Seven students were selected to represent Berkshire in this year’s Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) Western District Festival, held on January 11 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
MMEA is the “definitive, influential voice for music as an essential part of core education” throughout Massachusetts, and its district concerts showcase some of the most talented musicians across the state. Students audition in the fall, and if selected, participate in two full-day rehearsals and one performance that includes a jazz ensemble, 200-voice chorus, full orchestra, and full concert band.
This year, Zeynep Lal Kara ’23 (soprano), Giang Le ’20 (alto), Phoebe Mulder ’22 (soprano), Luke Nguyen ’21 (tenor), and Maia Tolentino ’21 (soprano), were selected for the chorus; Christina Tao ’21 (violin) was selected for the orchestra; and Angela Ansah ’21 (flute) was selected for the band.
“It's important to let our talented musicians know that they are not alone!” said music teacher Dr. Tasia Cheng-Chia Wu. “There are many teenagers out there just like them who love music and are very good at it, and it’s a great opportunity for them to learn from each other.” Dr. Clive Davis, Berkshire’s Director of Music explained, “Because everyone auditions and is selected, there is a certain caliber of music-making that is just so enriching.”
In addition to learning from their peers at other schools, students are exposed to different kinds of music as well. “Districts give our students an opportunity to play or sing some repertoire that we would not be able to cover at Berkshire,” said Dr. Davis.
Tao, who played in the first violin section of the orchestra that included 73 performers and filled the auditorium with its powerful sound, shared, “It’s very fun to play in a large orchestra because as a group, we could really create a big and dramatic effect.”
Le agrees that the sheer number of musicians produces a special sound. “There is just something so magical about singing in a 200-person chorus in which we all share the same love and passion for music and singing,” she explained.
“My favorite piece to sing was ‘Ballade to the Moon’ [by Daniel Elder],” said Mulder. “It is such a dynamic piece, and I loved singing the high soprano entrances. I also thought it was so cool how such a large chorus was able to create such a subdued, quiet sound during the softer sections of the piece.”
“Ballade to the Moon” was a favorite of Le’s as well. “I simply think that it’s a beautiful piece that everyone can connect with in their own way,” she said. “The build-up where we sing ‘My singing soul it cries to thee’ gives me chills every time!”
While the actual performance was fun for the musicians, the audition was not easy. “The audition involves a prepared piece (this year, a madrigal by Felix Mendelssohn) as well as scale singing and sight singing,” Dr. Davis explained. “This means they put a piece of music in front of you, give you the starting pitch, and you have to sing it at first sight with correct rhythm and pitch.”
All seven students’ scores earned them a spot at Districts, while Lal Kara, Le, Tao, and Tolentino, received scores high enough to earn them an audition for the next round as well, a chance to perform at the All-State concert at Boston’s Symphony Hall this March.
When asked how she’s preparing for the next audition, Le admits, “Right now, I’m absolutely terrified! Being placed in a smaller, more competitive pool is a very nerve-wracking feeling, but it is also motivating. I’m looking forward to it!”
And she should be. In the 14 years Dr. Davis and Dr. Wu have been bringing students to MMEA auditions, Le is one of only a handful of who have earned a perfect score.
“Practicing the music and the scales is definitely part of my preparation,” said Tao, about her upcoming All-State audition. “Having a positive attitude will also help because I believe having fun is a crucial part of auditioning.”
Whether advancing to the All-State concert or performing at Districts, all the musicians were exposed to the rigor, demands, and joys of creating music on a larger scale.
As Dr. Davis summed up, “It really teaches students what the ‘next level’ of music-making looks like.”