it’s worth the effort, she added.

“Somebody did this for me when I was a student,” Shearer said. She made All-States in high school, and the achievement meant a lot.

Generally during an audition, instrumentalists are asked to perform scales, sight read and then perform a solo. In total, the musical tryout lasts about 14 minutes, and then that’s it. Scoring is posted online, and Shearer said that within a few days students know if they made the cut.

In past years, students found out right away if they made it or not, which meant there was a decent amount of crying and other signs of victory and defeat outside the classrooms. This way, with scoring released after the event, there are “no tears,” Shearer said.

Chris Vanacore, a Guilford High School student, and Ryan Gosselin, a Westbrook student, were leaving the high school with confidence around noon Saturday, having already completed their auditions.

“I think I did well,” said Ryan, a trombone player.

Chris plays the saxophone, and his solo was part of Take the A Train.

“I felt like I did between moderately good and very good,” Chris said. “My friends outside the door listening said I did well.”

The two said auditioning for the festival is important because it lets the performer know the level of his skill, and then gives the musician a chance to show off that skill at the festival. From there, making the cut gives musicians a chance to see if they are All-State material.

“And it’s a really big deal to make All-State,” Chris said. “Even to try out for it is a big deal.”