Thursday, June 28, 2012

Twenty Six Years Later

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I have entered myself for Grade 3 piano, after having taken grade 2 26 years ago. Today was my exam. There is an almost exquisite feeling of anxiety and torture in the build-up to this sort of exam which is unlike anything else. The day began when I was roused from a nightmare about being in the piano exam - where my fingers were basically deficient jellies and I was unable to even direct them to press the keys I wanted.

I managed to stay calm through the day, distracting myself with work, and practiced my scales and three pieces a couple of times. I was good at them, although was annoyed because that probably meant I would mess them up for the actual performance. I must have played those pieces hundreds of times, and they have gone from being strangers to old friends to tedious enemies who will secretly betray me. So today was the day when at least I knew I would never have to see or hear them again, if I passed.

This is one of the pieces I had to play (this isn't me playing it). It's called Strolling Along. Every time I play it, my fella starts doing a ridiculous walk.

I arrived at the exam location on time and an obligatory old lady with a kindly face and glasses showed me to the waiting room, where a mother waited while a teenage girl had her exam. Various teenage girls fluttered in and out, and it became apparent that they were running late, and I was the last person of the day. I needed a wee, and felt like one of the more high-maintenance characters from Glee, preparing for an audition to get into some prestigious New York music academy, rather than a 40 year old male (who admittedly could pass for 39).

Fortunately, I was allowed to have a practice on another piano, which disturbingly sounded much louder and the keys were much harder to press than my own at home. Then it was my turn. I played all my scales OK, apart from hateful E flat major, which I always mess up. Fortunately, B minor, which I always worry about, went fine, as did the two arpeggios (A major and G minor) that need to be done both hands together.

Then it was time for my pieces. I think I did OK. I only noticed a minor slip towards the end of the first one. I tried to put in the loud and soft bits as appropriate, although because the piano was so loud, I felt I was banging away in a very uncouth manner. The examiner did a lot of writing after my first piece, and less so for the next two. My sight reading piece went OK. But I think I did badly on the aural questions. I was basically guessing whether the pieces the examiner played were in 3/4 or 2/4 time, or whether the change in pitch was gradual or sudden. Fortunately those bits only count for 18 marks, and you need 100 out of 150 to pass. I wouldn't be surprised if I scrape a pass. It's just as well it doesn't make much difference - I'm not getting into that fictional New York music academy either way.

I think my only worry now is if I do pass, will I put myself through it all again for Grade 4.

1 comment:

Paul Brownsey said...

This reminds me of when I took grade exams as a middle-aged adult a couple of decades ago. Three particular memories:

First, when I went into the one of the exams, the examiner looked down to around my knee-level and asked where Paul was. He assumed I was Dad bringing in a tot.

Second, I was astonished at how nervous I was. I was a university lecturer who could lecture to 300 students without turning a hair, fluent and noteless, yet at the keyboard for something like a little Bach minuet I was panting, my palms sweating, and the examiner told me to take a moment to collect myself.

Third, I had one rather arch, nay, camp, examiner who, when I hesitated in the bit where you have to identify a chord played for you, said, "Think of me!" and I said, "Oh, a perfect fourth."


Paul Brownsey