Your child has come home from school and announced that he/she would like to participate in the NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) Festival voice evaluations for this coming spring. You look at the forms and immediately get that helpless feeling of “Uh-oh; what do I do now? My child has never even taken singing lessons. In fact, I’m not even sure if he/she can read music well enough. And all I ever hear him/her sing around the house is rock or pop music. How does NYSSMA actually work? What do I need to do? And what’s All-State? Now what?” No worries: now is NOT the time to panic. 😊
As you may know, NYSSMA can be a wonderful scholarly musical experience, but it can also be a source of stress for students and parents alike. Our goal is to take the stress out of this process, while preparing the student for success. Planning ahead is the best defense against last-minute catastrophes.
https://www.nyssma.org/parents-students/. This page will give you information about the nature of the performance evaluation, how to register your child (this can only be done through the music program in your child’s school, either by his/her music teacher or the head of the school’s music department), what Conference All-State is, whether your child needs an accompanist (singers only need an accompanist for All-State Level 6; all other singing levels may use recorded or electronic accompaniment, but accompanists are highly recommended for vocalists. And if you use recorded or electronic accompaniment, you are responsible for bringing your own equipment to play it on). A word to the wise: arrange for an accompanist well in advance of your child’s NYSSMA date. Good accompanists get booked up fast! Your school or Facebook can be a source of accompanists, as well as a piano teacher you may already know. (Professional Voice Care Center maintains a list of accompanists).
At the risk of overstating the obvious, you also need to obtain the sheet music or music book for your child’s NYSSMA evaluation, in the correct key and the required arrangement or version, well in advance. (2 copies of the music are advisable but not always needed; check the NYSSMA Parents & Students page link above for more info). It’s very frustrating to wait too long and find out that the music is out of stock. Illegal photocopies are not permitted at the NYSSMA evaluation, but you can order legal sheet music online through sites such as www.musicnotes.com. This wonderful resource even allows you to order the music transposed to a different key at no additional cost. (All vocalists except All-State Level 6 are permitted to have their solo transposed as needed).
(DISCLAIMER: The best place to go for answers to specific questions regarding NYSSMA requirements is your child’s school music teacher or department chairperson. They will know more about any recent changes in NYSSMA rules and regulations and song choices, even sooner than a private teacher might. We always require our voice students to get final approval from their school chorus teacher).
Now it’s true that many of our fine Long Island school choral directors have NYSSMA preparation classes, but some schools are unable to offer this service. School music teachers are often over-burdened with concert schedules, small group instruction, directing the school musical, and handling other special programs and assemblies as they come up. Even if there are NYSSMA lessons in your child’s school, there may not be ample individual attention given to singing technique. That’s why private instruction may be helpful, especially if your child is having any difficulty with his/her singing voice.
When we work with a NYSSMA student at Professional Voice Care Center, we use our systematic approach to development of excellent sight-singing skills. And just so you know, sight-singing involves singing a short piece of novel music without any music being played. The student is only given the first note. In 37 years of teaching, I have to say that this is the biggest source of trepidation for many of my NYSSMA students when they first come into our studio. But once they learn our system for quickly analyzing our many graded sight-singing examples, including how to identify key signature, time signature, rhythms, pitches and intervals (i.e., the musical distance between notes), and rests, as well as preparing for tricky sections, they feel more confident, because their sight-singing skills have increased significantly. For more information on Professional Voice Care Center’s Sight-Singing Instruction program, click here https://provoicecare.net/services/sight-singing-instruction/.
A private voice teacher can also help your child choose a NYSSMA solo at the appropriate graded level. (Just a note: the solo levels range from Level 1 up to Level 6, the latter being a requirement for sophomores and juniors wishing to try out for All-State. Ninth graders are not permitted to try out for All-State. More information on NYSSMA Conference All-State can be found here: https://www.nyssma.org/parents-students/the-all-state-process/. Keep in mind that the level of sight-singing difficulty corresponds to the solo’s level. So, the higher the level of the solo, the more difficult the sight-singing will be). The private teacher can also individualize the lessons to the needs of the particular student. This may include development of a healthy and thorough warm-up routine, vocal tone placement, breath control work, muscle tension relaxation, posture/alignment, diction (including foreign language diction), pitch and rhythmic accuracy, dynamics, style, phrasing, expression, and artistry. (You can read more about our Center’s NYSSMA Preparation program here: https://provoicecare.net/services/nyssma-preparation/ ).
Of course, if your child has been in choir since at least the beginning of the year, the chorus teacher is probably in a better position to help choose his/her NYSSMA solo, since that teacher will have known your child’s voice far longer than a brand-new private singing instructor. Especially if you have to wait until you can schedule that first singing lesson, I would advise your child to ask their chorus teacher for suggestions as to what level and solo he/she should sing. This way, they can spend some time listening to several NYSSMA song choices on YouTube or other online resources, and decide what solo they’d like to sing.
In fact, there are other things you and your child can do to prepare well in advance of the NYSSMA evaluations. Easy-to-implement ideas include increasing hydration to 6 glasses of water daily for younger children, and ½ their body weight in ounces of water for high school students (more if activity level is high). They should avoid dehydrating caffeinated beverages like iced tea and cola. Also, have your child start using steam inhalation with a facial steamer (we have the Conair Facial Sauna system on our website store: https://provoicecare.net/recommended-products/vocal-health-wellness/). You’ll like the steamer too; it helps voices, sinuses, and the complexion. Make sure your child avoids vocally abusive behaviors such as yelling, shouting from room to room, talking over noise, or screaming at sporting events. And it would be wonderful if he/she gets plenty of sleep! It’s difficult to have a good voice come out of an exhausted body.
Following are some suggestions for free and low-cost programs online to give students a head start on music skills in general, and sight-singing in particular:
Here is a beginner’s guide to sight-singing:
Here is a great online tutorial on key signatures:
Here is a low-cost app bundle by Notagram, LLC, that teach the basics of sight-reading in a fun interactive way:
Poco a Poco: Music Notes Bundle: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app-bundle/poco-poco-music-notes-bundle-learn-sight-reading-symbols/id1277729883?mt=8
Here is a low-cost program that will allow a student to generate an infinite number of sight-singing exercises, which can be customized by their teacher, using just the attributes required for their NYSSMA level.
So remember, you don’t have to panic just because your child wants to participate in the NYSSMA festival evaluations. Planning ahead and being informed are the keys to success – with NYSSMA, and in life!