Stoughton High School sophomore Meredith Thiessen lives by Andrew Grant’s quote, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
That is the mentality Thiessen followed when she performed her flute and piano routines to submit on April 25 for the Wisconsin School Music Association State Virtual Solo and Ensemble festival. Stemming from fears of the novel coronavirus’s spread, the WSMA State Solo and Ensemble festival was hosted virtually this year. And one of the biggest differences is high school musicians didn’t have to perform live in front of an adjudicator.
“You needed to have it more perfect because you could re-record it,” Thiessen said.
She said some of the anxiety was easier to cope with on performance day.
“You didn’t have to look at a judge and worry about all of the nerves,” she said.
Thiessen performed a flute solo, “Movement One Of The Seanad” and scored exemplary with a 5 out of 5. In her piano solo, “Air and Variations” by George Frideric Handel, she scored a 4.
Judges used a rubric to score the performance that includes tone, intonation, accuracy, technique and expression. Each category includes descriptors of what a high-quality performance should demonstrate and performers are rated on a five-point scale in each category, with five being the highest score this year. The score is determined by averaging the points earned in each category.
More than 5,000 students overall took part in the WSMA Virtual Solo Festival, which opened in March and concluded in May. The submissions included more than 2,000 vocal and 2,900 instrumental state submissions and 2,000 school districts.
Students were able to upload their performance video and receive evaluation through written comments.
They had to earn a “starred first” rating in Class A (which consists of the most difficult music) at a WSMA District Music Festival to qualify for WSMA State Music Festivals. The participants, in grades 6-12, can choose from a variety of instrumental and vocal solo and ensemble categories for their performances in district festivals throughout the state.
Erika Meyer, the fifth to eighth grade orchestra teacher in the Stoughton School District, was one of more than 200 WSMA certified adjudicators who donated her time. Meyer judged 72 submissions.
Adjudicators were required to provide written comment evaluations after they watched the performance video.
Meyer said sometimes the best way to communicate a skill is through demonstration and the human interaction connection was lost in a virtual setting.
“Trying to explain over text the best way to hold a bow or to create the correct curve of the fingers is hard to do,” Meyer said. “My hope is that my written comments still communicate what I would have said to the performer had we been in-person.”
Thiessen is a proponent of the live performances with an adjudicator in the room studying all of her expressions. She likes the instant performance feedback.
“I kind of prefer to have the judge in the room,” she said. “You can talk to the judge right away about what you need to work on.”
She has been playing the piano for 10 years and the flute for five years. She plays the flute in the SHS band.
Thiessen was a member of the school’s musical “Beauty and the Beast” and she also helps out with plays in the winter. She said music is a hobby she wants to continue when she attends college.
Stoughton sophomore Annaliese Skerpan played the clarinet and scored a 5 on her performance.
Skerpan, a member of the SHS Band, said the state competition was a lot less stressful this year.
“I did find myself wanting to record it until it was perfect,” she said.
Skerpan said the process of uploading her performance to You-Tube and submitting it was a lengthy process.
She didn’t mind getting the feedback a couple of days after her performance.
“It was the best they could have done given the circumstances,” Skerpan said.
Musicians who received “Honorable Performance” designations can be extended an invitation to perform in a recital at the Wisconsin Music Educators Association Teachers Convention in October at the Monona Terrace.
“This was so important to still have because for seniors this is their final performance and final opportunity to participate in a WSMA District or State Festival,” Meyer said. “While the virtual festival wasn’t quite the same as performing in person at the state level, students in their final year of competing still receive judges’ comments, awards and the feeling of accomplishment for qualifying and performing.”