By: Grace Ward
My decision to audition for TMEA All-State Jazz was one made on a whim. It was the result of me thinking “Surely it can’t hurt to try.” I truly never would have been able to anticipate the impact that this mentality would have on my life, especially in this particular moment. Having the chance to play with the TMEA All-State Jazz ensemble changed my life, as dramatic as that sounds. This opportunity was far more to me than playing tunes. It was the paragon of what hard work mixed with a little bit of confidence can turn into. It has also been proof of the life-long benefits that can come from even the smallest bits of courage. In this blog post, I wanted to share both the process and the experience of becoming an All-Stater.
The Audition process is twofold: All-Region auditions and All-State auditions. In order to audition for All-State, one must make All-Region Jazz. All-Region Jazz often sits in the shadow of All-State, viewed as just a stepping stone in the State process, however, I would argue that Region is as good (if not better than) the All-State experience! All-Region is absolutely an honor in and of itself, and is conveniently comprised of the musicians who live in the same district as you! Suddenly, upon making All-Region, you have a group of people to play with that live near you. Beyond the convenience, All-Region is an extremely educational and motiving experience, as you get to work with guest clinicians and perform music that is both unique and challenging. Moving along, once one has made All-Region Jazz, they will receive the option to audition for All-State. This audition is slightly different. Instead of a live judging panel, All-State auditions are recorded live with an engineer. This is so that the audition can be sent to TMEA, to be judged along with all other applicants in Texas. Another difference between the two auditions is the audition material. While the three etudes remain the same, the improvisation etude will be different. The Region Audition will usually be a blues while All-State will likely be the changes to a well-known jazz standard. Once all of the recorded auditions are listened to and put in order by the panel of judges, the order will determine if one makes it, which Jazz ensemble they are placed in, and what chair they will sit. Placement in an All-State Ensemble means meeting, playing, and performing with that ensemble at the Annual TMEA convention in San Antonio.
Attending the TMEA convention to participate in an All-State Ensemble is an experience matched by few. The days feel so long, yet by the time it’s all done, it will feel as if you were only there for a few hours. On the first night, you’ll meet your ensemble for the first time ever, and on the third day, you’ll perform one of the most memorable concerts of your life with the ensemble.
The music is sent way ahead of time so that each person can learn their part before-hand, and the time spent rehearsing can be dedicated to making the ensemble tight, shaping the tunes, and organizing the improvisatory sections. That being said, the days are usually jam packed with rehearsals. On top of that, there are concerts being put on by the other All-State ensembles and honors ensembles from across Texas, a massive music convection with music shops/companies from around the world, and hundreds of new high-school musicians to become acquainted with.
In my personal experience, my most memorable time at TMEA was the time spent with my ensemble and our director. The guest clinician for my ensemble was baritone saxophonist, Denis DiBlasio, known mostly for his work in trumpeter, Maynard Ferguson’s big band. Denis DiBlasio was so inspiring, as he knew exactly what he wanted and how to describe it in a way that was encouraging, yet precise. He was also full of stories, from his days in Maynard’s band to his other experiences from navigating a career in jazz. He evoked a passion within each of us, reminding us why we fell in love with jazz in the first place. We even went beyond rehearsing the music. He had us create our own heads on the spot, and jam on tunes that we created in the spur of the moment. Beyond the inspiration from our incredible director, I gained a group of life-long friends/supporters/collaborators. To this day, I still keep in touch with and my fellow ensemble members, through social media, or by sending each other recordings/ideas for feedback or collaboration. While the TMEA convention only lasted 3 days, I will carry moments from it for the rest of my life!
If you are considering auditioning for Jazz All-Region or All-State, my only advice is to do it. Whether or not you think you stand a chance, do it. The point is not making it, the point is believing in yourself, and doing things that you are not always positive you are capable of. If I had gone through my life thus-far only trying to do things that I believed I was capable of, I would have never been an All-Stater, or on a bigger concern, at my current school, the New England Conservatory of Music. Often, we don’t give ourselves nearly enough credit or even the chance to discover what we really can or can’t do. Even in cases where we try but don’t necessarily succeed, we become better musicians, artists, and all-around better people in the process.