Solo and Ensemble gives students an important opportunity to learn and grow


Participating in the orchestra or the band is quite a large feat. Students who choose to do so must attend classes during school, as well as attend camps and rehearsals outside of normal school operating hours. Some students, though, feel so connected to music that they choose to take it a step further.

Solo and Ensemble is a yearly competition that allows them to do just that. Put on by the MSBOA (Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association), Solo and Ensemble allows band and orchestra students of grades 7-12 to have a chance to showcase their playing abilities. Students have the option of performing in an ensemble, as a soloist, or both.

Their performances are then judged on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the best. This year it was held at Zeeland High School on Feb. 9; however, the location is subject to change each year.

Band teacher Laura Zilhaver, who has been at FHC for a year and a half, says that she encourages students to participate in Solo and Ensemble because it provides a performing and learning experience.

“[Solo and Ensemble] requires students to think about performing in a way that is different than the traditional ensemble setting. In this environment, students are in charge of making interpretive decisions,” Zilhaver said. “Students that participate in [Solo and Ensemble] usually leave the experience with a more complete understanding of what makes a musical performance a success.”

By participating in this experience, Zilhaver has high hopes for what students will gain from it.

“I hope they gain a sense of independent musicianship,” Zilhaver said. “In large groups, students can sometimes hide their sound or their musical opinions are not heard.  In Solo and Ensemble, they can’t hide their sound, mistakes, or musical interpretations. Students gain a sense of independent musicianship because the majority of the preparation and planning for their performance is student led.”

For students like junior Lindsey Cool, who has been playing the flute for eight years, Solo and Ensemble is a new chance to test her musical abilities, as well as her ability to prepare a piece of music on her own.

“[Participating in Solo and Ensemble] has helped me become more confident in myself in front of other people,” Lindsey said. “It takes guts to perform a piece by yourself while someone is judging you the entire time. It’s definitely something that I need to keep working on, and this is a part of the process.”

Others such as junior Tommy Hendricks, who has been playing the marimba for five years, agree. Tommy says that he chooses to participate in Solo and Ensemble so that he can test his skills in a more formal setting. For him, being in front of judges who are able to judge him differently than others is the ultimate way to improve. He also says that it’s a fun way to check up on how his level of performance is doing.

Like Lindsey, though, Tommy agrees that Solo and Ensemble is more of a fun activity and has not had as much of an impact on his life as participating in the band has.

“I really believe that being in band has [taught] me to be more caring and to enjoy the little things in life,” Tommy said. “I have really learned to have an appreciation for music and performance.”

Although junior Alexander Hahn participates in orchestra by playing the violin, he feels the same way.

“Orchestra has become quite a family,” Alexander said. “We get to rehearse every day, and each of us grows with every rehearsal. I’ve been doing Solo and Ensemble for three years now, [and] it’s a different challenge every year. I enjoy the opportunity to compete and prepare for a competition. It gives an extra incentive to improve on the violin, too.”

Junior Andy Travis, another violin musician, can attest to this statement. Andy says that participating in orchestra is one the best parts of his day, and what he enjoys most about it is it’s an opportunity to make music in a large group of his friends.

“Making music in an orchestra is an entirely different experience than playing by yourself; I love being in an ensemble,” Andy said. “[Orchestra] has helped me with teamwork, multitasking, and expanding my horizons because [our orchestra director], Mr. Pool, shows us a wide variety of music from different eras and cultures.”

For Tommy, Lindsey, Alexander, and Andy, performing is the culmination of all of their efforts as musicians.

Alexander says that performing is a thrill and that he performs in order to prove to himself, as well as others, what he is capable of.  Tommy asserts that he will perform for anyone who will listen because he simply loves performing that much.

Yet, how can FHC musicians receive the thrill of performing if they aren’t getting the recognition from the student body that they deserve? Sure, their parents, friends, teachers, and mentors are invested, but what about everyone else?

Zilhaver says that teachers and the administration are very supportive.

“I think the teachers and administration do a lot to recognize the successes of students in all departments throughout the year,” Zilhaver said. “I see that in the awards and recognition ceremonies that happen at the end of the school year. I also appreciate how often I see administrators and teachers at our band concerts.”

Lindsey agrees that, although the recognition is not terrible, there is certainly room for improvement. To her, the band gets more of an appropriate amount of recognition because their concerts are announced on FX, and the school and community attend football games, which the marching band plays at. She acknowledges, though, that even though it would be nice to have more recognition from students, not everyone is actively interested in the success of the music departments.

Alexander shares the same outlook on the situation.

“I think orchestra does get swept under the rug a bit; we don’t get enough recognition. I think that people would enjoy watching our concerts because they’re pretty exciting,” Alexander said. “But there has been a slightly bigger turn out recently than when I was a freshman. I don’t know how we could change that.”

Andy, on the other hand, does know how to change that. In years past, there has been a collage concert that combined all of the music programs. Andy says that this was not only interesting and entertaining, but it also boosted attendance. He believes that if more combined concerts were produced, then the community might be more interested and engaged.

“I think that the best way to change that would be to get more students involved, advertise more, and have more cross-program interaction,” Andy said.

No matter who comes to Solo and Ensemble, though, performances are just as amazing. According to Lindsey, FHC performed well, as expected.

“Overall, [Solo and Ensemble] usually ends up being a relatively good day for students at FHC as we have so many talented musicians in our music program,” Lindsey said.