YPAS Orchestras score distinguished at annual KMEA festival


Guest Contributor

Manual’s Concert Orchestra and Youth Performing Arts School Philharmonia performed at the Kentucky Music Educators Association (KMEA) Large Ensemble festival at Valley High School on Thursday, April 25 and Friday, April 26.

Both orchestras scored Distinguished overall in their performances.

Orchestras, bands and choirs from across the state perform at the festival every year to assess their playing. Ensembles play and perfect their chosen pieces for weeks and months in preparation for the festival.

“We typically start work on the festival music in January; often one of the pieces was performed in the fall semester, with two new pieces added,” Daniel Whisler, conductor of the YPAS Orchestras said.

This year, the festival was supposed to take place on March 14 and 15, but KMEA postponed it until April due to the teacher sickouts.

“It gave us a lot more time to prepare and we really felt like we were ready,” Lucy Brown (10, HSU), a violinist in the Manual Concert Orchestra, said.

Three evaluators grade each performance with a rubric based on tone quality, intonation, interpretation, technique, rhythm, balance, and other factors such as repertoire and stage presence. Each category is given a point value.

Point values are based on the evaluation scale: Distinguished (1 point), Proficient (2 points), Apprentice (3 points), and Novice (4 points). The sum of all categories is calculated; the lower the point value, the better the ensemble scores. For example, an ensemble with 7-10 points receives an overall Distinguished rating, while an ensemble with 24-28 points receives a Novice.

Each ensemble also has to sight read a piece they have never played before. The conductor has an allotted time to look over the piece and then go over certain spots with the whole ensemble. Students are not allowed to play their instruments while looking over the piece, but can clap rhythms and ask questions. After their review time is up, the ensemble plays all the way through the piece and the evaluator grades them with the same rubric.

“It’s a lot easier than it sounds; Mr. Whisler is good at guiding us through the process and our orchestra is really comfortable playing with each other,” Brown said.

The next day at school after a performance, Whisler gives his students a post-concert self-evaluation assignment. He plays the performance recordings and asks the students to evaluate the piece they performed best/worst, some areas they improved on, and things they can do to prepare for their next concert or performance.

“I am always pleased that our students are typically more critical of our performance than the judges, as they are hyper-aware of many small mistakes that can arise,” Whisler said.

Students also see the value in self-assessing. “It shows me how much I have improved, and that all our hard work is finally paying off,” Brown said.

The next YPAS Orchestra Concert is on Thursday, May 9 at 7 p.m. More upcoming YPAS performances can be found on their website.