Auditioning for All-West


Shwetha Ganesh

Kyler Hamilton (10) and Charlie Folson (10) practicing All-West music.

Every year, hundreds of students from sixth to 12th grade from all across West Tennessee audition for a spot in the prestigious All-West orchestra. The West Tennessee Band and Orchestra Association (WTSBOA) holds instrumental concerts, and the West Tennessee Vocal Music Educators Association (WTVMEA) holds auditions for choir students. Tennessee has separate choirs, bands and orchestras for every part of the state.

“[WTSBOA] features middle school bands, a ninth-10th-grade band, an 11th-12th-grade band, a string orchestra, a symphony orchestra and a jazz band,” Hannah Dickerson (11) said.  “A lot of [students] are very dedicated and very talented. Some of them definitely want to pursue music in college and later on as a profession.”

All-West choirs are separated into All-Northwest and All-Southwest choirs which have different directors, music and venues.

The audition process is often a rigorous affair.  Most of the students agree that the auditions are the worst part of All-West.The instrumental auditions are blind, whereas the choir auditions require students to sing in front of judges. Students are required to learn up to three excerpts, memorize scales and sight read performing a piece after looking at it for only 30 seconds.

“In All-West, it’s kind of like they’re waiting for you to mess up so they can write down the score, which is a little bit scary,” Claire Gerling (12) said.

But all of the hard work pays off when the results come out. The All-West bands, choirs and orchestras perform at one of the largest performance venues, the Cannon Center, where the Memphis Symphony Orchestra performs. The concerts are free, and the seats are always packed. This year’s concert was from Feb. 10-11.

The All-West experience extends past the notes on the page. Many of the students who have attended All-West talked about meeting interesting people through their shared interests.

“It’s nice to be in your element and to be around people who care about music like you do,” Dickerson said.  “It’s also really nice to get away from school for a while.”

Dickerson pointed out the value of making new connections and knowing “people who might help you further your musical career later on.”

Students who made the top scores and thus the top chairs at All-West have the option of auditioning for All-State, which is an ensemble featuring the top musicians from the state. Both Gerling and Dickerson had the privilege of attending All-State in high school.

“It’s a completely different level of musicians,” Dickerson said. “Pretty much everyone there knows exactly what they’re doing.”

At All-State, the auditions are much more competitive, and the judges are more nit-picky. But at the same time, it is more rewarding. Although the music is difficult, the challenge is part of the fun.