City High Students Prepare for All-State Auditions

Ten of City’s All-State Hopefuls Share Their Experiences

Esther Puderbaugh, A&E Editor

With the month of October comes auditions for the prestigious Iowa All-State band, orchestra, and choir. Students in the music wing prepare throughout the fall for the late October audition date with the hope of being accepted into one of the ensembles.

For Ryan Brentner ‘23, her senior year is her first time going through the All-State process. 

“I think it’s a little bit more than I thought,” Brentner said of her experience so far. “We practice every day, and then three times a week we end up practicing twice a day because we have to meet with Hagy one day a week, with a clinician one day a week, and then as a whole group one day a week plus practices on top of that.”

Brentner decided to take part in the process to improve her musicianship.

“I originally decided that I wanted to do All-State because I wanted to be a better member of the choir,” Brentner said. “I was hearing that it was really good for personal growth and I am one of four soprano ones in Concert Choir so I really wanted to be able to hold my own.” 

Brentner believes that the intensive preparations have helped her to achieve this goal.

“So far I think I’ve accomplished [that goal] because it’s a group of three in these intense choir pieces so if you don’t know your notes you can’t rely on anyone else because no one else is singing your part,” Brentner said. 

As a senior trying out for the first time, Brentner feels that she is in a unique position. 

“I am feeling a little behind but I have for the last two years with COVID, like missing out on my sophomore year. I felt a little behind on everything that I didn’t get to start freshman year and continue through my whole high school career,” Brentner said. “But it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day like how old you are or how much experience you have.”

In her second year auditioning, Abril Bejarano Hamity ‘25 is working on finding a balance between schoolwork and All-State prep. 

“It’s hard managing time but if you can do it it’s great,” Hamity said. “You’re staying up late doing homework because instead of doing homework you’re practicing All-State. So it’s just trying to find that balance.”

Ethan Hill ‘24 is feeling nervous for his first All-State audition.

“I’m feeling a bit nervous for auditions,” Hill said. “But overall I care more about how I can improve my singing through the process rather than actually getting in.”

Whit Jury ‘23 feels the preparation process has gotten easier for him. This will be Jury’s third time auditioning for the All-State chorus. 

“With every year that I’ve done it, it’s gotten easier,” Jury said. “It’s tough at first every morning having to come in figuring out times and schedules with [my group] but getting a schedule in has been a lot easier and I think the rehearsal process is just a lot of going over things and seeing what works, what needs to change, what sounds good, what doesn’t, seeing how we’re feeling that day, what songs feel the roughest, and figuring out which ones we need to work on to make it sound as ‘music’ as possible.”

Even with two auditions under their belt, Jury still feels some nerves around the audition.

“There’s a lot of buildup, ginormous buildup for the auditions with the whole couple days beforehand being really stressful and the day of being really stressful,” Jury said. “You’re going hard but not too hard where you lose your voice the day before the audition. But it’s a lot of buildup for a really really short audition.” 

At last year’s auditions, Hamity lost her voice. 

“There is a little bit of pressure. I think it depends. Because when you’re a freshman, sophomore, junior, you always have that one more year if you don’t get in. But when you’re a senior then it’s your last year so there’s probably more pressure there,” Hamity said. “I only feel pressure because last year I couldn’t give it my best shot because I had lost my voice.”

For their senior year, Jury is feeling some pressure to get in for a second time.

“I feel a little bit of pressure to get in because I was in last year. It would kind of stink if I didn’t get in this year but at this point in time I know I did what I could if I didn’t get in so I would be happy either way really,” Jury said. 

Jury has auditioned twice before and gotten in once which has given him an understanding of both audition outcomes. 

“With dealing with it, if you were to get in definitely [don’t] brag or scream because other people are around you that did not get in so it would be best to keep it a little down before going off to celebrate,” Jury said. “If you did not happen to make it in, it’s tough and it sucks. It’s hard to not get in because you’ve worked for a long time to not get into the thing that you were going for and it’s ok to be upset and it’s ok to grieve that because that’s a lot of hard work.”

Despite not getting in his freshman year, Jury felt that the experience was worth it.

“I don’t think it’s all for nothing because I could definitely say my musicianship had improved my freshman year even though I didn’t get in,” Jury said. “I knew that I had improved as a singer and that was what really mattered in the end. Just that long long experience of singing that often really really helped me and I think it can help a lot of people regardless of if they get into the festival or not.” 

Hamity feels that not being accepted into the All-State Chorus last year helped to put into perspective rejection. 

“I think not getting in puts in perspective ‘well this is the worst that can happen’, it happened, and I did not die or else I wouldn’t be here right now,” Hamity said. “If I didn’t get in then at least I can be there to support the people who got in and the people who didn’t, too. It’s an insane process and you do not know who’s getting in and who’s not, but losing my voice during that time helped me realize how much I needed to take care of my voice because that had never happened to me before.”

For Jury, the festival was an experience unlike any other.

“The experience of the festival is really really cool because singing with that many people in these colorful robes is really cool. The rehearsals are so cool because everyone knows what they are doing,” Jury said. “Going into the arena is a little jarring because the sound doesn’t travel very far in the stadium which makes rehearsals there a lot harder because the conductors have to figure out the delay between people that are like a million miles away from the orchestra and the piano and how to figure that out.”

The festival was an emotional experience for Jury.

“I definitely felt some imposter syndrome. It was surprising, I did not expect it whatsoever because the last time I auditioned I didn’t get in and I really didn’t think I would,” Jury said. “Hearing everyone else around me and hearing how good they were, it made me feel it all again like ‘am I really meant to be here because these guys are really really good’. But how we hear ourselves in our head is always different to what it is out there and I guess they heard something that they liked and I may not know what it was exactly that they heard but I did what I could and it did me good. I’ve been able to process it and really been able to come to terms with ‘I put in the time and really just did the best I could with that’ and it paid off.” 

Hamity feels she has learned a lot about healthy mindsets from the All-State process. 

“It’s interesting because there are times when I am guilty of thinking our group is fine because our voices mix better than this other group. And that’s not necessarily a wrong thing to think but that’s not what’s going to drive me to do better,” Hamity said. “I want to focus on improving myself so I can focus on improving our group as a whole together. I think that’s the first step.”

Through the vigorous process of All-State auditions, Hamity feels very strongly about not comparing herself to others. 

“My thought process will not be what [other people] are doing because that is not going to be productive for me,” Hamity said. “If I only rely on my information on one person it’s not going to do me any good, it’s not going to make me win the competition, it’s just going to make me be a bit toxic against someone who is just doing their best as well. They have their own type of voice and I shouldn’t base myself off of it because we are not the same person! The first thing you don’t need to think about is what other people are doing.”

For students auditioning for All-State on a string instrument, there are different audition requirements. Orchestra students play scales, excerpts of the music that will be played at the festival, and part of a solo piece for their auditions. 

Violinist Abigail Sigafoose ‘26 is auditioning for All-State orchestra for the first time this year.

“It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of playing the same thing over and over again, nitpicking it,” Sigafoose said. “Sometimes it’s frustrating because you take it to a lesson and you’re like ‘it’s so good’ and then they’re like ‘speed it up, change this and this’.”

Even though preparing is a lot of work, Sigafoose has found it to be a gratifying process so far.

“It’s also seeing how far you come, especially [when] you start here and then you look back and you’re like ‘I’ve doubled the tempo I’ve got this far into it’,” Sigafoose said. “It’s definitely a process but in the end, at least where I am now, it makes you really proud of how far you’ve come.”

Will Hand ‘24 also feels that he learns a lot from the process and is feeling new pressure to get in this year.

“In my experience, I enjoy preparing for All-State because it overall improves my playing and I like working on new music such as the excerpts,” Hand said. “I didn’t really feel pressure the last two years [to get in]. I do this year since my teacher and family really want me to get in junior and senior year.”

Adrian Bostian ‘23 believes the process to be something he has learned a lot from. Bostian sat first chair in the cello section last year.

“For auditioning it’s really good practice for a professional audition where you’ll pretty much do the same thing like prepare excerpts and a solo,” Bostian said. “For musicianship it’s really nice because they bring in all these great conductors and different conductors have different ideas about different music. And whether you like it or not you have to listen to this conductor’s ideas for three days and [execute them] to the best of your ability. I have learned some different musical ideas from that.”

Adam Zeithamel ‘23 also believes All-State to have been beneficial for him.

“It was my first full symphony [strings, winds, and percussion in one ensemble] experience,” Zeithamel said. “I think that’s a good thing that not a lot of kids from Iowa get and also just the more auditions you do the better you get at them so it helps students prepare for further auditions, summer programs, colleges, etc.”

Bostian hopes to do well again at auditions and seat placements this year.

“I would like to not do worse than last year but last year I did pretty well so that’s difficult. It’s mostly just myself,” Bostian said. “As far as external pressure, I don’t really feel like the people around me will be that disappointed in me if I don’t do well this year which is nice because that’s not the same for everybody. I’m lucky in that sense. I will be disappointed in myself if I don’t do very well.” 

Sitting first chair at All-State was a dream of Bostian’s come true.

“It was a big accomplishment,” Bostian said. “I felt great because going into All-State I was like ‘oh my dream would be to get first chair one year’ and so that was something complete.”

A three year All-Stater, Bostian has felt increasingly nervous each year at auditions. 

“This phenomenon that I’ve experienced is that as I’ve become at least what I deem as a more mature person, I get more nervous,” Bostian said. “I think in my earlier auditions I was able to kind of just push aside the nerves because of my ego but I realize that’s not as realistic now so I’ve started getting more nervous in the last few years for just things in general.”

Zeithamel has also dealt with some audition anxiety. In his fourth year of All-State auditions, Zeithamel has come up with some strategies to deal with it.

“You want to get in the performance mindset, of course,” Zeithamel said. “But a decent amount of it comes from not thinking too much about it, just trusting in your preparation and not trying to cram everything in in the last few minutes because it’s only going to hurt you.”

Bostian feels incredibly lucky to have a community of peers in the cello. 

“It’s really nice, the whole group of cellos,” Bostian said. “We have so many people that are around each other’s level so you’re just forced to compete with each other.”

Bostian believes he owes a lot to the group of cellos.

“I think in everything I do I would prefer to have people that are challenging me and that I can learn from,” Bostian said. “If I were put in a place with a lot of people who I wasn’t very competitive with and I couldn’t really learn something from, I don’t think I would be as developed as a cellist as I am now and that goes for everything else. That’s just a belief that I have.”

Like orchestra students, band students also must play scales and a solo for their All-State audition. But, instead of excerpts band auditionees play etudes selected by the Iowa High School Music Association, the group that puts on the All-State festivals. 

Last year, Liv Leman ‘25 made All-State band originally as a bass clarinet alternate. Later, she ended up getting into the band.

“Last year was my first ever in-person audition and it was the scariest thing that I’ve ever done,” Leman said. “Originally I made alternate and I cried when I found out because I was so stressed out about it. So it’s really difficult but it’s also really rewarding at the same time.”

Going through the All-State process last year taught Leman a lot about time and stress management.

“It’s a lot of time. It’s very time consuming and it’s something that if you want to do it you have to fully commit to it or else it’s not going to be worth it in the end. But if you do decide to go for it then it is absolutely a great choice,” Leman said. “Last year I did not take nearly enough breaks. I have been better about it this year. Like sometimes taking a break stresses me out but then I remember I need breaks to keep practicing to keep doing good.”

Leman feels pressure to get accepted into the band again her sophomore year. 

“I do feel pressure, mostly from myself,” Leman said. “I think that I put a lot of pressure on myself to do better than I did last year and the most nerve wracking thing is that it’s an audition so it’s not really an accurate representation of your skill because it’s just this one time you play things which is pretty scary so I definitely do feel a lot of pressure.”

Ella Sherlock ‘23 also deals with nervousness around the audition.

“I don’t think that auditions have gotten easier for me. I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to auditions and stuff and that’s something that I will always need to work on,” Sherlock said. “I’ve improved in my capability as a player which has made me feel more comfortable with what I play but you never know what’s going to actually happen when you audition.”

Sherlock has tried different strategies to deal with audition nerves.

“I know of a lot [of strategies] but I’m not really good at using them,” Sherlock said. “Usually the best thing for me is to remind myself that I live on a floating rock and in the grand scheme of things this isn’t really important!”

Leman was very emotional when she found out she was fully accepted into the ensemble her freshman year.

“It was one of the best moments of my life. It was so great. I was so happy,” Leman said. “I remember I had just come down and was about to go into band and I got told that I was actually put in the All-State band and I almost cried. Actually, I probably did cry. And then I remember getting my music after school. And it felt super good when I went to All-State and we did the chair placements and I got third chair. I felt like I actually deserved to be there.”

Sherlock had a less positive audition experience her freshman year.

“The worst thing that ever happened to me in All-State was my freshman year audition and I really like to tell this story because it makes anything else that could ever happen seem not bad,” Sherlock said. “So I was all prepared, so excited, I had practiced a lot, and I was kind of in my head about my audition. So I’m walking over to my audition and it’s my time to go and then I can’t find my solo and I don’t have the music for it and I’m freaking out inside. There were like ten other people from our band program running around trying to find the music and it made me love the people in our band so much. They were so supportive, no one is ever going to try to make it so you don’t get into All-State. So they were looking for my music, they were seeing if they could make a copy. The music ended up being underneath the desk of the person that was outside of the room checking people in which was really embarrassing.”

Even though Sherlock wasn’t accepted that year, the experience of losing her music made her closer to the other band auditionees and it put into perspective what the worst thing that could happen looked like.

“That’s made me feel better about anything I do and I like to tell people that before they audition because they’re like ‘oh yeah as long as I have my music and my stuff I’m gonna be fine’,” Sherlock said. “It’s not like anything super tragic is gonna happen, I mean unless you break your instrument, that’s a whole other thing.”

Sherlock felt that last year’s festival was a really beneficial experience for her view of herself.

“I play bassoon which means that there’s almost nobody else that plays it. So I’m usually the only bassoonist and that can really inflate my view of myself. I think that being put in an environment with a lot of other bassoonists and a lot of competition is really good,” Sherlock said. “Especially this past year because I was in All-State Orchestra. I was with kind of the cream of the crop but I was able to adjust my mindset as to where my ability falls. Sometimes I can think I’m the best player in the entire world because I’m the only one in the band so it really puts into perspective that you might not be all that. But it’s not a bad thing because it just makes you want to work harder!”

Leman felt that last year’s festival taught her a lot about confidence. 

“I definitely did feel [out of place] for a while because I was originally an alternate and the only reason I got to go [to All-State] was because someone else didn’t get to go,” Leman said. “But I recognize now that I do deserve to be there and when I was struggling with that I just had to keep telling myself that I deserve to be there and I did very good in my audition and I can play this music just like everyone else can.”

Leman is passionate about encouraging others to try new things and feels that All-State has taught her a lot about what her and her peers are capable of.

“I feel a lot of the times people say I can’t do that [because] I am too young, I’ll do it next year,” Leman said. “But I think that a lot of people are capable of more than they think.”