By Crystal Hayduk
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has paused most aspects of student life, Chelsea School District musicians refuse to be silenced.
The annual Michigan Music Conference, usually held each January in Grand Rapids, draws a crowd of thousands. The conference will be virtual and All-State performances have been canceled, but the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) still held pandemic-compliant auditions in October. Seven students in Grades 7, 8, 10, and 11 were selected for All-State recognition and four received honorable mention.
Phillip Sylvester, Chelsea High School (CHS) orchestra director, explained this year’s audition process. Unlike previous years when students traveled to Saline to audio record auditions which were forwarded to judges, students were given an audition link to video record the selections.
“They had one chance—no do-overs and no second tries. In that capacity, the audition was the same as usual. However, students may have been a bit more relaxed because they could record at school with just their teacher, or from the comfort of their own homes,” he said.
Auditions were held to maintain consistency and encourage students to audition again next fall for All-State concerts in 2022. “It is sad to say participation might have been lower this year because there was no actual [ensemble] to make it into,” said Sylvester.
Sylvester’s suspicions were confirmed by Charles Bullard, MSBOA president, who said 1,466 Michigan students auditioned this year, compared to 2,500 last year. About 370 students are on the 2021 All-State roster and nearly 100 on the Honorable Mention roster.
Beach Middle School (BMS)
The judges might have felt déjà vu when they saw the double bass audition videos of seventh graders Brenna and Lucia Taylor, twins who were selected for All-State Middle School String Orchestra (MSSO) honors.
Their private teacher, Jed Fritzemeier, encouraged them to audition because it’s good preparation for the future. The girls said they practiced a lot to prepare, but tried not to take it too seriously to avoid the panic that can derail an audition.
Eighth graders John Milne (viola) and Luke Mourad (cello) were also named to the All-State MSSO. Mourad performed in the orchestra last year. He felt this year’s audition was “less stressful and more relaxed” at the high school with Nathan Peters, his middle school orchestra director, present. “It was worth auditioning even though it’s virtual this year because the music is fun,” said Mourad.
Milne said he learned effort and hard work can result in success.
Students who received honorable mention are Samantha Bieber (Grade 7, violin), Sonja Schemahorn (Grade 8, violin), and Lauren Thompson (Grade 8, violin).
Peters is proud of the BMS students—those who were selected for honors and those who auditioned.
“The audition music was difficult and the students had to learn a new system of performing live for a computer, often wearing masks while playing. We are looking forward to January 2022 when we hope to have the All-State students playing music again in a concert in Grand Rapids,” he said.
Chelsea High School (CHS) Band
Junior Clinton Nichols (trumpet) was selected for All-State Jazz Band. He performed with the All-State Concert Band last year, and said it was an amazing experience that he’s sorry to miss, although he’s still glad he auditioned.
This year, he pushed himself to try out for jazz band. “The skill set is different, so the audition is tailored for jazz,” he said. “I love music and am proud of my abilities.”
Alison Roberts, CHS band director, said, “Clinton is a fabulous musician and well-deserving of his nomination for the All-State Jazz finalists. I am so proud of his continued dedication to his instrument, especially during this challenging time for in-person music making.”
Sophomores gained the honors for the orchestra, with Peter Mourad and Megan Hayduk (both violinists who are also members of Chelsea House Orchestra) named to the All-State High School Orchestra.
This year marks Mourad’s third All-State award in a row, in addition to an honorable mention when he was in seventh grade. He said auditions are “always a little daunting,” but he likes to challenge himself musically.
Hayduk, who earned All-State status in eighth grade and called it “one of the best experiences in my musical career,” said auditions have been a regular part of improving her musicianship since seventh grade.
“All-State is incredibly competitive, especially as an underclassman going up against upperclassmen,” said Hayduk. “I wanted to get in, but realistically, I didn’t expect to receive this honor. My sixth-grade violin student was absolutely certain I would get in. I learned how much of a positive impact it has on your performance to know someone believes without a doubt in your ability.”
Phoebe Harris (Grade 10, cello), a two-time previous All-Stater, earned honorable mention.
Sylvester said these young people are “committed and driven students who seek challenges on a daily basis. Practicing and auditioning these excerpts and scales are difficult enough as it is, but to accomplish what these students have as sophomores is truly exciting to see, because a large majority of the students that make it in are upperclassmen.”