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Solo Festival: The ECS Student Survival Guide

By Louisa Benatovich, 

Student Reporter

“It’s time to freak out, it’s time to panic!” Crystal Wilder urgently addresses her high school band. 

Her tone is jovial, but her words are weighty. She gestures to the whiteboard. A two-digit number is written in faded Expo marker. The countdown has begun, less than three weeks until Armageddon is upon us.

Jan. 26: the dreaded day of the Cattaraugus County Music Teachers Association’s solo festival.

For student musicians and vocalists, it is a period of stress and anxiety. It is a time where nerves run wild and mistakes matter. In a closed room with only a judge, the soloist lays himself bare and vulnerable. For many, it’s too much to handle.

Thankfully, the Ellicottville Times is coming to the rescue. With its team of experts, we will help you confront and overcome your performance fears, as well as impress the festival judges.

As long as you follow these five simple steps, you will play your way to success.

1. Practice

There’s really nothing else to say. Practicing your solo and scales is the best way to prepare. 

Let’s be real, few people start practicing more than four weeks before solo festival, but, folks, it is quality over quantity. Buzz in your mouthpiece, go over scales, search for some sight reading, play for your mother and your overly-judgmental brother.

You must play until your lips hurt. It only makes them stronger. Practice until your solo is memorized. Practice until you despise your solo like the sound of your morning alarm. That’s how you know that you’re ready!

2. Mindset

Part of being a musician is being able to play for audiences, but it isn’t what defines your musicianship. Ginna Hensel has been performing at festivals such as these for years, and she has perfected the performance mindset.

“I know what to expect, so I’m much more comfortable,” she says. “At the end of the day, it’s one person’s score and opinion. If you worked hard on your solo, the comments and score shouldn’t matter.”

In this rank-heavy world, it’s sometimes difficult to wrangle the joy out of competition-oriented activities like this. If you practice this mentality as avidly as your scales, you can retrain your brain.

3. Focus  

“I don’t talk to anyone in the car on the way to solo fest,” says Megan Hartsell. “I need my mind to be a clean and clear wasteland where no stress can bloom. It also prepares my embouchure for playing time.”

In stressful situations, the human body fights or flies. At solo festival, it is common to experience the “mind blank” or “brain flatulence.” You could know all of your scales by heart, but have them escape your memory by the time you sit down before the judge.

Instructing your mind to stay put, to not float away, is necessary. Skipping lines in solos, losing track of oneself in the midst of a song played countless times. It happens, but you don’t have to let it.

4. Breathe

Breathing is essential for human survival. And guess what, you need to breathe to play your instrument.

Take deep breaths before you enter the room. Breathe your way through the solo. (Not too breathy, though.) Breathe your way out of the room.

You’ll stay cool, calm, and collected. The judge will be impressed.

5. Practice

There’s really nothing else to say. Practicing your solo and scales… Wait, didn’t we already say this?

By performing for this solo festival, students make themselves eligible to participate in Cattaraugus County All-County Ensembles held in March.

The Ellicottville Times wishes all students the best of luck. Happy music-ing!

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