Written by Allana Cobham, iSchool of Music + Art Syosset Manager
Read Time: 3.5 Minutes
Allow me to introduce myself! For those who don’t know me, my name is Allana Cobham and I am the manager of Syosset’s iSchool of Music + Art. As the face-of-the-desk in Syosset, I know what all the buzz is about as we “Spring” board into this next season. It’s NYSSMA time!
As a long-term voice student and performer, I have experience with the NYSSMA grading system as well as All-County and All-State admission. I learned much about myself as a voice student by standing in front of the seemingly “all-knowing” NYSSMA judges, AKA adjudicators. In a given day, they’ll see many students give their all for just a few minutes in front of them and administer grades based on performance and skill. Man, this can be a source of stress for young students of music! As a NYSSMA participant and SCMEA (Suffolk County Music Educator Association) All-County choir member for several years in public school, some of my scariest and fondest musical memories were when I was in front of some of the smartest musical minds I knew. For me to be taken seriously within the realm of music, the thing I loved the most, was a dream brought to life.
All of this said, it is important to foster positive, enriching feelings in students during this time that can stir up stress and fear in them. NYSSMA can be a thorough learning experience; driving students to work hard to improve their skills. At iSchool, our teachers strive to create an entire experience during NYSSMA preparation. Learning about new repertoire, stretching students’ skills and advancing their technique for future success is what NYSSMA should be about. For those students who are preparing for NYSSMA right now, here are some of the important details you will need to know in order have smooth sailing during the preparation and performance process.
- Who can participate in the festival?
NYSSMA is both for soloists and ensembles. Almost all instruments are included in the NYSSMA festival. Typically, NYSSMA documents are given out from your public school. If you are playing an instrument outside of school, you may need to approach a music teacher and let them know that you want to participate.
- What do the NYSSMA levels mean?
NYSSMA levels are a way of telling where you are as an instrumentalist or vocalist. NYSSMA levels are 1-6. Levels 1-4 are graded out of 28, and levels 5 and 6 are graded out of 100
- What are the NYSSMA requirements?
Each student is required to select a solo piece to perform, located in the NYSSMA manual. In addition, there is sight reading and, depending on the instrument, scales to perform. Each level has its own difficulties as they increase, so make sure to discuss with your teacher exactly what you’ll need to know.
- How is NYSSMA graded?
The adjudicator (who is usually a retired or current music educator) will award or take away points for criteria such as tone quality, dynamics, expression, articulation, note accuracy, rhythm, the performance itself (i.e. While you are singing, are you conveying the meaning of the piece correctly?), sight reading, scale playing, and many other things. It’s best to consult your teacher for a specific guideline of your instrument and level.
- What is All-County and All-State?
For levels 1 through 5, if you do very well, you may be nominated to participate in All-County. This is where they select the best students from each adjudication and combine them into an ensemble. The techniques learned and experience gained from this is invaluable. Level 6 soloists may be able to participate in All-State, which is state-wide. Furthermore, level 6 All-State students may be selected for All-Eastern or even a National ensemble. These are great goals to strive for!
- How can I prepare for NYSSMA?
The first thing you can do to prepare is START EARLY! Too many students start too late, not allowing enough time to prepare accordingly. NYSSMA is not for everybody, but it is for most! It is a good idea to have your scales perfected and memorized early. Stay on track with your piece and work closely with your teacher to develop your piece in a fluent manner. Allow yourself plenty of time to practice sight reading. The more you do it, the better you’ll get! You can pick up any piece and read through it slowly as you play. This is a fun way to prepare, while also learning something new in the process! You may also want to practice in front of people. This will help keep your nerves down on the day of to eliminate the possibility of nerve related mistakes. You can also practice in front of a mirror. This advice is geared mostly towards voice students. The mirror will allow you to check your posture, facial expression and body language. You always want to mirror the mood of the piece you are performing. You wouldn’t want to seem angry when you’re singing a happy song! Get your sheet music and accompanist early! Don’t wait until the last minute to get these details finalized. You wouldn’t want to stress if the books are out of stock, or there are the inevitable shipping delays. Accompanists are hard to book around NYSSMA time, so might as well book them early and have the ease of mind
- What materials should I bring?
Students need to bring two copies of original music to the evaluation. One copy is for the adjudicator and the other (unmarked) copy is for the student. Snare drum students should be prepared to bring their own snare drum (properly tuned) and stand as well as their sticks. For drum-set students, be sure to call the district ahead of time to see if their a drum set prepared for students to use. If not, you may need to bring your own tuned drum kit from home. Voice students must either provide live accompaniment (pianist to play with them) or an approved backing track. If a track is used, you must provide your own audio playing device.
8. What do I do on the day of NYSSMA?
Arrive early! Many times, you’re going to a new place; make sure to allow time for getting lost and figuring out where to go. Arriving on time is an important part of the process. You’ll also want to dress nicely! This helps in making you feel good about yourself, while simultaneously showing respect for the judges and the music. Lastly, have fun! This is meant to be a fun and happy experience. Remember, nothing bad will happen if you don’t perform at your very best so don’t put too much pressure on yourself!