NYSSMA is the acronym for the New York State School Music Association. It is perhaps the largest most powerful organization of subject area teachers that is focused on the music education of young people in New York State from ages birth through college. NYSSMA is a comprehensive organization that provides a wealth of professional resources and development to all of us music teachers. NYSSMA is the sponsor of the All-State festival concerts to which the top achieving music students and performing ensembles are accepted (these concerts happen annually in Rochester during the first weekend of December). NYSSMA is also an advocacy powerhouse for arts in education, frequently grabbing the ear of state legislators and school administrators to help them understand why what we do is so important. What the general public knows best about NYSSMA is likely the solo and major ensemble festivals that they send their kids to every year. This post is intended to shed some light on what the big deal is.
My mom would always say “I thought you sounded great, how and why can/should you grade something like music?” (In fact, she still says it). Well in the interest of helping our students to develop an attitude of self improvement and growth in achievement, an objective assessment free of “American Idol” type opinions can be invaluable.
Solo festival: Students, along with their music teacher (or private lesson teacher) pick a song from a preselected list of pieces that have been evaluated and classified into levels ranging from 1-6. Some contributing factors to the level include range, hand positions, harmonic complexity, meter. Students are evaluated using a rubric geared toward their instrument and scored based on best practices of that instrument and overall musicianship. Students also perform scales and then play or sing a melody that they have never seen before without any help from anybody. Music educators who are trained to provide reliable feedback and follow consistent scoring guidelines in order to evaluate students (mostly current or retired music teachers who seek this additional training).
Levels 1-4 are graded on a scale of 0-28 points
Levels 5-6 are graded on a scale of 0-100 points.
Major Ensemble Festival: Pieces of music are also placed into levels based on their overall difficulty in levels 1-6. Pieces are listed in the “NYSSMA manual” that meet both musical and pedagogical standards. Teachers wishing to take their groups to Major Ensemble festival must follow strict guidelines to ensure that students are eligible to be rated at specific difficulty levels. Ensembles perform three selections. Two of which from the Manual and one is a free selection as a “warm-up.” Ensembles are rated by music educators who are certified by NYSSMA to evaluate bands, orchestras and choirs of every level. These are kids who are meeting all of the standards for the solo festival, but with the added complexity as doing it at the same time while communicating musically with about 50-70 other students. Possible ratings include: Bronze: For groups meeting basic technical and musical standards. Some issues detracted from the overall performance Silver: For groups achieving excellent levels of performance with any issues not detracting from the overall performance. Gold: For groups achieving outstanding levels of performance with minimal issues that do not detract from the overall performance. Distinction: For groups achieving a Gold rating with exceptional performance on all three selections. NYSSMA is just one of the tools that we use to assess the musical skill development of our students. We work very hard to provide a meaningful musical experience for our students and are proud to present them for adjudication at the state level. Our students are motivated by “showing off their skills.” Well over 150 students from our district choose to go to solo NYSSMA year after year – a decidedly nerve wracking experience for most – because they know that it is one tool that will help them be a better musician (all the while developing a discipline and strength of character).