Students Tackle NYSSMA and Commencement Exams

by Mia Reese Bravo

FSSA’s advanced strings class

As the school year’s finish line comes closer into sight, Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (FSSA) instrumental majors have yet another hurdle to traverse before they leave for summer break.

From now until June 2022, all instrumental majors from freshman to seniors need to spend time preparing for the solo festival of the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA).

Additionally, senior instrumental and vocal majors have an added challenge—the end of the year commencement exam. In years prior, senior instrumental majors were the only ones required to attend NYSSMA as a part of obtaining their arts-endorsed diploma, but this year all grades will be making the trip to perform their chosen solo piece of music in front of a panel of judges.

Mr. Kronenberg, FSSA’s band and orchestra director talks about this switch from mandating only seniors to all grades. 

“I’ve always wanted all the students to go every year,” Mr. K. says. “It would have created a lot more work for one teacher to do the work of three teachers, but this year it’s nice that there’s a faculty that is on board with the idea,” he said.

The faculty in question would be Ms. Ivanovic, the new strings department teacher in the instrumental studio. She shares a similar mindset to Mr. K. when it comes to all grades attending NYSSMA in June as opposed to solely seniors.

“I think that by the time you’re in senior year and you’ve never experienced NYSSMA before, there’s nothing we can do for you,” Ms. Ivanovic begins. “It’s already done, you’re out the door. This way, you’re held accountable for all of high school. Whatever level you’re on, next year you come in and you know what you need to work on.”

Ms. Ivanovic makes an additional comment about how this is another step that is necessary to be on the same level as LaGuardia, the specialized performing arts high school located in Manhattan, which also requires all of its instrumental students to participate in NYSSMA.

According to both Mr. K and Ms. Ivanovic, the merit of participating in NYSSMA comes from being able to receive a non-biased evaluation of one’s playing and hear from an impartial judge in order to obtain honest feedback. 

Nearly all students with the exception of two mention that they had no idea that they would need to participate in NYSSMA, and considering that it is the first year that all grades are being required to attend, it is reasonable that it is the source of stress and nerves for some, such as freshman instrumental major Abby Harach. In spite of her nerves, she sees NYSSMA as an opportunity to combat her stage fright and bring up her confidence.

Some students view NYSSMA with more indifference than anything, but a few students like Christopher Fung, junior instrumental major, are enthusiastic about attending NYSSMA in June.

This is due to the fact that one’s participation in NYSSMA and how well they do is a major factor of being selected to participate in one of the NYSSMA All-State music groups. All-State is an extremely competitive and prestigious music conference, and only those who score at least a 99 on the NYSSMA performance have a possibility of being selected to participate.

“I’ve been playing for so long that it feels like something I need to do or else everything I’ve done is a waste,” Chris says, showing his solemnity and commitment as a musician. 

Aside from NYSSMA, the seniors of the instrumental and vocal studio have the exit exam at the end of the year to look forward to as well. The exam itself consists of questions pertaining to a students’ music theory and history knowledge, but additional components of the overall commencement exam include writing a two page long reflective essay as well as proof of two in-school performances.

The problem is that those who are not taking AP Music Theory in their senior year haven’t had regular lessons in the subject since their sophomore year, which was cut short due to COVID-19.

“If I wasn’t taking AP Music Theory I would be a lot more worried than I am now. I’m worried about my classmates and the preparation for performing for NYSSMA,” Netza Jimenez, another senior vocal major, says. “Because we mainly took music theory/history in freshman and sophomore year, there’s a big disconnect between taking the exam in senior year.” 

For those not taking AP Music Theory, preparation for the exit exam is largely independent, seeing as there is no time for music teachers to fit in designated lessons in combination with class rehearsals. Ms.I vanovic does make the point that students can schedule one on one lessons to aid in preparation for the exam if students personally feel it to be necessary.

The changes coming to the instrumental department as of this year are a sharp turn from what the studio was before, but in the long run, these changes are necessary for not only individual students to improve their playing, but for the standard of the various ensembles to improve as a whole.

As for the exit exam, although it is a tall hurdle for the class of 2022, given the numerous bumps in the road students have had to deal with along the way, it is just another thing standing between us and the finish line of graduation.