Diploma Day 2018, hosted by the London Piano Meetup Group, was held at Morley College on Sunday 10 June. Now in its third year, this one-day workshop for people taking, or considering taking, a Performance Diploma is proving very popular and successful. Six pianists participated in masterclasses with renowned teacher Graham Fitch, and everyone benefitted from Graham’s wisdom, insights and friendly teaching style. There were some nerves, both spoken and unspoken, but one of the key aims of the event is to create a supportive “safe space” where people can perform part of their diploma programme and receive useful critical feedback. Anyone who has studied with Graham, or has attended his classes and courses, will know that he has a particular knack of identifying a few key areas in each piece and giving the student useful suggestions to implement in practising. What is very gratifying too is hearing the changes that occur in someone’s playing with just a few suggestions from Graham, and everyone can learn from watching others being taught in such a friendly and accessible situation.
In addition to the masterclasses, regular breaks throughout the day allowed people to chat about repertoire, the exam process, anxiety and more, and I gave two brief talks on Choosing a Performance Diploma (of which more below) and managing performance anxiety.
“a great gathering of like-minded people!”
“Another fabulous day and Graham Fitch was superb. I have picked up so many technical and practising tips
Had a fabulous day yesterday playing at the London Piano Meetup Group’s Diploma Day. An expert masterclass taken by Graham Fitch and workshops on all sorts of other related topics.
We enjoyed a wide range of repertoire, including music by Scarlatti, Rameau, Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Fauré, Debussy, Grainger, Webern and Sculthorpe, and it was clear from each participant’s “mini recital” that much thought had gone in to selecting pieces which fulfilled the criteria of the performance diploma while also creating a contrasting and interesting programme.
A compilation of live tweets from the event offers many nuggets of advice from Graham- including a National No Pedal Day which was endorsed by concert pianist Stephen Hough.
Judging by the popularity of this year’s Diplomas Day, the event will run again in 2019. To keep up to date with London Piano Meetup Group events, please join the mailing list by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org or by joining the LPMG Facebook group
Huge thanks to Graham Fitch for inspirational teaching and to Claire Hansell of LPMG who organised the entire day and ensured it all ran like clockwork.
CHOOSING A PERFORMANCE DIPLOMA
- Be very aware that the lowest, Associate level diploma should not be considered as “Grade 9”. Unlike grade exams, Diplomas are recognised professional qualifications and as such require a significantly higher level of musical competency. The expected standard of playing for an associate diploma is equivalent to the performance component of the first year in conservatoire.
- With a variety of diplomas on offer, select the format which you feel will suit you best as a musician. There is a lot of snobbery surrounding certain exam boards – but don’t feel that one exam board’s Diploma is necessarily “better” than another, rather that there are “different” diplomas on offer. All are recognised professional qualifications and the Associate, Licentiate and Fellowship diplomas across the three main exam boards (ABRSM, Trinity and London College of Music) all share the same RQF levels (4, 6 and 7 respectively). The repertoire lists for each level of Diploma are almost identical across the three main exam boards and the diplomas accrue the same academic points.
- Consider also why you are taking a diploma. Is this for a personal challenge or to enhance your professional career, as a performer or teacher? This may also influence the diploma format you choose. For example, you may feel you don’t wish to be tested on sight-reading in which case the Trinity Diplomas, which are heavily weighted towards performance and include no sight-reading/quick study, may suit you better.
- Once you’ve selected the exam board, read the regulations very carefully and ensure you can fulfill the criteria. Note that some exam boards require evidence of a pass at Grade 8, for example. Details such as the timing of the programme are very important and attending to these details demonstrates your professionalism. If you’re submitting a programme comprising own-choice repertoire, seek approval from the exam board in good time.
- Unlike in grade exams, you don’t have to offer a chronological programme that includes music from specific periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic etc). Instead, create a programme which is contrasting in terms of tempi, moods, styles. You could, for example, create a programme entirely from 20th-century music and still fulfill the exam criteria. Consider how the pieces work as a concert programme rather than as an exam.
- Select music that you know you will enjoy studying and playing rather than pieces which you think will impress the examiner. We all play better if we like the music we’re playing!