All-State Orchestra - An attainable goal?

November 12, 2020, 9:15 PM · Hi everyone,

I've been wondering about all-state orchestra auditions. Are these auditions pretty much only attainable to those who have been playing for a long while?

What I mean is, I would love to make all-state orchestra or something of a similar level, but compared to many of my other peers, I am not as experienced in terms of being exposed to auditions or having played since a particularly young age.

The requirements for all-state orchestra in my state are usually a three-octave scale and arpeggio, as well as an etude (usually Kreutzer), and an orchestral excerpt.

If I audition, it wouldn't be until another year from now and here is my preliminary "study plan":

1. Every day, practice major scale, minor scales, and all arpeggios in at least one key (cycle through all 12 keys). Practice slowly, without vibrato.
2. Every week, I will work through one orchestral excerpt. I'm currently using as my source, but if anyone has any better suggestions, that would be greatly appreciated.
3. Every day, I will work through one etude. I'm thinking of using Kreutzer mostly for this, but I know other books may also be helpful.
4. At the end of each week, I will have a "mock" audition by recording myself playing a scale, excerpt and etude.

I'm really motivated to do what it takes to reach all-state, so any tips, feedback and advice are welcome!

Replies (22)

Edited: November 12, 2020, 10:31 PM · Depends on the state. In some places it's a very serious business. In others its probably less competitive. Think maybe Texas vs. Wyoming.

Here's an alternative plan: Tell your teacher your goal of making all-state. Let them help you devise the best practicing regimen.

It would help to know your approximate "level" such as the concertos you can play well or your Suzuki book number, and an even more thorough evaluation would likely be possible if you linked a youtube of yourself playing something that is at your approximate level.

November 12, 2020, 11:05 PM · Focus on raising your overall playing level so you're an All-State level player. That's ultimately the most productive.

Discuss a technical regimen with your teacher. That will probably be some combination of scales and exercises, plus some targeted etudes.

Get used to practicing your scales and exercises and etudes with a metronome. Hold yourself accountable for being really precise and even. Use a smartphone to record yourself without a metronome, and then play back the audio/video, and see if you can set a metronome to it -- i.e. are you steady without the metronome?

I agree with Paul that you'll get better advice on this forum if you post a video.

November 13, 2020, 5:12 AM · I agree with Paul that it all depends on the particular state -- for example in New Hampshire, where I live, there are only 4 public high schools which have orchestras, out of 187 public high schools. So the overall playing level is lower than a state with a lot of public high school orchestras such as New York. That doesn't mean it's simple to get in even in NH, but it means that any individual auditioning has a better chance of being accepted.

Find out the exact audition requirements for this year and possibly the preceding several years (your school music teacher might have that information or be able to get it) and bring that list to your private teacher and discuss your goal of making it into all-state so that your teacher can guide you in that direction.

If you have never played in an orchestra, once the Covid restrictions are lifted in your state or city/town, join a youth orchestra. Learning how to blend with a section, how to follow a conductor and a concertmaster, how to listen to the mixture of sounds is very important and something you can't learn in private lessons. It can be very daunting to become a member of an honors group like the all-state orchestra but never have had orchestral experience and so not know what to expect.

November 13, 2020, 9:24 AM · It's not impossible, but it varies highly depending on your state and how things are organized. I successfully made All State on viola after playing for about a year and half in what I would consider a moderately competitive state (NJ). In my current state, positions are awarded equally based on locations, meaning it is very hard in some areas of the state (the suburbs) and very easy in other areas (rural).

I think it is MUCH more important to get a well-rounded musical experience than anything. So while All State is a good goal, I would try to find a range of activities that will help you get there, as many have mentioned above. Lessons, good quality practicing, youth orchestra, a chamber group, theory classes, etc. are all good things to help make you a better overall musician.

November 13, 2020, 9:42 AM · It's good that you're aiming for all-state next year (2021-2022) because there isn't going to be one this year.
Edited: November 13, 2020, 11:03 AM · Paul, there were All-State auditions in Texas this year. There will be no orchestra on stage but the students chosen will get a patch and bragging rights.

So much depends on the particular state you're in. In Texas (where clearly the OP does not live), even to get into the third and lowest All-State orchestra is a major achievement and represents both a high level of playing and an enormous amount of work. In other states--Colorado, I am told--the best players don't bother with All-State, and as a result it is not nearly as competitive.

I once had a student who barely made our local Region orchestra (basically covering half of the San Antonio metropolitan area), moved to New Mexico the next year and made All-State there, then came back to SA for their senior year and did not even get chosen for Region that year.

It's best, as Lydia said, to focus on raising your overall playing level.

Edited: November 13, 2020, 1:13 PM · I would note that as a learning and satisfactory musical experience, membership in a high-level youth symphony is generally going to beat the All-State experience.

(The experience can admittedly be fun, if you get to go out of town someplace interesting for it. From my own high school days, the actual music part of All-State is a vaguely remembered blur at best. But I do have fun memories of the bus ride with my orchestra friends, and some great fried chicken in downstate Illinois.)

November 13, 2020, 1:49 PM · Mary Ellen that totally makes sense. I'm glad they did that.
November 13, 2020, 2:53 PM · Ida,

You plan looks great but you don't reference that you currently play with any orchestra. That may be an oversight on your part. Shooting for All State as your first orchestral experience is a pretty big leap.

Having experience with playing in an orchestra is important.

If you do play with a really-good orchestra now chances are you have fellow musicians who are already in the All State. Also, it is highly likely that your conductor knows people in the All State Orchestra and can answer a lot of your questions.

Edited: November 13, 2020, 3:55 PM · Paul is right. Best shot is to move to a state with less than one-million population and avoid one with a music conservatory; although - I have to admit these days it is probably going to be hard to find a community college without competent music staff.

Get some orchestral experience, although that is probably impossible until the pandemic is really controlled. If you can't get the experience in a high school orchestra try a community orchestra.

I'm sure my two All-State orchestra experiences ~70 years ago are not relevant in today's climate, we did have Leroy Anderson as a conductor of our performance of his own stuff and a Brahms symphony for all the state's teachers (in 1950 & '51 Maryland all those teachers could fit into a large hall).

Edited: November 13, 2020, 9:11 PM · I think All-State Orchestra should be kind of like the NHL. Some violinists you take on because they play with speed, grace, and finesse. Some you take because they're goons who can come on during the second movement and start fistfights in the back of the seconds until the conductor hauls them off to the penalty box.

Ticket sales would soar. The advantage is that there would always be a place for someone with "alternative skills."

November 14, 2020, 5:32 AM · Andrew, here in New Hampshire none of the community colleges have any music programs of any sort at all other than perhaps a general "music appreciation" course. Certainly no instrumental programs or instruction. Even some colleges who have labeled themselves "university" don't have music programs at all. These things vary widely from state to state in the U.S.
November 14, 2020, 11:52 AM · Thanks for all the replies so far! Mary Ellen and Lydia, I especially appreciate the advice about raising my overall level.

All-state would not be my first orchestral experience. I currently participate in my high school orchestra, and if not for Covid, I would likely be doing youth orchestra.

I play viola and would be auditioning in Florida. I assume it's not as competitive as Texas, but it's definitely not Wyoming.

I'm not exactly sure what my "level" would be but I recently started working on Rebecca Clarke's Passacaglia.

November 14, 2020, 12:40 PM · Just reread the OP and I have to say, please, please, please, get professional fingerings for those orchestral excerpts before you start practicing them. You don't want to engrave "student-y" fingerings into your head. It took me years to exorcise my 15-year-old self's fingerings from Tchaikovsky Romeo & Juliet passagework (Maryland All-State 1976 piece).
November 14, 2020, 3:15 PM · Oh Paul I hope not!
November 14, 2020, 3:49 PM · The back of the seconds is the last place in the orchestra where one might expect a fistfight to erupt. Just saying.
November 14, 2020, 4:33 PM · I think it's generally best to learn future audition excerpts under the guidance of a teacher who is an orchestra player, so you can be sure that the bowings you learn reflect the typical articulations and patterns you'll encounter, you get good fingerings, and you get generally good advice for exactly how to practice those excerpts. And be super careful to learn the rhythms flawlessly.

When you eventually have to work on those excerpts for an audition, you don't want to spend weeks trying to undo a lot of unnecessary bad habits.

November 15, 2020, 2:02 PM · Travel time could be a practical consideration for the parents. Big cities can have excellent youth orchestras, rehearsing major repertoire, once a week. I did two; San Diego- Civic Youth orch. and Los Angeles-American youth orch.
November 15, 2020, 2:49 PM · Ms. Goree, where would be the first place one would expect an orchestral fistfight to erupt?
November 15, 2020, 3:43 PM · Anywhere except the back of the seconds, LOL.

November 15, 2020, 3:56 PM · Bassoon is the riot-starter. Although a trombone might knock someone's bowler off.
November 15, 2020, 5:02 PM · A fight broke out between the second bassoon and last chair Viola.
"He dropped some paper down my bassoon"
"But he started it,-He turned one of my pegs and won't tell me which one".

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