A noisy school courtyard, fulled with kids sitting, standing, or laying down, or practicing, in midst of music stands, concrete planters, instrument cases, and other players. Some have parents or friends holding their music, others brought collapsible stands, and others practicing from memory. Their ages vary, from sixth graders to seniors in high school, from school all over the county. What brings these students together? The Solo and Ensemble competition.

Solo and Ensemble is a chance for music students to perform a piece and get rated on it. (Superior, excellent, good, or poor. You can also request Comments Only.) Some choose solos, while others prefer to work together with their friends in an ensemble. Either way, it's good experience, especially for the younger kids, who've never done a recital, or have only played music with their Orchestra class. It's completely different, and more than a little scary.

You start practicing as much in advance as possible. Last year it was in January, and I got my solo music before Christmas break. I practiced it as well as I could on my own, then I practiced after school with my orchestra teacher and during my private lessons. I think the hardest parts are playing it all the way through, even if you mess up, and playing with the accompanist.

Then the big day comes, and you get to drive to a school you didn't even know existed before today, and you get to wade through the crowds of other people, all trying to sign in, find their rooms, find their teachers, accompanists, and ensemble members, and practice. Somehow, you manage to do all this without a major catastrophe. Then you've just got to warm up, hope everyone shows up on time, hope your instrument doesn't break (I had my D string snap twice last time!) and stay relatively calm. You might get to listen to a few other people play before you, too. Then your turn comes. You play your piece, the judge gives you a few pointers, finishes the score sheet, and sends it with a runner to post the scores. Then some people wait to find out their scores, and others pack up and leave. They'll find out a few days later.

And that's it. A month or more's worth of fuss, over one day and one, maybe two ten-minute performances. Of course, the results are worth it, especially if you get superior. But when it gets right down to it, it's easier than it seems.

This year my school, Rodgers Middle School, is hosting. And that makes it even more hectic. Mrs Roedig, our orchestra director, has been asking for parent and student volunteers for about a month now. We need people to assist the judges, people to carry messages and score sheets, people to make sure everything is clean, people to take names and give directions at the sign-in desk, and people to man the concession stand. We have parents bringing in baked good and things for the concession stand, and a few working at the sign-in desk and stand, but the rest will be done mostly by students. We have a lot of people working, some all day, some for just an hour or two. (We're really encouraged by the fact that we get practice credit, part of our grade, for the time we spend working.)

I'm signed up for the whole day, except for the two hours I need for my solo and duet. I'm going to be working as a judge's assistant, so I might get to hear other people play. It's going to be a lot of fun! With any luck, this year should be fun for everyone who enters, and profitable for our orchestra, too.