Why, oh why, oh why?
Actually, pretty much everyone has asked my why I decided to do this one… So, here are my answers:
- When I did my flute grades as a kid, there was no Grade 7. It went 3, 4, 5, 6, 8. So I decided to ‘fill in the gap’. (And doing Grades 1 & 2 would have just been silly!)
- As a teacher, it’s easy to lose sight of what it’s like to sit an exam. I enter lots of young people for their flute exams, and give them the best advice I can. But at the end of the day, it’s been 37 years since I sat a flute exam, so this was a way of re-connecting and maybe being able to offer my own students more empathy and better advice as a result.
It was 22nd January when I hit the ‘submit’ button on the ABRSM website and paid the £75.00 it costs to enter a Grade 7 instrumental practical. (What a shocker! It’s an expensive pastime, music). That weekend, I had a nose at the syllabus, hunted through my stacks of sheet music, blasted through a few pieces, and selected 3 – List A, Telemann; List B, Godard ‘Idylle’; List C, a Köhler study. Let the practice commence!
8th February, the exam date came through by email – just 3 and a half weeks away. This was getting serious. I was happy enough with the pieces. I was confident I could sight-read. The scales were proving a challenge, however.
Don’t get me wrong, I can play any scale perfectly…second time round!! But that doesn’t cut it in an exam (as my students will tell you!) – they have to be right first time. F sharp minor… B flat minor… Dominant and Diminished 7ths… aaaaargh… There was no way anything other than full marks in the scales was going to be acceptable, so a daily run up and down every scale was in order, testing both my finger and memory muscles. And the aural tests too would require some practice – thank the Lord for the ABRSM aural book with CD.
As the week of the exam arrived, I had a rehearsal with accompanist – all sounding quite fine – and the countdown was on.
Exam day. Friday 4th March.
I had to go to work first thing – cue first wave of empathy for my poor students who are forced to go to school on exam day. I actually made myself late by spending an extra 5 minutes polishing my flute! I left work in good time to get to the exam centre, arriving 25 minutes before my allocated time. I had to smile as the exam steward asked ‘Can I help you?’ in a manner which suggested she thought I was lost or had come to the wrong place… no, I’m here to sit an exam, dear….
A quick run through my pieces, and those dastardly scales, a brief sit down and swig of water, and then the examiner called me. Upstairs I went, carrying 3 bits of sheet music, a flute and a glass of water (remembering when a much younger me doing much the same thing had managed to stumble and end up with an unintentionally curved flute).
Telemann first. I was happy with it, apart from the bar in which a rogue A# made a brief and unwanted appearance. I was aware that I grimaced…maybe the examiner didn’t notice. Then the Godard, which I felt went well. In fact, I thought I noticed the examiner actually listening to me rather than scribbling his comments on the mark sheet at one point, which was quite gratifying. After that my accompanist left, and I was on my own. Unaccompanied study next – again, I was pretty happy. And on to scales. YES! All correct, and none of the ‘nemesis’ scales required!! Sight-reading – tick. Aural tests… well, I royally messed up sight-singing, and identified my own mistake in the rhythmic clapping (maybe he’d credit me for realising??!). The rest, I think, correct.
And that was it.
So, how did it feel? Well, I couldn’t say I was overly nervous, but enough to remind me that nerves + wind instruments = breath-control challenge! I certainly felt the pressure of the occasion and despite the insistence by the exam board at conferences and teacher training days that they aim to make candidates feel at ease, my feeling was that the exam was conducted in quite an officious and regimented way. I realise that the examiners work from a script, but there are ways of delivering it that might come across as a little more ‘candidate-friendly’. It all went very quickly, yet there was something very intense about the act of concentrating so hard for 25 minutes. At the very end of the exam I relaxed sufficiently to share with the examiner that I was a flute teacher doing my Grade 7 as a challenge to myself. His reaction was very positive, and he actually commented that more teachers should do such things for professional development.
And so to another wave of empathy, as I now have to sit and wait for a couple of weeks until I get my result…and you get Part 2
[6 down, 44 to go]