Musically Inclined

Editor’s Note: The purpose of this feature is meant to recognize a few of Chautauqua County’s exceptional choir and band students who performed during December’s New York State School of Music Association all-state competition at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. If you also performed during the competition, and would like to be featured, or if you’d like to recommend a student you feel should be recognized, call 716-487-1111, ext. 253, or email

Hard work, dedication and passion awarded several area high school students the opportunity to travel to Rochester’s Eastman School of Music in December for the annual New York State School of Music Association all-state conference.

The Chautauqua County students who participated in the all-state conference concert, include: Taylor Latour, a Southwestern High School junior who performed soprano 1 in the mixed choir; Mateo Mendez, a junior at Forestville Central School who performed oboe as part of the symphony orchestra; Fabi Logan, a junior at Forestville Central School who performed bass 1 in the mixed choir; and a number of others.


According to, each year, nearly 900 New York high school juniors and seniors, out of 6,500 sophomore candidates, are selected to participate in the NYSSMA winter conference. In order to qualify, each student must pass a solo audition with a score of 98-100 that is evaluated by a NYSSMA certified adjudicator. 2,400 students received a score of 98 or higher at this year’s festivals, and there are only 890 positions available for the conference.

The students who qualified at the festivals were arranged by score into eight ensembles, and were awarded the opportunity to perform during conference all-state. The music that the students were to perform was mailed to them in October, giving them until early December to prepare.

To prepare for the conference, Latour, Mendez and Logan worked with their respective school teachers, as well as their personal instructors. Latour, who attends Southwestern High School, works with choir teacher Sue Huther, and takes private vocal instruction from Kathryn Black of Salamanca. She managed to score a 100 during her festival audition.

Before the actual concert performance at the Eastman School of Music, the students were given nearly 20 hours of rehearsal time to practice the songs with their respective ensembles. One of the pieces that Latour was required to learn was Ola Gjeilo’s Latin composition entitled “The Ground.” Because she had done songs on Latin before, it wasn’t particularly difficult for Latour to learn, she said.

“It was my favorite because the way it sounded was really cool, and I like learning other languages,” Latour said. “It was a lot of hard work, but it was definitely worth it because I learned new dynamics and how to pronunciate words. I think what this means is that there will be more opportunities to come my way, and I have to work even harder now.”

Mendez, who attends Forestville Central School, works with band director Jeffrey Geblein, and takes private oboe instruction from Mark DuBois of SUNY Fredonia. To prepare for the audition he worked with both instructors, and fortunately was able to score a 99 during the festival audition.

“Instruction I received from both of them really helped me get my score as high as it could be,” Mendez said. “I was a little discouraged because a lot of people who get a score of 99 don’t make it. Then when August came I found out that I was selected as an alternate for all-state. I was still discouraged, but happy too because there was a possibility. Another month later my band director called me to tell me an oboist had dropped out, and that I had received the spot in the symphony orchestra – it was excellent.”

Logan, who also attends Forestville Central School, works with vocal music director Amy Gier, and takes private instruction from Joe Dan Harper of SUNY Fredonia. What Logan said he noticed most about preparation for the audition was that he started wanting to be with his instructors much more often. But, his hard work paid off when he managed to score a 100.

“I wanted to be there as much as I could be, so I spent at least three hours every day in a lesson studio with one of my instructors,” Logan said. “When I got a 100, it was fantastic knowing that all my work had paid off because I had been working to the bone.”


The NYSSMA all-state conference performance features 890 New York juniors and seniors in eight ensembles on the stage of the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. The event is open to the public, and serves as a platform for recognizing the talent of New York’s high school students and the dedication of their instructors.

According to Mendez, it was incredible being surrounded by nearly 900 people who love music, and share a similar passion with him.

“It was wonderful,” Mendez said. “It’s definitely pushed me to become a better musician.”

Logan, who had been through a number of selective choirs in the past, said he felt as though he was always working a little bit harder than the rest of the group. So, when he got to the level of all-state he found himself surrounded by matched, if not surpassed amount of effort.

“It was amazing,” Logan said. “I think it’s really a blessing that I got to be there with all these people who just like me were just as happy, if not more, when they found out that they got it as well.”

For Latour, the all-state experience was one of setting a milestone. Every person in the audience may not have been there for her, but the sheer volume of faces was more than she’d ever experienced before.

“Being able to be a part of that big group was a huge honor,” Latour said. “There were so many great sopranos there, so it was also a wakeup call that I you need to work really hard if you want to be the best. But, I met so many great people, and had a really funny conductor. It was also a big shock what the boys sounded like because you don’t hear that every day. And, the dances we had every night were also pretty fun.”


Although Logan managed to score a 100 in his junior year, he will still have to return to the auditions this coming year to prove himself once again. But, he believes he has what it takes, he said, and is looking forward to the conference, as well as a chance at all-national. He’s also looking at making a career out of his passion, and would like to double major in music education and performance. The schools he is currently looking at include SUNY Fredonia, SUNY Potsdam and Ithaca School of Music.

Latour hopes to pursue a career in opera, and is currently looking at New York University, Baldwin Wallace University, SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Purchase. But, first she’s focused on getting back into all-state this year, and possibly even all-eastern and all-national. In order to do so, Latour must aim for another score of 100 during the festival audition.

Mendez may have scored a 99 last year, but he said he has high hopes of reaching for the 100 this year. His goal is to return to all-state again, and to aim for a higher chair. He’s also looking forward to auditioning for all-national on both oboe and English horn. As a senior, Mendez said he will use the year to perfect his skill before attending college. The schools he is currently considering include Eastman School of Music, Ithaca School of Music, Manhattan School of Music and Juilliard School of Music.