All-State returning for New Mexico’s top student musicians, with major changes


RIO RANCHO, N.M. (KRQE) – A prestigious event for New Mexico student musicians is just a couple months away from its return, but with big COVID-safe changes. That’s causing some performing arts students to question whether they’re being treated differently than athletes. All-State brings together the best of the best when it comes to high school choir, band and orchestra students, but this year, it will see a divide with students split up across the state.

Music is part of Shannon Morlock’s daily routine. The Rio Rancho student has been a part of New Mexico’s prestigious All-State choir ensemble for three years.

“A lot of students that make it get recognized at their school, on announcements. At Cleveland, we have a tradition of ringing our bell on campus in front of the entire school,” said Morlock, a senior at V. Sue Cleveland High School and president of the Cleveland Choir program. “It’s also been a big deal applying to colleges, getting music scholarships at other schools across the nation.”

After the last event went virtual for the pandemic, students anxiously anticipated the early 2022 ensemble for choir, band, and orchestra students to return in person. But some, like Morlock, say they weren’t expecting just how different it would end up being.

“I’ve been told that the actual participants of the All-State Ensemble will not be together,” said Morlock. “They will not be performing together and that is the first time that has ever happened.”

The 2022 All-State, organized by the New Mexico Music Educators Association, is going from a nearly week-long event to a single day. The day will be packed with rehearsals and performances, but the ensemble will not perform together, instead, splitting up across three regions in the state.

“It became pretty evident early on that we wouldn’t be able to do that to that magnitude because of the number of mitigations we need to follow and also the mandates from the Public Education Department,” said Neil Swapp, executive director of the NMMEA. “Students that aren’t vaccinated can’t share rooms which would make it really cost-prohibitive for students to travel to such event. Also, because of the large number in these ensembles, we wouldn’t be able to fit in our rehearsal space. Also, the recital hall we normally use is Popejoy and they have a pretty strict vaccine mandate so a lot of our kids wouldn’t have been able to participate.”

Organizers say the decision to split the event into regions is largely because of the venue vaccine requirements and capacity limits. The three regional events will have no outside audience this year, as the students, instead, perform for each other.

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“The parents will not be allowed to attend simply because we don’t have the capacity to monitor vaccination status and testing status. Some of the venues will not be as large as Popejoy so we do need to monitor the crowd size, the audience size,” said Swapp. “It’ll be a one-day event where the students have rehearsal, a clinic, a keynote address, and then do a very informal in-house concert for each other and we hope to Zoom that to parents even though we’re still working around quite a few copyright restrictions on that.”

Morlock says it’s disappointing. She and other students, who recently filed a petition, feel like the state has favored athletics, allowing fans in the stands, when it’s a different story for the arts.

“I’m not saying that athletics shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. They should. What they’re doing is totally right and I totally agree with it. Performing arts should have that ability too,” said Morlock. “I’m not asking to not wear a mask. I’m asking to be able to sing with my entire ensemble. Because these students that have made All-State worked so incredibly hard to get even the title being at All-State. If football can have district championships, have over a thousand people at their games every single week, we can have a one-time event where the state of New Mexico is united with music.”

Organizers clarified this event is not operated by the NMAA, which handles the athletic sanctions, hence the differences in what’s allowed. However, they hope students will still be able to enjoy its return and reiterated that the change in days and audiences will also not impact students’ abilities to connect with universities and earn scholarships.

“It’s a difficult time for all of us, especially our students who have come out of 18 months of disappointment,” said Swapp. “While it’s not going to be our normal huge, giant, four-day event, I think it’s going to be pretty special and I guarantee kids will learn and I guarantee kids will have great memories.”

The NMMEA does plan to live stream the All-State performances for family and friends since they won’t be able to attend in person. Those details are still being finalized. The 2022 All-State performances will be held on Jan. 8 in Albuquerque, Portales, and Las Cruces.

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