Competitive Music Programs Statewide Take A Major Hit Due To COVID-19

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Justin Montanez Photo.

YaeYoung Min

The number of high school students auditioning for competitive bands has dramatically decreased in Connecticut and the U.S. since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every musician has a predicament– COVID-19 is an airborne virus. They are unable to perform in public. This was a major setback not only for present musicians but also for the generation of high school musicians working to enter the professional world.

“From what I’ve gathered from speaking to colleagues across the states, and actually across the nation, our programs have all taken a hit,” said Anne Halloran Tortora, a former music teacher at Saint Bernard High School in Uncasville and the current news editor for the Connecticut Music Educators Association (CMEA).

The competition pool of students applying to these ensembles had drastically declined.

“Actually, the numbers did shift,’’ she said. “Some schools opted not to participate because for whatever reason they did not feel that it would not give students the complete experience they may have wanted to have.”

CMEA canceled its concerts. Means of social distancing were nearly impossible. Many students and/or music teachers have lost the drive to participate in auditions. All in-person auditions were canceled, and pre-recorded virtual auditions now could be recorded multiple times.

Tortora found this unfair; many students have stark disadvantages.

“If you were to look at the demographics for each of the four regions in CMEA, you would definitely see some similarities, but you would also see differences as far as economic challenges, challenges in resources,” she said.

Students with no clear access to advanced music education were at a disadvantage. They were unable to be selected in a competitive environment like the CMEA’s regional bands, she said.

Not every school has a different teacher taking care of instrumentalists and chorus, she said.

For example, “they are going to have strings students that are going to be preparing themselves but they are not going to have the benefit of the teachers whose primary instrument is strings,” she said.

Music educators like Tortora want to set future generations up for success.

“What are you going to give them that is going to increase their level or enable them to grow without breaking their spirits and causing them to lose their love and passion for their music? It’s a big challenge that we have,” she said.

The innumerable takes of pre-recorded auditions brought high school students performance anxiety. Performers undergo physiological changes when placed in pressure situations.

According to Cambridge University, music performance anxiety is common among musicians, with 15% to 25% of music performers experiencing it, and it may have become more common during the pandemic.

“One of the biggest tasks we have as music educators is to provide our students with opportunities to succeed,” Tortora said.

The CMEA is affiliated with the National Association for Music Education. CMEA divides the state into four regions: Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. Only exceptional students who pass the regionals can move up to audition for the All-State level.

YaeYoung Min is a student at New Milford High School.


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