Reply To: All State Band Auditions

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t has taken me a few days to add to the discussion on this forum for a variety of reasons, none of which you probably care about, or if I am honest with myself, are particularly important to you. I will do my best to discuss this issue in an unemotional and professional manner, although that is far from what I am feeling. And let’s begin with, I’m one of those people who didn’t come to the meeting. I was busy in that morning running chair placements, trying to make sure my euphoniums had a bass clef part for one of their songs, watching Balmages start a rehearsal, (and may have even grabbed a doughnut…I don’t really remember) and all the while having NO idea changes in the All State auditions were being discussed and voted on in a session billed as one “to review the 2016 marching band festival and get feedback to improve the 2017 festival as well as other issues pertinent to the public school bands in Wyoming”. At least, I wasn’t in the bathroom hungover.

My first question is, what brought about the need for this proposal. If we are discussing change, there must be a major problem someone sees in our present system of auditioning for The Wyoming All-State Band. Have there been complaints that the band is filled will some (many?) players who are unfit to be representing our state–who have only been selected because they can play their major scales well? I have always been proud of the level on which our All State Band performs, and I must say, I remember many of the All State conductors in the last 26 years telling the audiences (and us!) that although we are a small state, we have some of the best prepared young musicians they have had the privilege to conduct.

Unless I’m mistaken, most colleges still want their music students to know their scales and indeed, include them in their auditions. The fact that All Northwest doesn’t ask for them perhaps reflects the audition process itself and not that the screeners think scales are of little importance. When one can record an audition as many times as necessary to get a good recording, I would assume that everyone could send in perfect scales. The chromatic scale shows the listener the range of the auditioner, which is probably its purpose. Frankly, I’m not all that concerned with what other states require and we could certainly find a large range of different requirements.

By now, few people are probably reading this, but nevertheless, I have a few more thoughts on the subject.

The subject of fairness or equality of the audition has been discussed. I thought the reason for the pairing of the scales was to address this issue–one flat scale and one sharp scale. In theory, one easier scale and one harder scale. If we are really concerned about everyone playing the same scale(s) I suggest we look at an example of a scale etude like Illinois uses. I’m familiar with that particular state from having taught there. Every one auditioning plays an etude that contains all the major scales and a related minors–straight through. It only takes a minute or two and assures the students know all their scales. It is much more difficult, but assures equality. Also, on the subject of equality, we have students auditioning at different times (there is both an assigned date and an alternate date for those students who can not be at that time) which means some students will certainly be at a disadvantage from having less days to practice the selected pair. Yes, I know EVERYONE is going to practice ALL the scales prior to their audition…

While I know that some do not like the phrase “dumbed down” I do believe the proposed change is making the audition less rigorous. Are we really going to ask our students to only prepare two etudes (which are all the same regardless of instrument so can be practiced together in band), the chromatic scale, two scales they know ahead of time, and tie-breaking sight-reading? Those two selected scales will hopefully reflect who practiced their scales the most, but in reality will often reflect who crams best and learns fastest. I can guarantee you, I can teach many people (musicians and non-musicians) those two scales on xylophone by patterns in a week. In fact, I’m going to try that next fall to see how it goes. How about trombone? Want to learn their chromatic scale? 17654321, 654321, 54321, 4331, 321…you get the idea. It frightens me to think we could actually chose students for All State who don’t know note names! And while I agree the percussion section was weaker this year, I don’t think an audition that requires those students to memorize one mallet etude and a couple of scales, will improve their quality. Although I am confident that we have at least a dozen good snare players in the state who are left home every year, there are many more mallet parts in most modern music than snare parts. There will just be up and down years in all the sections.

For those of you who actually read all of this, you are remarkable people, or have too much free time. AND I have little doubt that anything I wrote will change anyone’s opinion, but at least now I won’t have to read some people didn’t come to the meeting OR write in the forum. Yes, even an over-the-hill, unpopular old broad like me gets her feelings hurt. For those of you who think you have better players than those selected, but those kids were just too busy to have time to learn those scales and so don’t get selected, I respectfully disagree. I could be wrong. No one said I was smart. But, I also have better players who don’t get selected for the same reason. I tell them, learn your scales!