All-State Students Share Their Thoughts

Eight Coral Reef students describe their All-State experience, from new friendships to exhilarating performances.

Sofia Ventura

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In the second week of January, over a dozen Coral Reef students attended the 75th Anniversary FMEA Conference. This annual event is held in and around the Tampa Convention Center, and is described on the official FMEA website as “one of the largest music education professional development events in the United States… host to 22 All-State Ensembles featuring Florida’s top Band, Orchestra, Chorus, Guitar, and Elementary Orff students conducted by world-class conductors and teachers.”

As a first-time All-State performer, I know that I’ll remember the experience for years to come. Eight other students told Baitline their own thoughts on the conference. From new friendships to exhibitions to the final concert, all agreed that the All-State convention was a transformative experience.


Marcos Ruiz is a senior flautist in the Band strand of the VPA academy. This wasn’t his first All-State performance, but he says that this year “exceeded his expectations.”

Which All-State program/ensemble were you a member of?

I was a member of the 11-12 Symphonic Band. It consisted of so many talented musicians and individuals. We all knew each other’s talents but didn’t treat it competitively. We all grew and learned from each other’s strengths.

What’s the most memorable lesson/fact/weird trick you learned from All-State? 

I learned to play with more passion and emotion. The aim of music is to impose feelings and emotions to the audience, and touching people like this creates an amazing feeling for the performer. I also played louder and became more confident in my playing.

It was like one of those stereotypical movie moments where the clapping is deafening, and you feel like you’ve finally gotten somewhere.”

— Monica Paz

What was your favorite moment/event from the All-State convention? 

I placed second chair on flute, but I ended up playing all of the big solos. We played this piece titled “Into the Silent Land” by Steven Bryant, which was written in memory of a school shooting.

This. Piece. Was. INTENSE. But in the middle of the piece there’s a flute solo where it shines through the ensemble and I played as passionate as I can ever play. Once I finished, I had this built up emotion and started tearing up and eventually started crying. I looked over to the audience and I see so many people wiping tears away too. I can’t express this incredible emotion of touching people to the point of tears. Making people feel a certain way as an artist/musician is our main goal and to see so many people touched this way made my All-State experience beyond belief.

What were the pros and cons of your All-State experience?

Pros: literally everything. Especially the incredible people around me. I made so many new relationships and met a slew of talented musicians. The flute section was the best group of people I’ve ever met and worked with.

Cons: my hair. It’s always messy/unmanageable and it looks absolutely horrendous in pictures.

What are your comments or suggestions for students who want to successfully audition for an All-State ensemble?

GO. FOR. IT. If you’ve ever felt like you’re not good enough or felt like you won’t make it because you “suck”, first of all, stop it. You are a musician for a reason, you can’t let a voice in your head tell you otherwise. Second of all, you really just need to do it because you will never ever know unless you try firsthand. Don’t let someone stop you, don’t keep worrying about it, and most importantly don’t let yourself stop you.


Isaac Aguilar is a junior in the Chorus strand of the VPA academy. A member of the All-State TTBB choir, he loved that each All-State performer “gave their all” to their music.

What was your favorite moment/event from the All-State convention? 

Singing each song for the first time.

What were the pros and cons of your All-State experience?

Pro: you get a great experience. Con: you have to make up everything related to school… missed homework, tests, and so on.

What are your comments or suggestions for students who want to successfully audition for an All-State ensemble? 

Even if you pass with a low score, keep going. 


Monica Paz is a junior in the Chorus strand of the VPA academy. This was her first year in All-State, and it “seriously changed [her] view on music.”

Which All-State program/ensemble were you a member of? Who/what did that consist of?

I was a part of the Mixed All-State Chorus. In this chorus, we had about 50 % girls and 50 % boys. We would have rehearsals for twelve hours [daily], obviously with breaks. We worked on the music we were given, and we also analyzed why composers did certain things in their music and what message they wanted to give the audience.

Did All-State meet your expectations? Why or why not? 

It surpassed my expectations. I had always dreamed of going to All-State so when I went this year, I was blown away. The conductor and the students were so passionate, even in other strands of All-State. It showed me that people do care about music.

What are your comments or suggestions for students who want to successfully audition for an All-State ensemble?

Don’t be scared to try it! The audition process is very scary but it’s so worth it. If you don’t feel prepared ask your teacher for help or use the materials provided by FMEA. And if you want to know what goes on, ask All-State veterans, because they can help alleviate the anxiety around All-State.

What was your favorite moment/event from the All-State convention? 

My favorite part of it was performing. When the mixed chorus sang their 4th song (out of 7) the crowd was shocked and couldn’t stop clapping. It was like one of those stereotypical movie moments where the clapping is deafening, and you feel like you’ve finally gotten somewhere.

What do you plan to do after high school (college/career plans)?

I plan on going to the school of musical theater at CMU.


Robert Fornos is a freshman violist in the Orchestra strand of the VPA academy. Although he had participated in middle school All-State ensembles, his first year in a high school orchestra “exceeded his expectations.”

What’s the most memorable lesson/fact/weird trick you learned from All-State? 

I learned that in some cases, the piece is written to help you realize that you need to focus on the artistry and emotion built into that certain piece, and forget about all the technical things needed to perform it.

What were the pros and cons of your All-State experience?

My pro was being around people that knew what they were doing and learning new things. My con, however, was all the make- up work from the classes I missed.

What do you plan to do after high school?

Study music and go into that field, with a possible minor in finance as well.


Marie Calderin is a sophomore cellist in the Orchestra strand of the VPA academy. She hopes to become a pediatrician, and her favorite All-State moment was the opportunity to perform a solo with the All-State Concert Orchestra.

Did All-State meet your expectations? Why or why not? 

Yes, All-State definitely met my expectations just like every year. The repertoire was amazing as usual, and in the convention center [exhibitions] you can buy new music or try out really expensive instruments.

What’s the most memorable lesson/fact/weird trick you learned from All-State?

Practicing different finger patterns to increase intonation and muscle memory.

What are your comments or suggestions for students who want to successfully audition for an All-State ensemble? 

The difference between making it and not making it is all in the details. Practice your scales with a drone and a metronome and do finger patterns to increase your muscle memory. For the etudes, if there is a recording available it’s a must to listen to it and rehearse with it. Focus on dynamics and tone most of all. Don’t be afraid of the sight reading and remember to breathe during your audition.


Angela Ramirez is a junior violinist in the Orchestra strand of the VPA academy. An All-State veteran, she still finds All-State a “refreshing experience to make new friends and reconnect with old ones.”

Which All-State program/ensemble were you a member of? Who/what did that consist of?

I was a violinist in the 11-12 All-State Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dr. Steven Amundson. We performed Dvořák’s Carnival Overture, Handprints by Amundson himself, and the third movement of Tchaikovsky’s 6th Symphony.

What’s the most memorable lesson/fact/weird trick you learned from All-State? 

Stretch before and after you play to avoid tendinitis and other music-related injuries. It will really benefit in the long run, especially for those who plan to pursue music seriously.

What was your favorite moment/event from the All-State convention? 

The rehearsals are always the highlight of my time at All-State.  It amazes me how such a breathtaking performance could be executed from just three days of rehearsal. Every member in the orchestra plays a critical role in sustaining the one voice the ensemble sings. During the rehearsals, Dr. Amundson guided us through the music with ideas for different styles and interpretations. These were really helpful, as we all learned how to look at our music differently and make the most out of it. The short amount of time you have with your ensemble is extremely precious.

What are your comments or suggestions for students who want to successfully audition for an All-State ensemble? 

Practice, practice, and practice! Preparation for All-State auditions requires the most meticulous work, especially when first learning the required etude/ excerpt. Do not rush to learn the piece, as you will end up developing bad practice habits that will affect your end result. Go through each section of the piece slowly, with a metronome, with a tuner, and record yourself! As Itzhak Perlman once said, “If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast.” When you step into the actual audition room, do NOT tell yourself how badly you’re going to mess up. Instead, remind yourself of all the hard work you did to get to where you are. You only have one shot in the audition; it will be your first and last time for that school year, so make it count! 

     Being surrounded by people who share the same passion makes me feel extremely grateful for what I do.

— Angela Ramirez


Julian Rodriguez is a senior violinist in the Orchestra strand of the VPA academy. He traveled to the All-State convention as a Tri-M student leader, and found it “an excellent way of meeting new people and gaining information.”

Which All-State program/ensemble were you a member of? Who/what did that consist of?

I was in the Student Leadership Conference. It consisted of students from all over the state of Florida either in an All-State ensemble or not, learning how to be better music educators and how to prepare for our future.

What do you plan to do after high school (college/career plans)?

Study to become a music educator.

What’s the most memorable lesson/fact/weird trick you learned from All-State? 

I learned that one of the best instruments to start teaching little kids music is a melodica as it starts to teach them how to control their breathing and learn notes on the piano. It’s so much fun for them, much more than a recorder!


Lorraine Ebanks is a junior in the Chorus strand of the VPA academy. A first-time All-State performer, she learned “the power of connection” with the All-State choir.

Which All-State program/ensemble were you a member of? Who/what did that consist of?

I was a part of the Women’s SSAA Choir. It consisted of about 240 high schoolers from all over Florida.

Did All-State meet your expectations? Why or why not?

Yes, it did. I didn’t think that I’d be able to enjoy it because I’m not good at making friends, but it turns out the music we made was enough.

What are your comments or suggestions for students who want to successfully audition for an All-State ensemble?

Know the reason why you are auditioning. All-State isn’t about being better than other people, it’s about music. Audition so that you can be a part of the music, not to rub it into anyone’s face.

What was your favorite moment/event from the All-State convention?

My favorite moment was walking over the bridge to the hotel my choir rehearsed in, knowing that there was music about to be brought to life.


From left to right (top row): William Mattimore, Nicholas Alonso, Meghan Mattimore, Frank Gomez, Ashley Gomez, Abdullah Abouradi, Sofia Ventura, Angela Ramirez, Veronica Almanza, Julian Rodriguez, Dr.Lee Stone. Front row: Robert Fornos, Gisel Dominguez, Julie Kim, Michael Keyack, Marie Calderin.

From left to right: Robert Fornos, Michael Keyack, Meghan Mattimore, Marie Calderin, All-State Concert Orchestra Conductor Dr.Eugene Dowdy, Ashley Gomez, Lisa Takeyama, Julie Kim, Gisel Dominguez

From left to right: Monica Paz, Dynasty Estepa, Paolo Masella, Mr. Shanpatrick Davis, Gabriella Mrtinez, Emma Ruiz

Angela Ramirez and Sofia Ventura, with Symphonic Orchestra Conductor Dr. Steven Amundson