In an effort to showcase musical prowess, the New York State School Music Association holds auditions each year for select students to earn spots in the All-State band, orchestra, chorus, and jazz ensembles.
For many young musicians, the All-State band is the big leagues, offering an incredible opportunity to meet fellow musicians, work with various conductors, and perform challenging pieces, whether they are new or entirely improvised.
The 2023 All-State Conference brought together four outstanding seniors from South Side High School — French horn player Paul Marquardt, Jazz guitarist Owen Cashman, Electronic music composer James Giangregorio, and Cellist Paul Adal — who shared their experiences and aspirations.
The camaraderie at the conference left a lasting impression on the seniors.
“It was so surreal, just being there and having the honor to play in that orchestra,” Adal said. “You meet all these talented, passionate, and respectful people, you form connections with them, and it invigorates you to become a better player.”
Marquardt and Cashman shared similar sentiments, highlighting the opportunities that the conference provides.
“It was extremely validating to come together with people who respected each other as musicians,” Marquardt said. “It showed me what music can do for you and all the possibilities it can bring someone.”
Cashman, who is also part of the vocal jazz ensemble rhythm section, was grateful for the improvisation portion of the experience as well as the chance to play with others on a large-scale.
“The whole audition portion for NYSSMA, and the All-State experience, are great for college auditions that are coming up,” Cashman shared. “I feel much more prepared for those now that I had the chance to play at the conference.”
On the production side of music, Giangregorio won the electronic music composition award; moreover, he expressed his enjoyment in the diversity of compositions at the conference.
“I loved hearing feedback from all the people there because it was all so constructive,” he shared. “But it was really cool to hear other compositions too because some people did completely different things than I do.”
Inspired by a variety of examples ranging from Sheku Kanneh-Mason, the cellist at the Royal Wedding, to music producer Metro Boomin, these talented students’ passion and commitment for music is highly admirable.
“All of them were just genuinely excited to be a part of (the conference) and were so happy for the opportunity,” Orchestra and theatrical pit teacher Katie Mark said. “I knew what it would mean to them to be part of such an enriching experience.”
Alongside these dedicated young musicians, supportive mentors and teachers play a crucial role in shaping the path to success.
“My teachers, especially Mrs. Mark, played a huge role in my musical journey,” Marquardt said. “I wouldn’t be at the level I’m at today without them.”
Giangregorio also shared how Mark encouraged him to submit his composition. “I wasn’t going to submit it at first,” he said. “I didn’t think it was good enough.”
Mark emphasized the collaborative effort behind the scenes, where drafts were refined and fine-tuned. “His work was absolutely good enough, which is why I pushed him to submit it,” Mark expressed. “It was comparable to other pieces that had been chosen in the past, so he sent me drafts and we worked on it together.”
The All-State music ensembles not only showcase exceptional musical talent but also serve as a platform for young musicians to connect, learn, and envision diverse paths in the world of music.
As these aspiring musicians embark on their musical journeys, their experiences and supporters have undoubtedly fueled their passion and determination.