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Solo & Ensemble - Filling Halls and Hearts with Music

On Saturday, November 5th, music students anxiously filled the halls, rereading ledger lines, practicing fingerings, and humming to themselves. Kettle Moraine’s Annual Solo & Ensemble Festival had arrived. “Solo & Ensemble is a festival put on by WSMA (Wisconsin School Music Association) for students involved in choir, piano, orchestra, and band classes.  Students perform solos and ensembles for a judge, are critiqued, and scored in several different musical categories,” explains one of Kettle Moraine’s choir teachers and KM Perform staff member, Jennifer Schwingle.

All seems fair in music and judgement, but not all students agree. Some may feel slighted by their scores at solo and ensemble. While the key cause of this would be a shoddy performance, there is another element decides whether a student goes to state: the judges. Each performance is rated overall a 4, 3, 2, 1, or 1*. 4 is the lowest score one can receive, while 1 is the highest. 1s, however, do not go to the state level competition. Only 1* performances do.

“Every person is unique and every judge is unique in what they hear, notice, and prioritize,” says Ms. Schwingle. “Some judges treat the minutes that follow a performance as a mini lesson, and have students experiment with new ideas, while others may not give as much feedback.” A healthy variety of judges is beneficial for student growth, the opportunity offering a well rounded plate of feedback to students eager to improve their musicianship. However, one judge’s 2 may be sent to state by another judge. Tamsin Olson, having brought a variety of vocal and orchestral solos and ensembles to the festival this year, gives her input. “While this sometimes seems unfair, personally, I've had so many helpful tips from many different judges. It it interesting to hear feedback from teachers with different backgrounds and teaching styles.”

Additionally, Solo and Ensemble provides the opportunity to watch other students perform and, on the other hand, perform for a small audience. “Performing at the festival provides good experience performing in front of an audience, especially at a competition style event,” says Olson. “From both their own performance and listening to others perform, students gain discipline, responsibility, memory work, performance experience, confidence, insight, and development in their specified area,” Schwingle adds. The open setting of the festival is uniquely suited to allow learning to continue beyond one’s own performance time slot.

Solo and Ensemble is built around what best benefits the student as a musician and a learner. It is an opportunity that all should take advantage of. Even if not performing, students have a lot to gain from simply attending other performances and supporting their peers. Whether the judge sends a piece to state or critiques what was missing, students have a lot to gain from this annual festival.


Kimberly Laberge

December, 2016