WHS musicians perform at Senior Districts

Saavani Datta, Staff Writer

 Several musicians from Weston High School recently prepared for, auditioned for, and were selected as members of the Senior Districts honors music group, and some of them also qualified to continue to the next level to audition for and perform at All-States.

   WHS was well represented in these honors as 45 students were selected for Senior Districts from band, orchestra, and chorus combined, the most of any school in the Eastern District. Twenty-six of those 45 students received a recommendation to audition for All-States, an impressive accomplishment for any high school, but one that is especially meaningful to the music department faculty.

   “What I’m most proud about is [that] we’re also one of the smallest schools [in the Eastern District],” said Christopher Memoli, director of music at WHS.

   The Senior Festival, more commonly referred to as Senior Districts, is an audition-based, honors music ensemble that is run by the Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) and is open to high school students. The top 40-50 percent of auditioning musicians for each instrument or vocal part are selected to become part of this group. 

   Any musicians who score within the top 10 percent for Senior Districts are recommended to audition for the All-State Festival, or All-States, a group made up of the best musicians in Massachusetts that is also run by the MMEA. The top 40-50 percent of those who audition are accepted to All-States, and the top 10 percent of that pool is eligible to audition for the All-National Honor Ensemble, or Nationals, a musical ensemble run by the National Association for Music Educators (NAfME) that is made up of the top musicians across all U.S. states and territories.

   Although the audition requirements vary based on the student’s instrument, generally students have to prepare to perform a piece and scales specific to their instrument or voice part. Due to Covid the sight-reading portion of the audition has been eliminated as all auditions are pre-recorded. Students’ opinions about live versus pre-recorded auditions vary as to which they prefer.

   “I get nervous a lot in live auditions so I usually don’t perform as well. I find the video recording usually makes me turn out a better product,” said sophomore Eric Wei, a cellist who qualified for Senior Districts and was recommended for All-States this year. 

   For other students, in-person auditions feel more comfortable.

   “I definitely prefer in-person [auditions] way more, because at times when I’m recording I feel pressured to make the recording as perfect as possible,” said sophomore Caleb Graupera, a cellist who was accepted to Districts and recommended to All-States this year. “I think overall I just prefer the performing aspect of it rather than the recording aspect.”

   Throughout the auditioning process, the high school’s musicians have remained dedicated, putting a lot of time and effort into preparing for this experience.

   “It was a lot of work because Senior Districts doesn’t just score you on if you’re hitting the notes; they also score you on your interpretation and your dynamics and a lot of other things that [take] a lot of work to perfect,”

said senior Elizabeth Crawford, who was accepted for Senior Districts and recommended for All-States this year as an alto in chorus.   

   Even when students are not selected for Districts, their hard work can pay off in other ways.

   “I think something that’s hard is teaching [kids] that the experience was still valuable even if you don’t make it,” said WHS and Weston Middle School (WMS) band teacher Claire Nalven. “I think that’s difficult, because when you spend all this time and then you don’t get in, it’s hard not to say ‘Well that was a waste of time.’ But you can look back and [realize] you learned all these scales, you learned the solo, [and] you learned how to record.”

   Participating in Senior Districts is also a way for WHS musicians to improve their skills and connect with others who share their passion for music.

   “As somebody who experienced these incredible opportunities when I was my students’ age, I know what an awesome opportunity these honor ensembles are for a number of different reasons,” said Jonathan Eldridge, chorus teacher for WMS and WHS. “First of all, you are surrounded by people who are in the ensemble for all the right reasons. You get to perform new, potentially more challenging and unique repertoire, you get to work with a different top notch conductor, and you all work really, really hard towards the common goal of performing in an incredible concert with incredible music. On top of that, I still have some really close friends that I made at junior and Senior Districts and All-States to this day.”

   Senior Alex Muzila, who qualified for Districts, was recommended for All-States, and participated in Nationals this year, had a similar experience.

   “[Senior Districts] was a super nice event just because you were working with singers who are, to some degree, the best in their vocal part,” said Muzila. “It’s a lot of fun because there’s a lot of community. Everybody knows you’re all just high schoolers there having a fun time and everyone loves music, which is always a very great place to be.”

    WHS musicians ultimately learned a lot more than specific pieces of music through these auditions and performances.

   “[Senior Districts provides] a lot of those important life skills that are taught really well through music—cooperation, teamwork, perseverance, hard work, work ethic,” said Eldridge. “Music is the universal language, but it also brings people from all over the place together, and I think that’s really important to get that across to my students.”