A Symphony of Opportunities Beyond the Classroom

by Edith Bachmann

Being a musician requires lots of practice and hard work. Constructive criticism can help a student go from mediocre to magnificent! For students wishing to play beyond the school band or orchestra, there is an organization that can support you in becoming an even better musician!

NYSSMA, or the New York State Music Association, is the New York branch of the National Association for Music Education. Their mission is “to advance music education across New York State for its members and students in member school programs.” Byram Hills belongs to Zone 11 and is a part of the Westchester County School Music Association (WCSMA). Ms. Weiss, the Byram Hills band director and one of approximately 5,000 music educators in NYSSMA, is a great resource for information about the organization. According to Ms. Weiss, each January, young musicians are encouraged to begin preparing a solo for the Spring NYSSMA Festival, and she would love to help anyone who is interested!

The solos played in the festivals are chosen from a list in the official NYSSMA manual. In festivals for small ensembles and solos, musicians are required to play a solo, do sight reading, and play some scales. In these festivals, “major ensembles, school bands, choruses, and orchestras are evaluated.” So what festivals does Byram Hills participate in? “Since our county is so large, there are two NYSSMA Adjudication Festivals, one for Up-County schools and one for Down-County schools. Byram Hills participates in the Up-County festival,” says Ms. Weiss.

When one participates in a NYSSMA festival as one of the 100,000 students, they are adjudicated by a formal committee. By being adjudicated, or judged, one can become a better musician through professional feedback and encouragement. Elena Lowe, an oboist at Byram Hills, says “Although NYSSMA can be stressful, I really like working on mastering a piece.” The adjudication process all happens in about 10-15 minutes. The solos range from the easiest, level “I”, to the hardest, level “VI.” How does one know which level to perform? They can consult their private teacher or music instructor at school. These level variations are meant to encourage students to perform, so, if you’re interested, do not be doubtful of your talents!  

NYSSMA also provides the opportunity for one to get rewarded on a great performance. When a student participates in the NYSSMA solo festival, they may be selected to be a part of one of the ensembles based on their score. There are All-County Music Ensembles for those in grades seven through nine, Area All-State Ensembles for those in grade ten to twelve, and the All-State Band selects individuals in grades eleven to twelve. Elena Lowe is also in an Area All-State Ensemble as to which she says, “I like meeting other high school musicians from around the county. I also think it is cool to see how the ensemble comes together and plays a concert when the first time we meet is only two weeks beforehand.”

For those interested in taking part in the NYSSMA festivals, be sure to talk to your music teacher. Once the teacher is aware of your name and level, they can register you with the registration fee you provide and you are ready to go. Ms. Weiss says, “Participation in these festivals can also be listed on college applications and are often put on student resumes to highlight student musical participation and achievement.” This year, the Up-County Festival will be on May 10-11, 2019, and will be hosted by the Hendrick Hudson School District!