HBHS students preparing for Jazz All-State auditions

A group of talented Hollis Brookline High School musicians will travel to Soughegan High School on Saturday, Oct. 22, to audition for a chance to be a part of the Jazz All-State Festival.

Those auditioning for a spot in the 32-person honors choir or 32-person standard jazz choir must sing a rendition of the jazz ballad "My Funny Valentine." The students must then perform improvisational scatting. In addition, the students must complete an impromptu sight reading and singing exercise.

The audition material for those going out for the honors and standard jazz bands are similar: They must perform and improvise on a ballad and a blues etude. Band students must also complete a sight reading and playing exercise.

It sounds like a lot of work, and it certainly is. But for the last couple of months, the students have been working closely with their respective band and choir teacher to perfect their audition material in Cav Block rehearsals.

During each rehearsal session, either choir director Matthew Barbosa or band director Dave Umstead worked with kids in a group or individually. They showcased their musical progress, often in front of other auditionees, and received feedback in order to improve their chances.

Many of those auditioning are thankful that their teachers provided these extra learning opportunities.

"I think they’re really beneficial because singing in front of somebody else is a big deal, and you don’t realize how you sound until you hear other people listen to it," said senior Abbey Kotelly, who is hoping to make the festival as either a soprano or alto vocalist. "Having people around you give their opinions and encouragement is really awesome."

With Hollis Brookline being one of few high schools that have a jazz choir, Barbosa takes pride in getting his interested students ready for the challenge.

"Usually I have my students audition for me before they pay for the (audition slot)," he said.

If they pass his test and he thinks they have the work ethic to learn the pieces, he works with them tirelessly until their performance is audition-ready. However, in the end, the responsibility is on the student.

Down the hall in the band room, Umstead knows what he’s doing. He has taught all levels of band at Hollis Brookline for 13 years, and has been preparing private students for Jazz All-State since the 1990s. In addition, he began judging at the Jazz All-State auditions in 2000, and has been a judge on and off for many years since, this year being another at which he will make an appearance.

"I know exactly what judges are hearing," he said. "I’ve been the guy listening to kids come in every five minutes, so I know the kinds of common problems that are there, and I think that helps a lot for me to prepare someone else."

Both students and teachers have been working hard to ensure a successful round of Jazz All-State auditions. Best of luck to all those who are trying out.

This column is written by Nicole Poitras, a senior at Hollis Brookline High School. She was among 51 high school journalists representing all 50 states and Washington, D.C., who attended the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington in June.