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Solo & Ensemble – Reflections

January 20, 2022: I made a video about this!

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I love being a judge for solo & ensemble. As someone who is no longer immersed in the music education world, this is one of my few chances left to experience music on the middle school and high school level.

Every year, I have amazing students, and this year was no different. I had almost all middle school students, which is always full of energetic and excited beginner musicians. After every performance, I make sure I have a few seconds to discuss what could make them a better performer in the long run.

Over the years, I’ve had many suggestions I’ve made repeatedly. This year, I thought I would start writing them down. Below is the short list of advice for a good performance.

  1. Always have a backup. One reed may work for a while, but inevitably it will die. If your luck is anything like mine, your favorite reed will break about 30 minutes before your big performance. Be prepared.
  2. Bring a water bottle. Rooms inside a school can get very dry. It’s good to have water on hand, especially for performance days.
  3. Stand. When playing solos, the soloist should stand. Usually if the performer wants to sit, I gently ask them to practice while standing when preparing for next year.
  4. Announce yourself and your piece. The judge will most likely ask, but once you enter the room, it’s efficient (and amazing manners) to tell the judge your name and the piece you’ll be playing.
  5. Play on purpose. Occasionally a musician will play through their piece as if they can’t wait for it to be over. At the end, they will let the instrument fall from their face and will already start to leave. Start and end the piece with courage. Your first note is your introduction to a new listener. Your last note needs to have a little breathing room. Keep your instrument up for just a little bit. End with confidence.
  6. Have fun! The piece you’re playing is something you’ve prepared for months. It should be something you’re going to enjoy playing over and over. Pick a piece you like, something that will help you grow as a musician, and when the day comes, have fun with it.


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