NYSSMA’s Remote Festival: A Personal Account


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This year’s NYSSMA Festival was held remotely, and it was very much a different experience than years past.

NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) is an event where students across the state prepare musical solos and performances to play in front of judges, in return getting a score from 1-28 (Levels 1-4) or 1-100 (Levels 5-6). These scores allow students to get into festivals like All-County, All-State, and LISFA (Long Island Strings Festival Association). NYSSMA also lets students get into programs like the Tri-M Music Honors Society that many are a part of at LHS.

In any other school year, NYSSMA festivals would be held in person at a school, and students would attend at their assigned time to perform what they prepared. Due to Covid-19, NYSSMA festivals were held remotely this year, with students recording themselves playing/singing, and sending it in through a special website, with specific instructions and links provided by their teachers.

As someone who has now participated in the festival both in person and remotely, I can say that there were some aspects that were more enjoyable things this year, while there were other elements that did not translate well through a screen.

My favorite thing about performing virtually was that I had as many tries as I needed to record the video of my viola solo. I took many takes and submitted the one that I thought was best, instead of only getting one shot with the judge if I were in person. I was a lot less nervous knowing that if I made a mistake, I could just stop the video and delete it.

However, some could argue that the point of NYSSMA is to have one try to perform a solo, and if one makes a mistake, that is his/her own fault. But blaming kids for naturally feeling nervous and making mistake might not be the best approach to learning how to execute a piece in front of others. Whether having multiple tries to submit a solo is considered “fair” or not, it is relaxing and brings the usual nerves that are felt down a whole level.

The website that was used for this year’s festival was easy to use and had clear instructions for students. There were four steps clearly laid out, and videos within a certain size could be easily submitted after they were recorded. A week was given for students to complete the instructions in order for their videos to be graded by the judges, which allowed for time to deal with any technological issues that could happen or any issues with the website. As everyone adapted to using more technology over the past year due to Covid-19, it was definitely proven that our devices are not always as reliable as we hope.

One thing that made this year’s NYSSMA experience not as enjoyable was how impersonal and informal it was. None of the judges and students was able to meet each other, which took away from being able to make a good first impression. When meeting a judge, the way someone acts can influence his/her whole NYSSMA experience.

The festival this year did the best that it could with all the safety requirements and accommodations that were put into place due to Covid-19. While it was enjoyable, it was not the same event that has been happening for years. Hopefully next year, things can go back to normal and everyone who participates in the NYSSMA festival will be able to perform in person.