A trio of 12-year-olds huddled in the back of the North Hagerstown High School auditorium Saturday seeking a spot that was quiet enough to hear themselves play.
Woodwinds at the ready, the three counted off and added their rendition of "Big Rock Candy Mountain" to the cacophonous blend of scales and melodies wafting about the room.
Rebecca Mettille, Alexa Vetter and Kalynn Murray, all of Smithsburg, were among about 315 young musicians who participated Saturday in Washington County Public Schools 2011 Solo and Ensemble Festival for wind, brass, percussion and string instruments.
The girls said they have been playing music together since elementary school and decided to have the ensemble judged at the festival. Rebecca Mettille said she hoped they would get feedback that would help them "improve how we play and make us better musicians."
"This is our first time here, so we are kind of excited, and kind of nervous," Rebecca said. "But we are ready. I think we'll do pretty good."
Each festival soloist and ensemble spent 12 minutes in a classroom with only a judge. After listening to prepared pieces, judges noted strengths and areas for improvement, sometimes providing short demonstrations for the students.
Adjudications included written documentation assigning scores ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 being superior. Students earning superior ratings were invited to attend the Maryland State Solo and Ensemble Festival in May.
Following their performance, the young Smithsburg trio was pleased to learn they'd done better than "pretty good." They earned a superior rating.
"We're going to states, we're going to states," the three squealed.
Robert B. Hovermale, county school supervisor of visual and performing arts, said the festival offers students a valuable opportunity to be adjudicated by an outside source and to practice the audition process.
"Any time students have to audition, it's a nerve-wracking process," Hovermale said. "But the more you do it, the easier it gets. It's funny because once the students start coming to the festival, they come back every year."
Participants ranged from fourth to 12th grade, and came from public, private and home schools.
Flutist Julie Belle Huff of Cascade was one of the 10 festival judges. She said in addition to getting official feedback from judges, students gained from being in a musical environment.
"It's a good experience for the kids because there are all ages," she said. "They are looking at everyone else, listening to other people, and it kind of pumps them up."