The 2019 NYSSMA All State Conference was recently held in Rochester from December 5 to 8, and about 1,000 of the top high school musicians and vocalists in the state were invited to attend. Among those were two Trumansburg High School students.
Elisabeth Lewis, a junior, plays trumpet and was part of the Symphonic Band. Senior Erin Harrigan plays French horn and was a musician in the Symphony Orchestra. Lewis is the daughter of Aaron and Hope Lewis, and Harrigan is the daughter of Craig and Sarahjane Harrigan.
Being invited to All State is quite a prestigious honor and required that the musicians attend the spring NYSSMA Festival where they performed solo audition numbers with a piano accompaniment which was provided this year by Russell Posegate. Each performance is adjudicated by multiple judges and the performers also must play a sight-reading selection. The judges score various aspects of the performances, write recommendations for improvement, and determine whether the musician should be considered for All State. A high score must be levied for a musician to even be considered. This year, Harrigan received a score of 99 percent and Lewis earned a score of 100 percent. The girls were very excited to discover that they had both received invitations to All State.
On Thursday, Dec. 5, the girls traveled to Rochester. Once at their hotel, registration took a lot of time because of the long lines, but Harrigan and Lewis finally were able to get into their rooms and settle in. Later, Lewis had to go through seating auditions to determine whether she was to be first, second, or third chair in the trumpet section. While the string instruments in Harrigan’s orchestra had seating auditions, she and the other brass instruments ran through their harder pieces.
Friday, Dec. 6, began with breakfast followed by a rehearsal at the hotel from 8:30 to 11 a.m. There was a two-hour break for lunch with a rehearsal from 1 to 5 p.m., followed by another two-hour break for dinner and then rehearsal from 7 to 9 p.m. During the lunch and dinner breaks, over 180 vendors and professionals tied to the music business were set up in the dining area and students could wander and partake of what was being offered.
There were instrument makers and those who created sheet music. Members of the Army Band were present. Representatives from different colleges were in attendance as were those people selling and demonstrating a wide variety of instruments. “It was just fun to look around and try out different instruments,” remarked Lewis.
Later that night, musicians, conductors, and others involved with All State gathered on the hotel staircase and sang Christmas carols. Both Harrigan and Lewis thought that was a really fun way to end the day.
Conductors for the bands, orchestras, and choral groups came from various colleges. Lewis’s conductor was from Purdue while Harrigan’s conductor was from the University of Illinois. They enjoyed working with these professionals and with other top musicians from around the state. Different clinics were also held throughout the weekend. Saturday’s schedule was similar to Friday’s, but at one point, Harrigan’s conductor allowed the musicians to ask questions about careers in music. Lewis’s band had a dress rehearsal at the Eastman Theater so the musicians could get a feel for the space.
Some of the instrumental and choral groups performed their concerts on Saturday, but Harrigan and Lewis had their concerts scheduled for Sunday morning at 10 a.m. at the Eastman Theater. There were only three groups, but the performance was quite long and lasted until around 1 p.m.
“This was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” explained Lewis. “I was able to play with people who shared my love of music and who played on a very high level. We were able to work on small details, and that wouldn’t normally happen on a regular basis in a school band.”
Harrigan also really enjoyed the experience and it turned out to be different than she expected, but in a good way. “It was cool to play with a large string section because the musicians were really good and you could actually hear them play,” she said. “Everyone knew their parts and we were able to put it together to make it better. It was also good to hear about the advanced groups that other schools have. Everyone was knowledgeable about how their groups worked.”
Lewis will have another opportunity to qualify again at NYSSMA in spring of 2020 with the possibility of returning to All State in her senior year. Harrigan is looking forward to college and would like to study music performance. She has already applied to some schools like SUNY Fredonia, Ithaca College, and the Eastman School of Music and is just waiting to hear back before she makes the right decision. For both Harrigan and Lewis, this was an experience of a lifetime and one that they won’t soon forget.