Freshmen perform at All-State

Whether it’s learning the excerpts, dealing with the nerves of an audition, or performing one’s best during recall, an Iowa high school musician’s journey to the All-State festival holds vast, arduous obstacles. It’s a journey that only the most talented musicians finish, and five West High freshmen can say they’ve joined this select group.


Jiung Jung, Copy Editor

“It felt like I wasn’t supposed to be [auditioning] because I was a freshman.”

With a measly 17% of musicians qualifying for All-State, it’s hard not to sympathize with the words of freshman Julia Fink. Making the festival is difficult enough for upperclassmen – but freshmen face an even greater challenge.

“Upperclassmen have had more experience and time to practice, so it’s easier for them,” Chen-You Wu ’20 said. “For us freshmen, it’s important to be naturally good at [performing].”

West High once again had a plethora of All-State qualifiers, and five talented freshmen joined this select group: Karissa Burkhardt (chorus), Julia Fink (chorus), Chen-You Wu (clarinet), Andrew Burgess (violin), and Abbie Callahan (chorus). Although these freshmen just experienced their first All-State festival, they all have extensive musical backgrounds, starting from their elementary school days.

“A huge number of the [All-State] participants start practicing before the school required them to start,” Burgess said. “It takes a lot of extra work. Having private lessons in the past helped me.”

As the All-State auditions came closer, the freshmen began to work even harder, finding motivation from themselves or from parents.

“Both my parents are great singers, and they’ve traveled the world singing, so they have always coached me and taught me what to do,” Burkhardt said.

For Abbie Callahan, however, motivation came from elsewhere.

“Nobody in my family is musical, except for myself,” Callahan said. “I wasn’t very motivated, but once I made it into a quartet, I thought ‘Oh, my work affects others; I need to step up my game.’”

When audition day came, approximately 6,000 hopeful musicians from all around the state went to their respective audition sites. Knowing the tough, cutthroat process for auditions, the freshmen could feel the immense pressure.

“Nerves always are a part for me, and I usually end up rushing,” Wu said. “It’s important to work out your nerves before your audition.”

After a long afternoon of auditions, recalls and emotion, the most dreaded part of All-State began: waiting for the results.

“They put the [qualifier] lists down individually, and with each result there were people crying and laughing, so that was one part I didn’t like,” Fink said.

As each of the freshmen saw their names written down on the small list of qualifiers, they knew their work had finally paid off.

“I like to prove people wrong,” Callahan said. “So when someone says I can’t make All-State as a freshman, well, now I’m going to try really hard to prove you wrong.

On November 17th, the All-State festival arrived, and for the freshmen, it proved to be an experience they’ll never forget.

“I enjoyed the whole level of musicianship. The final concert is the best thing out of everything, and our director was super funny and made lots of jokes,” Wu said. “But also the bonding experience with the upperclassmen, its great to get to know the other people.”

“It was the best sound I’ve ever heard from a choir,” Callahan added. “It gave me goose bumps every time.”

So what does one need to get to the musical level of these five talented freshmen?

“You have to practice a lot, and you have to have the right mindset,” Fink said. “If you don’t think you’ll get in there’s a good chance that you probably wont get in. You need to get over being a freshman because at that point, it doesn’t matter.”

Photo courtesy of Jon Welch.