By JULIET CURTIS
Eight UHS students were accepted as California All-State Orchestra Honorees this past January, joining either the Symphony Orchestra or the String Orchestra. Organized by the California Orchestra Directors Association (CODA), invitations to join either group is considered a prestigious achievement for high school musicians.
The complete list of UHS All-State Orchestra Honorees includes freshmen Nathan Dishon and Jocelyn Tsai, sophomores Jaemin Song and Katherine Wu, and juniors Faraaz Aziz, Sol Choi, Ethan Lai, and Allison Yue.
“Being able to play together with other musicians in orchestras or symphonies has always been one of my favorite things in music, so I auditioned for All-State, as it is one of the more popular orchestras in California,” junior Allison Yue said.
This year, with the pandemic, students’ additional free time has increased the accessibility of the All-State Orchestra for many musicians.
“I chose to try out because it was something I could practice during quarantine when I had more free time, and I thought it would be a fun experience since the rehearsals and performance would be almost completely different than before, due to COVID,” freshman Jocelyn Tsai said.
Rather than attend live auditions in front of a panel, students submitted recordings directly through CODA’s website of the designated excerpts released several months previously.
“I think the online format had definitely made me less nervous during auditions, since I’m just by myself recording my laptop instead of someone watching me live, but because I’m recording it definitely takes a lot more time than just a ten minute live audition,” Tsai said. “There were many do overs to get the best possible take, but all the practicing was worth it in the end.”
As COVID-19 has limited many students’ chances to participate in extracurricular activities, the UHS orchestra has served as a form of some students’ preparation for All-State as they settle back into music in the absence of other outside orchestras.
“The UHS orchestra program has impacted my preparation by reminding me how it feels to play with other people and a conductor to make music as an orchestra,” Tsai said. “It reminded me of the important aspects of playing with other people, such as being aware of everyone’s part and how it fits together, since it had been a long time since I was able to play in an orchestra because of COVID.”
CODA has replaced its prior in-person practices at various California high schools with an online course of two rehearsal blocks over January 23 and February 13.
“Rehearsals are over Zoom which is frankly quite strange, as we’re all playing individually, muted, along to a clicking background track,” Yue said. “While this might not be the optimal situation, it’s still great to have some form of orchestra going on.”
Since the conductors and master class clinicians cannot hear and correspondingly comment on the orchestra’s performance, they teach mainly through lectures about the musical piece and the specific technique that members should be following on their own.
“I think the new format still allows a high level of learning from the conductor, but we definitely are not able to interact with and possibly learn from each other anymore, which is one of the best parts of being in an orchestra,” Tsai said. “It is also disappointing that I am unable to experience the full experience of getting to go to a hotel and live with others for a weekend, but it is also nice to be able to be in a virtual orchestra from the comfort of my own room.”
In past times, the orchestra gathered musicians in Fresno for a finishing, weekend-long rehearsal program and the ultimate performance. Though it is unable to hold the physical event this year, the orchestra still is able to provide an ending performance by combining each individual member’s taped parts and creating a final, complete recording.