The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

Strings to success

The District Orchestra Festival has returned to normalcy after COVID, and LM musicians came together for a wonderful performance.
LM musicians participate in district orchestra (Adina Olson ’24)

After two years of COVID-accommodating festivals, the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) returned to the regular three-day festival format for this year’s District Orchestra. Last year, auditions were held online in video format and the festival was a day long, with around six hours of rehearsal. This year, auditions were held in person, and the festival lasted three days with a culmination of more than fifteen hours of rehearsal. While this return to normal scheduling was exciting for participants, it also evoked stress throughout the musician’s auditioning and performing process. 

Photo courtesy of Adina Olson ’24

On December 10, 2022, hundreds of highschool students from Bucks and Montgomery County attended auditions at Upper Dublin High School for PMEA’s District 11 Orchestra. Around ten students from LM auditioned on string, woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments alike. The audition process entailed preparing a solo piece and nine scales, from which random excerpts and scales would be chosen at the audition. Also, the students had to sight-read one randomly chosen excerpt of music. While this audition process was common procedure in the past, it was brand-new for juniors, sophomores, and freshman, who had only experienced video auditions in which scales and excerpts were predetermined and sight-reading was not included. Not only was this element of surprise new, but in-person auditions eliminated the ever-useful ability to restart after making a mistake while playing. In the past, nearly every student could re-record until they perfected their video. But, as Adina Olson ’24 describes it, “with in-person auditions, if you mess up, there’s no redo. You’re stuck with that performance and it will affect your score.” Most students agreed that the auditions were extremely stressful and time consuming. Junior Emily Zhang reported waiting and practicing for “over four hours before it was [her] turn to audition.”

Despite many being unaccustomed to the audition process, LM students Olson, Zhang, Henry Koban-Payne ’25, Joseph Fiore ’24, Lela Miller ’24, Natalie Chen ’24, Jennifer Yang ’25, Nathalie Bordon ’23, Yiguo Zhou ’26, and Liana Yau ’26 were all accepted and participated in the orchestra. Having this large number of students accepted into the orchestra is a reflection of the high  level of musical talent at LM. Abby Kaufman, from George School said that, “I’m the first freshman violinist from my school to make it into District Orchestra in eighteen years.” At LM, there were two freshman violinists this year, one last year, and two the year before. 

On January 25, LM and Harriton students were bussed up to Perkiomen Valley Middle School, where they promptly began the process of seating auditions. Unlike the initial auditions, seating auditions only involved excerpts from the orchestra music. However, much like the initial auditions, the excerpts were a complete surprise upon entering the audition room. Of the close to twenty pages of music the students had to learn for the festival, a random half of a page was chosen. Those who placed in the top half of their section based on their scores from the first two auditions received the opportunity to audition for State Orchestra, and an invitation to Region Orchestra, of which five LM students will be attending. 

While the audition process was a lowlight for many participants, the length of the festival was celebrated. Harriton violinist and concertmaster of the District Orchestra, Hannah Gao ’23, said “it was definitely more fun in-person than before. I got to meet a lot of new people from other schools. It was more stressful too but that’s part of the fun I guess.” From January 25 to January 27, the orchestra rehearsed Smetana’s “The Moldau,” Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake,” Hugosson’s “Lament,” and Mendolsson’s “The Hebrides.” Many students were pleased with the music selection. Chen, an LM violinist, said, “the pieces were so pretty and I had so much fun learning and playing them.  However, it took a lot of practicing.” Led by the guest  conductor Timothy Schwarz (accomplished violinist, soloist, and head of strings at Rowan University), the young musicians from 35 schools came together and worked hard to produce a spectacular concert on January 27. Chen said, “I was really proud of how we played as an ensemble. I am very excited for Regions.” With so many exciting opportunities, these talented LM musicians can look forward to another great year of PMEA festivals.

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