Creating a lifeline: Student musicians from around New Mexico perform in virtual festival

Community Reports

NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The New Mexico Music Educators Association held their annual All-State Music Festival in January, but this year, it was all online. High school students from all around the state auditioned to take part in the festival for the chance to work with the best and brightest New Mexico musicians.

Executive Director Neil Swapp said the organization had made the decision to continue with the event virtually back in July, which gave them six months to begin the process of adapting the event. “We really wanted to make sure that we were connecting with kids and giving them that emotional support they needed. Obviously, we prefer to do it in-person, but I think it’s been a lifeline for a lot of these kids,” Swapp said.

The program offers an opportunity for students to perform in a symphonic band, orchestra, guitar ensembles, choir, jazz bands and more. Students started auditioning virtually in late October of 2020 and began rehearsals in small groups with students who played the same instruments in early January.

Anna Briones, a senior at Farmington High School, participated in her third and final All-State event this month. This year’s event was a very different experience compared to what she was used to. “We didn’t get to be making music together at the same time in the same room, which is always an amazing part, going to your first rehearsal and hearing your ensemble play. This year we didn’t get to play together but we still got to be surrounded with all the other amazing musicians across the state,” Briones said.

While this year looked significantly different than previous years, Swapp said there were also some positive surprises in holding the event virtually. “The biggest positive in all of it is because we were doing it virtually, we could invite people from anywhere in the world to attend and present,” Swapp said. “One of our composers this year presented from Japan, Kristin Chenowith joined us for a live session, we had some teachers from the east coast call in, which is something we would have never been able to do in a face-to-face situation.”

Kirsten Kuper, a junior at V. Sue Cleveland High School said even though things changed for them this year, she was grateful to still be able to participate. “Even in a time like this when not that much is going on, this was a really good way to encourage the kids around here to stay involved in music and have something to work towards since we’ve been working on this music for so long. I think it was just a great thing for everyone involved,” Kuper said.

Nicholas Hernandez of Las Cruces High School said he found solace in focusing all his attention on music. “When you’re with your instrument and your music and it’s just a quiet day, that’s all you have to focus on,” Hernandez said. “It’s a good distraction from all the terrible things that are happening in the world. I’m thankful to the NMMEA staff who made this event possible.”

The students who participated in this year’s All-State festival are in the process of recording themselves performing their piece and will submit them to the NMMEA who will combine the various recordings into one master track so they can hear how they sound together.

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