Students work to master skill in Solo and Ensemble Competition


Keira Sweeney

Pictured left to right Junior Mari Lyke, Senior Nate Davis, Sophomore Katherine Cook, Junior Daytona Rodgers, Sophomore Carter Sterling, and Junior Katelyn Dentler prepare to perform at OMEA Solo and Ensemble Competition at McKinley high school on Jan. 14th, 2023.

It is Jan. 14th. Dozens of kids gather nervously in a classroom at McKinley High School, the distinct sound of band room chaos echoing off the walls. Many classrooms in the high school are just like it, others feature students showing off months of hard work to peers and judges. 

Every year students from all around the county gather at a high school across Ohio to participate in what is known as the OMEA Solo and Ensemble Competition. The host school changes from year to year but the competition has been a staple in music students’ education for decades. 

Students in band, strings and choir spend months in preparation to perform at the OMEA Solo and Ensemble Competitions. They chose to perform in small groups, also known as ensembles, or as soloists. These students can choose from three different classes of music, class A, B or C, each class varying in difficulty. 

“For their efforts they are scored by the judge, and they are given valuable feedback from a music professional other than their ensemble directors,” Daniel Nauss, the strings director at GlenOak said. 

Solo and ensemble contests are held all over the country. Many directors share Nauss’s view on the value of these competitions.

“Think about you as a member in a section in a band. Think about the responsibility you feel,” head band director Christopher Irwin said. “When you have that spotlight on you, you prepare in a different way. You start to progress in a very different way. Not just in your ability but in the confidence level of your ability.”

Giving students the opportunity and responsibility of preparing a piece of music to a performance level forces them to think about the way they play or sing. This in turn influences them to make improvements they would not have in a larger group setting.  

Sophomore Carter Sterling has participated in solo and ensemble for three years. He, like many others, spends months preparing solos to perform at the event.

“I think it’s a great way for young musicians to exercise their talent and learn a lot more about music than they would in a large ensemble,” Sterling said. 

In addition to the individual work put into solo and ensemble by students, each soloist performs with an accompanist. These accompanists learn and perform the piano parts to over a dozen GlenOak students every year. They put in just as much work as the students to make sure solo and ensemble day goes well. 

Diane Fedorka, a retired piano teacher, is one of the accompanists GlenOak students can perform with for solo and ensemble. 

“It has been a wonderful experience since 2007 when I began at GOHS, and I hope it continues many more years,” Fedorka said.

Music programs have been participating in solo and ensemble competitions since the early 1900s and have been pushing for greater participation in musical education.

“It teaches them how to handle stress and nerves,” Fedorka said. “It provides an opportunity to play for an audience and a judge.”

In addition to Fedorka, students can also work with Sandy Simpson, a retired Plain Local Schools music  teacher and freelance organist.

“It is a privilege to get to know such hard-working people,” Simpson said. “I don’t know how they do everything they do, but I know that they are building strength and skills that will be beneficial in whatever they choose to do in the future.”

Beyond improving technical skills, solo and ensemble gives students and teachers the opportunity to enjoy their shared love of music. Programs like band, strings and choir have improved the educational and emotional lives of many students. Solo and ensemble pushes for the unique experience of musical performance in high school.  

“Music is something that brings joy, comradery, confidence and the appreciation of beauty throughout our lives,” Simpson said. “I want to contribute to that in any way I can.”