For the musician looking to further their studies after Grade 8, Performance Diplomas offer a pathway to fully accredited professional qualifications, recognised by other musicians and music professionals around the world. A diploma, even at the lowest Associate level, is considerably more involved than Grade 8, requiring a high degree of attainment, combined with a professional attitude to preparation and practising, communication, musicality, presentation and stagecraft. As such, a diploma offers a significant musical, intellectual and personal challenge, and provides a useful framework for the honing and maturing of performance and teaching skills.
London College of Music (LCM) has recently updated and refreshed its music performance diplomas, and the Piano Diplomas have a revised repertoire list, together with the release of a second In Concert volume of music, edited by Joanna Macgregor, Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and a concert pianist acclaimed for her highly original programming.
The new LCM piano diplomas syllabus now offers three types of performance diploma at DipLCM, ALCM, and LLCM levels as follows (mark weightings shown in brackets):
Performance: Performance (70%), Discussion [formerly called Viva Voce] (15%), Sight Reading (15%)
Recital: Performance (80%), Discussion or Sight Reading (20%)
Concert: Performance (100%)
For all diplomas, candidates must produce a written programme.
At Fellowship level (FLCM), there is a single Performance Diploma for which candidates must offer a 50-60 minute recital with programme notes of 3000-3500 words. Marks are not awarded; the performance is either Approved or Not Approved.
By offering three types of performance diploma, LCM gives candidates the opportunity to select the diploma format that is right for them. There is a lot of snobbery surrounding performance diplomas (just as there is a lot of snobbery concerning the different exam boards), but I believe candidates benefit from a choice of format and should select a diploma which will enable them to perform to the very best of their abilities. A quick glance at the diploma repertoire lists for each exam board reveals music of similar difficulty, with many pieces common to all boards.
For those who simply want to perform a recital programme, the Concert Diploma, introduced in 2017, is the route to take. While some may argue that the removal of sight-reading and other tests from the Concert diploma makes this an “easier” option, I would counter with the assertion that being judged wholly on one’s performance is a very good test of one’s musicianship and professional performance skills. This gives candidates the chance to focus entirely on the music and to be really imaginative in creating a proper concert programme (this was my reason for opting to take the Trinity College London diplomas rather than the ABRSM’s).
While the LCM diploma repertoire lists are not as extensive as Trinity’s nor the ABRSM’s, what the lists lack in quantity they more than make up for in variety, with a good selection of music by women and contemporary composers, including works by Florence Price, Emily Doolittle, Judith Weir, Thomas Ades and Tan Dun, together with key works from the core canon of piano music. Candidates also have the option to include own-choice repertoire, provided it is of a technical standard consistent with that of the appropriate diploma level. There is no need for own-choice repertoire to be approved in advance. Thus candidates can create a recital programme which plays to their strengths and musical affinities, which is interesting, well-balanced and varied. These are very much diplomas for the modern musician.
With the introduction of the Concert Diploma in 2017, LCM released the In Concert handbook, an anthology of pieces from Baroque to present day selected by Joanna Macgregor. A second In Concert volume has just been released for the Associate and Licentiate level diplomas, alongside the updated diploma syllabus, from which candidates must select at least one piece for their diploma programme. As with the previous volume, the pieces are accompanied by useful introductory notes, also by Joanna Macgregor, which set the works in context and offer guidance on technical and artistic issues. The selection of music is varied and imaginative, and as in the main repertoire lists, women and contemporary composers are well-represented, with the opportunity to enrich one’s repertoire beyond the core canon. The book is attractively-produced with clear music engraving on good quality paper.
I’ve been consistently impressed with LCM’s approach to graded music exams and diplomas since I was involved in the selection process for the current piano syllabus. This exam board is very consciously offering candidates and teachers something distinctive from the old-fashioned graded music exam, with an imaginative choice of repertoire and exam formats.
Note: candidates should consuld the current syllabus and read the regulations carefully to ensure they are conversant with and meet all the necessary criteria for entry
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