EHS Students Shine at the New England Music Festival

Scarlett Cannizzaro, Staff Writer

The New England Music Festival Association (NEMFA) has been around since 1927, hosting student vocalists, percussionists, and string, wind, and brass players from Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, and occasionally Massachusetts. The 2023 New England Music Festival was held March 23-25 in Woodstock, CT, at the Loos Center for the Arts. It brought together hundreds of musicians to perform a variety of pieces in three final concerts. The ensembles performing were the orchestra, band, and choir. 

The Hive interviewed Emmerson Stapleton, violinist and concertmaster of the 2023 NEMFA Orchestra, which means that she is the violinist in the uppermost or highest spot and sits right beside the conductor. She talked to us about what it was like to be a player in one of these ensembles.

“I’ve never done it to get into colleges and it’s purely just because I like it,” Stapleton said. “I think that takes off some pressure that I just get to go and enjoy myself…it’s just so cool to be around people who are thinking the way that you do and in a really welcoming community.”  

Asiat Ali, the EHS Orchestra conductor and educator, also took part in this festival. He participated in the festival as a musician during high school and has now been a sponsor and chaperone since 2005. 

“My most memorable experience at New England’s was the first year that I participated as a junior,” Ali wrote by email. “We played the Masquerade Waltz by Khachaturian. I didn’t know the piece and it is a dark and exciting waltz. It was a lot of fun to play and fun to discover the piece.”

The process to participate in this festival requires preparation, an audition, and the three-day festival in March. Auditions are held in December at a high school in Vermont. 

When preparing for an audition, students are given a list of solo repertoire to learn and perform for a judge. The number of points you receive on your audition (out of 140) determines if you are accepted into the festival.. Cut-off statistics differ depending on the instrument. For reference, the cut-off number for strings is 117. However, the cut-off for cellos is 128. 

Hailey Messier, a bassoonist at EHS, has played in both the NEMFA orchestra and band over the course of two years.

Typically, you would start learning your solo piece a few months before to ensure it is polished for the early-December audition,” Messier wrote by email.  “Being a player in a NEMFA ensemble means you are one of the top players of your instrument in New England, and it’s a great honor to achieve. This means you are also expected to know and practice your music before coming to the festival.”

Students attending the concert festival have a specific schedule to follow, including lots of rehearsal time. In all, the musicians rehearse for about 16 hours before the performance. 

This year the performance’s overall repertoire throughout all three ensembles included “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas, “Florentiner March” by Julius Fucik, “Let My Love Be Heard” by Jake Runestad, and “Academic Festival Overture” by Johannes Brahms. 

While the New England Music Festival is an amazing experience, it has gradually changed over the years. 

“This year, one of the main differences for NEMFA was the housing situation,” Messier wrote. “This was the second year of housing all students in hotels instead of with host families that had been used for many previous festivals; this was adopted because of Covid protocols last year, and it turned out to be a better housing option. However, the hotel chaperones were much stricter this year than last about visiting other kids and curfew which many participants found annoying.” 

At the end of the festival, the hours of rehearsal paid off and the musicians brought a wonderful performance to the stage. 

The concert was Stapleton’s favorite part of the experience.“We were caught up in this wave of sound, and everything’s around you, and it’s just so beautiful,” she said.

When asked about whether or not other musicians should participate in NEMFA in the future, 

Ali wrote, “I would absolutely recommend any student that is serious about music to audition for the festival. You get to meet, play, and make friends with students from all over New England. You get to work with excellent conductors and play major repertoire like symphonies and tone poems by great composers.”

I would definitely encourage other students and musicians to audition for New England’s! The two festivals I’ve participated in have been some of my favorite high school experiences so far,” Messier wrote. “While it’s super tiring with rehearsals all day, it’s so rewarding in the end, and I’ve enjoyed meeting and interacting with other musicians from around New England… Something about being away with people who all share a similar love for music brings out the best in us.”

Stapleton shared a similar sentiment. “I remember the first time that I went. And I didn’t even know if I wanted to go,” she said. “And I remember coming back, and this was probably a combination of just lack of sleep and complete stimulation all the time during the day, but I was just like sobbing in my car and being like, ‘Mom, these people are my people.’”