Don’t Know Much About NYSSMA

by Sandra Foyt on June 5, 2010

in Enrichment Ideas

nyssma Every year my daughter and I participate in an awkward ritual practiced by young musicians all over New York. We haul an instrument that is taller than my child, and twice as heavy, on a journey to a school somewhere far from home for NYSSMA (New York State Music Association) auditions.

I’m not sure why they’re called auditions.  After a closed door session with a NYSSMA judge, the performer receives a score sheet, not a seat in an orchestra.  Instead of describing these as “auditions,” they may as well be labeled “exams.”

For years, I’ve wondered why we do this.  It’s a huge hassle, and not just because of the size of the harp.

Each year, the composition that must be mastered is significantly more difficult than the previous level. At Level 5, my daughter has spent the entire academic year learning how to play this one piece, and practicing it daily.

Months before the audition, we have to fill out an application through the music program in our school district. Actually, we’re lucky that our school district is willing to accommodate the application even though she doesn’t attend the public school.  You have to apply to NYSSMA through a school, and not all will do that for non-matriculated students.

Now, even though the application goes in months in advance, we rarely learn exactly where or when the audition will take place until the last week.  We end up blocking off the Friday and Saturday just in case, but this year we were lucky to get a Friday 5PM slot.  That’s much better than the 9PM slot we had early on, when my daughter was just 9 years old.

This time, I have to admit, things went very smoothly.  I didn’t get lost on the way, as I did our first time out.  We arrived with plenty of time for registration, warm up, and tuning.  Maneuvering the heavy harp through the hallways wasn’t too bad now that we have a cart (for the first time!) We even found a stairwell right next to the test room so that we didn’t have far to go after the final harp tuning.

The musician who preceded my daughter didn’t fare as well.  He ran into the same problem we faced last year when my daughter received a “festival” rating due to not having prepared the correct number of pieces for the solo performance.  When it happened to her, it was a bitter to pill to swallow.  She had worked so hard, and it wasn’t her fault that there was a misunderstanding regarding the solo piece.  But, she learned how to deal with disappointment with grace, and to go on with the performance regardless.  That’s a good lesson in itself.

Every year, even though the level get harder, going through NYSSMA auditions gets a little easier.  My daughter still has to conquer her nerves (and sweaty palms,) but she doesn’t repeat mistakes of previous years.

I’m beginning to appreciate the value of NYSSMA auditions as described by Mary-Ann Leonard Feller,

Learning how to prepare for an audition/performance, gather yourself emotionally, and perform under stress is a really important part of being a musician that is often overlooked even by music teachers and can be hard to provide opportunities for.

The reward of NYSSMA auditions is that it’s all part of  the process of enabling a confident musician.

For advice from a NYSSMA veteran, see NYSSMA Tips.

| Sandra Foyt is a storyteller, photographer, and road trip junkie. A veteran of six cross-country road trips, she drove Route 66, the Lincoln Highway, the fossil freeway, the extraterrestrial highway, and even “the loneliest road in America.” Find her on, an award-winning destination guide to extraordinary travel in and from Northeast USA, on her portfolio site at, and in freelance gigs on Family Travel 411, Minitime, Huffington Post, and Matador Network. Email:, Twitter @SandraFoyt.

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