Solo and Ensemble Festival goes virtual to COVID concerns

Ashton Bushaw, Spencer Clark, and Chris Gervasi record their trombone trio in the RHS auditorium.

Mark D'Angelo

Ashton Bushaw, Spencer Clark, and Chris Gervasi record their trombone trio in the RHS auditorium.

Solo and ensemble festival was performed virtually this year due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I’m happy that we’re able to figure out a way to still give our students a chance to go perform and be successful, but it’s got a lot of disadvantages,” band director Mark D’Angelo said.
Traditionally, solo and ensemble has been an event where students perform live in front of a judge. However, by going virtual, students now have to record their performances and send them to MSBOA to be judged at a later date. Often, students had to rely on the tech they had on hand at the time in order to record.
“The challenges are this: You’re now performing into a computer and there isn’t a lot of equity in terms of what audio equipment do we have access to. Most students are performing into their Cchromebook or onto their iPhone or iPad and let’s face it, it just doesn’t have a great microphone,” D’Angelo said.
The decision to go virtual was made due to the high number of participants in the area. District 12 is one of the most populated districts for solo and ensemble with many years reaching over 1000 participants.
“I think it was a good change just for Covid safety with the amount of students that compete with it, it was better to keep it virtual. I prefer to do it in person but it was just safer to do it virtual this year,” freshman tuba and trombonist Max Eloenburg said.
Following the decision made by District 12, the state MSBOA office decided to keep the change going into the next level of solo and ensemble at the state festival. The state festival was originally planned to take place on March 15, but there will likely be a window of time students have to submit their recordings. Although the change was made in order to protect students, there are some that are struggling under the new system.
“We’re not in person so it’s not as easy to go there and play. We had to go through the hassle of submitting this, submitting that, it was not as effective as it would have been going in person, that’s for sure,” junior trombonist Chris Gervasi said.
Technical issues weren’t the only thing that was plaguing students. Because the location and times are no longer a set schedule, it was up to the students to schedule and record their performances themselves. Some students had troubles due to the lack of a concrete schedule.
“It was hard to try and find a good time for everyone to record it. Instead of just getting a set date of all going to this high school at this time, we all try and work around our schedules to find a good time to record everything,” Eloenburg said.
Although the change to virtual was made in order to protect students and staff, not all agree it was the best course of action and some think there were ways they could have performed in person.
“I just think they should have made it over two days if it had to be the case. Have some ensembles perform Friday, some go in early Saturday,” Gervasi said. “I feel they chose the easy way out.”
The solo and ensemble festival is intended to be an opportunity for musicians to reflect on their work and also to gain the experience they can use later in life.
“The solo performance experience prepares you for other things too, it prepares you for taking that job interview someday,” D’Angelo said.
The judgment process is one of those opportunities. Getting feedback from other skilled musicians to help guide younger students is one of the key components in the solo and ensemble festival. However, by going virtual, it removes a lot of the benefits of that process. Not only do students have to wait sometimes over a week for their performance to be graded, but they can’t ask questions further than the one response they send you. This means that if the judge is unclear, or if the student does not understand, they can’t ask for clarification.
Even with these challenges, musicians at RHS were still determined to perform and many students even participated in multiple events despite the virtual restrictions.