Choir program works for TMEA All-State auditions during pandemic

Amanda Kohutek, Reporter

“Dee, deedee dee dee!” 

“And up!”

“Dee, deedee dee dee!” 

Six feet apart, wearing masks, and streaming a live TEAMS meeting, the choir department warms up each day, preparing for any music and obstacles that will come their way. The obstacle of this fall? Auditioning for the Texas Music Educators Association (TMEA) All-State Choir online due to the global pandemic. 

At the beginning of the school year, choir students were told that the auditions for All-State would be online, a large contrast to the way of auditioning from years past. Last year, auditions for each round were in person, utilizing a system of each student coming into a room and singing their music cuts behind a curtain for a few judges. However, this year, students must record themselves singing the cuts and turn it in through a system called MusicFirst, which records their voice and also plays the recorded accompaniment. 

“I prefer the way that it has been in the past where you walk in a room and it’s one and done,” junior Laurann Sepulveda said. “Being a perfectionist, it pains me to go back and listen and be like, ‘Okay, this is what I sound like, this is what I need to work on.’ I overthink it now more than I would then.”

The new system offers students a chance to re-record any bad recordings before turning them in, there are still other problems that students seem to be having. 

“I don’t like how everybody has different recording devices,” Sepulveda said. “So like, I’m recording on my Chromebook, and since I’m a soprano one and I’m trying to do dynamics with the accompaniment, I have to be standing a bajillion years away from my Chromebook. And even then, it still doesn’t capture the full range of things that can be done.” 

Another obstacle students faced this year was the lack of summer All-State choir camps. Typically, these summer camps provide a place for the students to learn much of the All-State music, and they are often a requirement for the students planning to audition. 

“I would normally know all of the songs by the end of August, but this year, I didn’t start learning the songs until September,” senior Nathan Truong said. “So, because we didn’t have camps or in-person summer voice lessons, it was a lot harder to be prepared for the music and actually know it ahead of time. It felt more like scrambling to get the music learned this year.”

Without those camps, students were forced to take more initiative to learn their music. According to Sepulveda and Truong, their private voice teachers helped them stay on track while learning their music. 

“I have my lovely voice teacher, Mrs. Pam Wade,” Sepulveda said. “She’s really pushed me to learn the music, which at first, I hadn’t really been doing on my own. And anything that I need, I can ask her for. Like if I need pronunciation in a certain language, because we have songs in German, French, and whatever, she’ll just say, ‘Okay, I’ll send it to you in a bit.’ And then it’s there and I listen to it a thousand times over and that helps me a lot.”

In order to give the students and teachers more time to learn the music and prepare for online recording, the dates for the first and following rounds were moved back, and the TMEA changed the number of rounds of auditions from four to three. So this year, rather than moving from District to Region, Area, and then State, the auditioning students move from District to a combined version of Rounds 2 and 3, and then the final audition for State. 

“The hardest thing about this process this year is just keeping yourself motivated to want to do it,” head choir director Kay Owens said. “I think we’re always used to that September audition and then we have October, and then November, and then Region choir, we have all these things going on that keep you motivated. And this has been such a different year in that we didn’t do that first audition until October, and now we’re about to do the second one.”

As the students must adapt to this new style of auditioning, the judges of the competition must adapt as well. 

“On the day of judging, (you) get the group that (you’re) supposed to judge, and you’re at your house,” Owens said. “And so last time when we did it for Round 1, I was in my pajamas with a nice cup of hot chocolate and I could take a break whenever I wanted to, I didn’t have to wait for the whole room to take a break. The other thing is as I got on through the list, and I was on like number 24, 25, and I was like, ‘Hmm, I don’t know,’ I could go back and listen to someone again. We can’t do that when we’re in person.”

As students braved this new path, much help was offered from the choir directors. 

“We’ve tried to help by having you turn in recordings of different songs so that they know the process of how to turn in a recording,” Owens said. “And then the other thing that we did, probably a little bit better this time, is that we’ve had them turn in All-state music recording to us.”

After Round 1 in October, students auditioned for Round 2 on Dec. 3, and the results were released to the students on Dec. 6. Fifty-one students from Martin advanced, including Sepulveda and Truong. But with so many changes within the school during the pandemic and less time, the level of preparation for the second round was different for each student. 

“I felt significantly less prepared for Round 2 because I spent all summer and September and October learning Round 1, whereas, I only had November to learn Round 2,” Truong said.  

Truong, who is going on his fourth year auditioning for All-State, has another opinion about the changed audition process this year – one that many of his fellow choir students may not agree with him on. 

“I miss sight-reading,” Truong said. “Sight reading helped my score. It was the difference between me making it to Round 4 last year.” 

Ultimately, the choir students and teachers have worked hard to keep singing through these drastic changes, and according to Owens, it is all due to their own determination. 

“I think the motivation for kids has been really really hard,” Owens said. “And I’m just really proud of the students that are staying with it, learning their music, and doing the best they can.”