NYSSMA Announces New Rules


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Since NYSSMA Festivals are unable to be held this year due to COVID-19 regulations, a new virtual process is being implemented to hold the event.

Music students are among those who have been particularly affected these past few months during COVID-19. They have been greatly restricted with respect to their musical activities, and if they are lucky, they are permitted to have only minimal amounts of practices in small groups. However, the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA), an organization that helps motivate student musicians to strengthen their skill sets and learn new music, has decided to host its usual event virtually this year. The organization cancelled its 2020 festival, but this year, with alterations, it is set to continue.

NYSSMA has made its festival possible using video recording submissions. Normally, a participant goes in person and in front of a judge to perform. The judges have a copy of the music so they can clarify that the student performed all the notes correctly, and after singing/playing the selected piece, performers sight-read music given to them by the judges and perform scales to show all of their skills. Now, due to COVID-19, NYSSMA will let participants submit a video of their solo and scales. Students will have to enter the NYSSMA website, submit their videos, and send a copy of the music they have used so the adjudicators can check whether it is correct. After that, they will send performers their scores. These changes will have a great impact on the festival as a whole. 

Music lovers and performers alike have many opinions on this subject. Rachel Belmont, a junior, thinks that NYSSMA can be quite intimidating, and it can ease nerves if the festival is held virtually: “I think it is upsetting for the people who enjoy going and having that experience. However, I personally would be happy about the change because it would take off the pressure of being face-to-face with a judge.” Nawar Aboud, a freshman, shared a similar opinion: “I like how you just have to record yourself, and there is less pressure because you aren’t playing live in front of someone.” Freshman Juliet Wrzesniewski understands that current circumstances must be difficult for are a long-running organization such as NYSSMA. She believes that NYSSMA is trying its best and hopes it will be back to normal by next year. Wrzesniewski commented, “I feel like they’re trying to make the best out of the situation, and, of course, it’s not what everyone wants, and certainly not what I want either, but I’m glad we’re trying to make the most out of the circumstances we’re under right now.”

Joseph Pallotta, the district’s director of fine and performing arts, explained why the switch had to be made and the changes that will arise from it: “NYSSMA Festivals draw very large groups with hundreds of students, parents, and teachers attending, so any in-person event was just not possible. Add to that the need to sing or play ‘mask-less’ in the same room as an adjudicator, and, in many cases an accompanist, and it became obvious another solution was required.” Pallotta explained that this prompted the move to host virtual NYSSMA festivals state-wide.

The NYSSMA organization was tasked with the large undertaking of implementing a new process so that thousands of students could record, submit, and have performances judged by NYSSMA. Pallotta continued, “Music directors, supervisors, and teachers were kept up to date throughout the summer and fall through a series of documents and letters, keeping all apprised all on the status of the new procedures. This was followed by a ‘mock/test-festival,’ held last fall in the enabling the NYSSMA officials to gather firsthand, additional information and pinpoint what worked well and what needed further adjustment. Changes were implemented, with the most notable being the decision to exclude the sight-reading component for each student’s audition this year.”

All aspects of the process for NYSSMA festivals have been finalized, and the first festival, the piano NYSSMA festival, is currently underway. According to Pallotta, the process consists of these steps: “Students choose the solo music they are going to play and make a video recording of the solo and other requirements (scales/rudiments) using their iPhone, video camera, etc. Each student is [then] provided a specific URL to upload these videos during a specified week, designated as the upload period. [Then] NYSSMA judges will view and score each submission. These scoring sheets will be made available to the teachers and students when completed.”

Pallotta also spoke about the impact this new system would have on students’ performances. He commented, “It can be looked at in a few ways. Certainly the ‘live-performance’ aspect of playing before an adjudicator and having just one attempt to perform is lost. I have seen so many students over the years being quite nervous and anxious before their audition, followed by a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after it was done. These experiences always resulted in both musical and personal growth and development. On the flip, students this year have the ability to make as many recordings as they wish, in the comfort of their own home or at school with their music teacher until satisfied, and submit that particular performance. Those who may have shied away from the NYSSMA experience in the past may see this as an opportunity to finally give it a try.”

Whether they sing or play an instrument, many musicians are happy to get some form of normalcy back in their lives.