In the United States, middle and high school students attend local Solo and Ensemble contests hosted by various schools to prepare their students for regional and state-wide music performance contests. These local contests prepare the students by conducting each contest in the same manner as the regional and statewide events. In Texas, the regional and state-wide contests are administered through the University Interscholastic League (UIL), an office of the University of Texas system. Other countries hold similar contests; for example the KIMEA Solo and Ensemble Festival in Seoul, Korea uses Solo-Ensemble.com software!
Solo events feature a single student singing (for Choral), or playing an instrument on a particular piece of music, before one or more judges (usually just one). Ensemble events feature two or more students singing (for Choral) or playing a piece together (for Band, Orchestra, Mariachi, etc.), again before a judge. Ensemble instruments are usually grouped together by type, such as a Wind Ensemble (e.g., flute, clarinet), a Brass Ensemble (e.g., trumpet, baritone), or a Percussion Ensemble (e.g., drum, xylophone). However, mixed Ensemble groups (such as a Jazz ensemble) are also possible.
Local Solo and Ensemble contests are encouraged by the state music organizations because they give students valuable experience in public performance. Local contests familiarize students with the process, including dress code, the importance of being prepared, time management, and sharing their experiences with first-time students. Respected musicians, music teachers, and other band directors are normally invited to serve as the contest judges. Local contests use extensive volunteer labor (local students and parents), for tasks such as crowd control, parking lot guidance, door monitors, and serving refreshments. However, these contests do incur some real costs, such as providing honorarium payments to the judges, printing costs, janitorial services, providing refreshments and meals to the volunteers and judges, and for the purchase of medals and award certificates for student performers. Therefore local Solo and Ensemble contests usually charge a nominal fee per student to attend and perform ($5 to $10 USD is normal). These costs are generally collected from each student by the participating schools and paid to the contest sponsor at the time of the contest.
Solo and Ensemble contests at the local level may either be “closed” or “open” to other schools. Closed events are those where only students from a particular school or within a specific school district may attend (where fees may or not be assessed per school and per student). Open events are those where multiple schools and/or school districts participate, offering a wider diversity of student and musical types. Many schools will host their own closed contest first, before participating in or hosting a larger Solo and Ensemble contest for their area.