By Louisa Benatovich, ECS Student Reporter

Your heart is pounding, and your palms are sweating. Your breaths are fast and shallow. You want to run. Are you being chased by a bear? No…you’re at solo festival. Special note: tasto solo is an Italian term used in music scores indicating that a melody should be played on its own.

On the 11th and 12th of May, 89 Ellicottville students had a chance to show off their hard work and musical talent at the ever-terrifying NYSSMA Solo Festival. Held at Pioneer High School, this long-awaited event is the cause of much stress and anxiety. It can, however, get a student accepted to Area and Conference All-State. These ensembles, comprised of the best musicians in the state, are an opportunity for Ellicottville musicians to perform and enjoy music at a high level.

Ginna Hensel, a 15-time solo fest attendee, reminisced about her many years of performance. “It’s been hard,” said this ECS junior and player of over 10 instruments, “solo festival catapults you out of your comfort zone. These experiences, however, have made me a better musician and all-around a more empathetic person. I can’t thank my parents and music teachers enough for supporting me.”

Crystal Wilder, Ellicottville’s high school and middle school band director, sent 14 students to perform their solos this year. “I enjoy taking my students to solo festival,” she said. “It teaches them discipline and gives them another person’s opinion on their performance. It makes me proud to see how hard my students work to do well.”

Pat Waldron, choral director at ECS, brought 20 students. Not only does Waldron have to take time out of her choral practice to help her solo festival students (choral students don’t get individualized lessons like band students do), she also has to accompany every student on the piano. “I feel every moment of stress that the performer does,” said Waldron. “I’m there before, after, and during their performance.”

Madisyn Kilby, who performed both a vocal and baritone solo, expounded on the differences between the two. “During a vocal solo,” said the sophomore, “it’s only you and the judge. I believe that it makes you more vulnerable because it’s your voice, not an actual, physical instrument.”

Solo festival may be one of the most stressful experiences of a young child’s life. They have one chance to make it work. There is no second try; they cannot restart in the middle of the audition. For children, this one-time-deal situation is a rarity. Being young is all about trying until you finally get it right. The times when you absolutely cannot try again, however, are an essential part of growing up. Knowing how you react under pressure and identifying personal calming techniques are essential for a happy, healthy life. There is no way to easily get past a solo festival judge’s scrutiny. How much work you have put in will be directly reflected in the terrifying number in the bottom right corner of the dreaded score sheet.

There is no way to “hack” solo festival, but there are ways of making it less stressful. Practicing, of course, will ease the anxiety. It is proving to yourself that you can, indeed, do it. Starting young is a huge advantage as well. Becoming accustomed to stressful situations like these are the only way to become an expert at handling them. Practice makes perfect.

Kathy Weller, ECS’s elementary music teacher, carefully prepares all of her students with their musical futures in mind. “Solo festival is a valuable tool in a student’s musical journey,” she explained. “It teaches them about setting goals, hard work and perseverance, and dealing with stressful situations. Just going and performing a solo piece for a complete stranger can be intimidating, so learning how to cope with that anxiety will foster skills that will be useful in all areas of life.”

The three W’s (Mrs. Wilder, Mrs. Waldron, and Mrs. Weller) are the backbone of the ECS music department. These wonderful women provide musical outlets for students, organize and play for ECS musicals, and are emotional supports for all their students. Without them, these stressful solo festivals would be almost unbearable. Without them, music at Ellicottville wouldn’t exist.