Acceptance into the Iowa All-State Music Festival is one of the most challenging goals for high school musicians to achieve. Each year, many Ames High students rise to the challenge as they embark on the journey to earn All-Stater status. The end goal is to make it to the Festival, a compilation of Iowa’s top high school band, orchestra, and chorus musicians. Yet, few make it. According to the Iowa High School Music Association, in 2019, 4,586 students auditioned, representing 286 of the state’s high schools. Out of that, 601 students were accepted into the All-State Chorus, 278 into the All-State Band, and 226 into the All-State Orchestra. At AHS, approximately 12 percent of the students in band, orchestra or chorus audition, and even fewer make it to the Festival.
A tedious preparation process requires all musicians to practice both in and out of school, starting as early as summer. Optional clinics, workshops, and camps help musicians effectively learn their music for the late-October audition. On top of their rigorous rehearsal schedule, students are challenged to keep up with academic, athletic, and personal obligations. Why do they do it? The consistent answer is a passion for music.
“Music has always been a big part of my life,” said senior clarinet player, Sofiya Palasyuk.
This same sentiment was echoed by other AHS students auditioning, including Yunjae (Daniel) Lee, violin; Sofiya Palasyuk, clarinet; Cassidy Peterson, alto; Madelyn Timmermans, trumpet; and Adam Wolf, tenor. Together, they have a combined eight years of experience performing at the Festival. Performing in the Festival each year of high school, also known as a four-time All-Stater, is one of the highest honors. Lee hopes to make 2020 his fourth appearance in the All-State Orchestra.
Due to COVID-19 safety concerns, auditions changed. The typically day-long process consisting of a structured audition time, possible recalls, and eventually, learning their All-State fate was gone for the 2020 season. Now, auditions would be done entirely by video submission, presenting a new challenge to students and teachers.
“[Students] are being challenged and yet they rise to the occasion no matter what it is,” said Peggy Dieter, AHS choir teacher. “They are working very hard despite disappointment, and that impresses me so much.”
Through these many changes, musicians still had their eye on the goal of making it to the Festival in November. But, in October, word came that the joint boards of the IHSMA and the Iowa Music Educators Association had voted in favor of canceling the Festival. Auditions would proceed as planned with a 2020 All-State Band, Chorus and Orchestra being named.
On October 24, 32 AHS students were named All-State musicians. With no Festival performance to look forward to, this was the end of their journey.
“I feel sad that we can’t do the Festival in person, but I learned a lot from All-State,” said Daniel Lee, now a four-time All-Stater. “It is really magical playing together in an orchestra and making music together.”
In the end, students reflected on countless hours of practice, adjusting to changes due to COVID-19 and staying on top of their academic obligations. Each is keenly aware of the time put forth by their teachers and the ways in which they also had to cope with change. The overall feeling was one of immense gratitude.
“[Teachers] don’t want the credit,” said Adam Wolf, “but they are much of what makes the music department so storied. They work incredibly hard and long hours to get students in a position so that we can succeed.”