As a sixth grader, now senior Sofia Piedrafita-Ortiz was drawn to the clarinet’s “smooth and beautiful tone,” compelling her to learn the instrument.
Four years later after having taken numerous private lessons, practiced for hours and attended other regional honor bands, she received an unexpected piece of news. She was on a break from rehearsal at the San Dieguito Union High School district honor band when students started screaming that results for the California Band Directors Association’s all-state honor band were in. Expecting to be rejected, she opened her inbox; she found an acceptance.
This year, she was selected for the third consecutive year to all-state, along with three others from San Dieguito Academy: sophomore Ty Brown (percussion), junior Sergio Miragliotta (flute), and junior Louis Milne (b-flat clarinet).
Starting Feb. 15, these students will participate in a weekend of intense rehearsals and music making with the best high school musicians in the state in San Jose.
“The all-state honor groups pool students from the entire state of California….so, your applicant pool is substantially larger than you might see in any regional or all-southern event,” San Dieguito Academy’s music teacher Jeremy Wuertz said. “It’s incredibly exciting [to have four SDA students attending]. It’s a really tremendous honor.”
According to Piedrafita-Ortiz, they receive 2,700 applicants from clarinetists and only accept around 90, giving them a three percent acceptance rate.
“I applied for all-state because attending honor bands is one of the most rewarding opportunities that comes with being a musician,” Piedrafita-Ortiz said. “You get to meet really cool and talented people who share the same interests, while learning from inspirational conductors from all over the country.”
Brown added that as an aspiring music major, the experience of attending all-state is essential for resume building.
For Milne, being accepted into all-state was tremendously exciting.
“[Being accepted was] a benchmark that showed my progress as a musician. It also showed me that my hard work really paid off,” Milne said.
Piedrafita-Ortiz added that it’s a big deal.
“You are auditioning against thousands of other musicians from all over California, who are practicing harder and harder each year to be accepted and better themselves as musicians,” Piedrafita-Ortiz said.
The audition process
The all-state ensembles require applicants to submit a recorded audition consisting of scales and a few excerpts of solo repertoire, according to Miragliotta.
The auditions are also blind, which makes applicant names invisible to adjudicators. Brown said he appreciated that the auditions were blind, especially since it eliminates bias.
Most of the SDA students who were accepted began practicing their audition materials between three and six months prior to recording their tapes; as the deadline grew near, they spent increasing amounts of time practicing the required materials, including at home, during private lessons, and at lunch in the band room.
While students mostly support the recorded-audition process, they see seme negatives as it heightens their already stiff competition.
“It takes longer…and it’s harder because everyone is sending in their best recording,” Brown said.
While recorded auditions enable students to re-record until they are content with their excerpts, they do make the audition process more taxing, according to Milne.
“The audition process was tedious, as I spent almost an hour and a half running through excerpts for my six minute tape with my private teacher,” he said.
Wuertz added that the audition is very competitive.
“It’s quite an involved process, and only the best of the best are accepted to that group,” Wuertz said. “Knowing that your applicant pool is as big as it could possibly be, encompassing the whole state, I that just brings a level of excitement…that you can’t really find at any other event.”
An opportunity for enhanced musicianship
Of the four that were selected, three have attended before; and, all of them have participated in honor bands, such as district and all-southern California.
Each day, students spend hours in rehearsal.
“The experience is very intense. Each day includes up to eight hours of rehearsal and musical performances, Milne said.
Brown, who is preparing to go for the first time, is looking forward to the challenge.
“The music becomes increasingly more difficult from SDA, to district, to All-Southern California, to State. Also, it draws more renowned conductors,” Brown said.
Piedrafita-Ortiz has found the climate of all-state to be very different than second period rehearsals in the San Dieguito Academy’s performing arts center.
“All-state is a lot different from playing in SDAs wind ensemble because you are performing music at a much higher level, with [many] strangers after only two days of rehearsal,” Piedrafita-Ortiz said.
“The people and conductors there are amazing and really friendly,” she added. “It’s great to play with really talented musicians who inspire you to always improve.”
Piedrafita-Ortiz also explained that students are provided the opportunity to rehearse under a different conductor, which can be invaluable.
“You are playing under a new conductor who has their own unique interpretations of the music and will conduct much differently than you are used to,” Piedrafita-Ortiz said.
Other fun aspects of the program
Once all of the participants arrive at the hotel in San Jose, they take a bus to another audition for seating within the ensemble. During this nerve wracking process, according to Piedrafita-Ortiz, students start to bond with one another.
Miragliotta explained that the experience is extremely immersive, especially as students also stay in the same hotel.
When students are not playing, they partake in other activities to enhance their musicianship, like attending concerts.
“I went last year thinking that it would be very focused on the music rehearsal aspect, however it was so much more. Everyday we would watch at least one live performance,” Milne said.
Piedrafita-Ortiz said that the ensembles they bring for students to listen to range genres from other student ensembles to professional groups. Of all the performances she attended, her favorites were by the all-state Jazz Choir and the Pacific Symphony, from Orange County, that played Latin American music and brought in dancers.
Miragliotta added attending all-state is an experience “you can look back on…for inspiration.”
“Although this seems very taxing, I have made some great connections and even better friends from this amazing event,” Milne said.