In retrospect: WHS Musicians reflect on the cancellation of Senior Districts


Credit: Hallie Luo

Students that qualified for Senior Districts react to the cancellation of the Senior Districts festival. “In terms of overall musicianship, especially in light of the pandemic, [the musicians at WHS] are just exceptional,” orchestra director Susan Memoli said.

An impressive 32 Wayland High School musicians were selected to represent the school in the 2021-2022 Senior Districts festival, with some students getting accepted into All-States and even All-Nationals. As students prepared enthusiastically for their upcoming performance, they were notified shortly after that the festival was canceled due to COVID-19.

The Massachusetts Music Educators Association (MMEA) is a program in which students from around the New England area can audition and be evaluated for a limited number of spots. The musicians that qualify, by reaching a certain number of points, would have the opportunity to participate in the festival, where they play together as a group.

Students are required to send in a video recording of the selected piece for their instrument and two scales. In normal years, they would have to do sight-reading as well, where they read new music and must play and interpret in a matter of seconds in front of a judge. However, due to COVID-19 and the virtual auditions, sight reading was removed.

Not only is Senior Districts extremely competitive, but if a student scored in the top 50% of accepted musicians, they would be able to audition for All-State. If they scored well in the All-State audition, they are eligible for All-Nationals, which includes students from all over the country.

“COVID-19 has definitely impacted musicians across the world,” senior Megan Chau said. “Many of my performances were canceled, such as the Senior Districts Festival this year. It hasn’t stopped me from making music, though.”

Musicians like Chau prepared for the newly changed audition process, which was altered to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In the past, students would practice their assigned scales and pieces beforehand and display their abilities to a judge. In contrast, the last two years of auditions have been all virtual with students submitting recordings of their auditions.

“The audition process before COVID-19 was way more anxiety-inducing because you went to a high school and played in front of a judge, but overall, I miss that atmosphere,” junior Thomas Creavin said. “Having it all online gives some people the chance to make incredible, incredible recordings, but I think part of the audition process is being able to play well every time, even in front of the judge when you’re super stressed.”

The Senior Districts festival was originally going to be rescheduled, but it was later revealed to be officially canceled. Having been called off two years in a row, students were upset and disappointed.

“It’s definitely devastating because I didn’t go last year either, so even though I’ve been accepted twice, I’ve never experienced Senior Districts at all,” sophomore Alison Zhu said.

Senior Districts is an important competition in the music community. Getting accepted is a huge accomplishment, and it’s a way to measure a musician’s technique and ability. Not many competitions are as widespread, which is why it’s an excellent opportunity to compare skill levels with other musicians.

“Senior Districts is one of our most important metrics because it encompasses students from our entire eastern geographic district and the state, and so it determines who are the top players in the area,” orchestra director Susan Memoli said.

Working with other high-level musicians and receiving numerical scores detailing the audition also helps individuals improve. A competition like Senior Districts gives students a goal to work towards.

“It shows your flaws,” sophomore Emma Li said. “It helps you push yourself because even if you don’t practice every day, you’ll get better as you practice and record. It makes a big difference in your playing because you’re motivated to play so much more often.”

The pandemic created a great obstacle for many, musicians and non-musicians, to stay motivated in their craft. Acceptance into the festival was a reward that showed the effort musicians put into practicing and honing their skills.

“For me, it’s really rewarding because when you get in, you get to celebrate with other people from your district,” Zhu said. “It’s really rewarding to play with people who love their instrument and music as much as you do.”

Even with the festival canceled, the accepted musicians have high hopes for the coming year’s auditions, and those who missed the first two years of performances are especially excited to show off their hard work in the near future.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some really top-shelf musicians for a long time, and I would say that their individual playing is really exceptional,” Memoli said. “The future of the program looks bright.”