Tag Archives: performance diplomas

Diploma Day 2017 with Graham Fitch

The second Diploma Day, brilliantly organised by Claire Hansell, who with Rob Foster, runs the London Piano Meetup Group, was held at Morley College on Sunday 9th July. As with last year’s inaugural event, the day was designed to give those taking performance diplomas a chance to perform selections from their diploma programmes to Graham Fitch and a small friendly audience, and receive expert tuition and guidance from Graham. In addition, Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist) discussed the benefits of taking a performance diploma, which diploma to choose (all the main exam boards – ABRSM, TCL and LCM – offer a variety of diplomas), how to select repertoire and create a varied programme, and offered advice on stagecraft and presentation skills, and managing performance anxiety (see the end of this article for a link to download Frances’ notes). In the afternoon, Peter Wild, senior lead examiner from Trinity College London, joined the event and took questions from the audience.

There were fine performances, including a most impressive rendition of the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Mozart’s Sonata K310, and a delightful Scherzo Humoristique (‘The Cat and the Mouse’) by Copland which closed the event on a very light-hearted note. Graham Fitch offered plenty of excellent advice on practising, technique, projecting one’s vision for the music, and good preparation, as always peppered with colourful metaphors and presented in an accessible and articulate manner. It was a most inspiring and supportive day, of benefit to adult amateur pianists and teachers alike.

Claire and Frances live-tweeted during the event – find a compilation of the tweets (plenty of pianistic wisdom) here

Download the DIPLOMA DAY 2017 notes (Word doc)

London Piano Meetup Group

Diploma Day with Graham Fitch

The London Piano Meetup Group is holding its second Diploma Day on Sunday 9th July 2017. This full day event is aimed at adult amateur pianists who are considering, or planning to take, a post-grade-8 performance qualification, or piano teachers who want to observe several hours of inspirational teaching.

The event takes place in the Holst Room at Morley College, near Waterloo Station, which has a beautiful Steinway D concert grand to perform on. The day will run from 9am to 5pm and is intended not only to provide resources and information for participants, but also to network with other like-minded (and diploma-aiming!) pianists.

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The day will include:

  • Performances of diploma repertoire from participants preparing for their exams
  • Feedback in a masterclass-style format from acclaimed teacher and pianist Graham Fitch
  • Workshops, discussions and Q&A sessions with Frances Wilson (a.k.a. The Cross-Eyed Pianist), covering the planning, preparation, practice and execution of a performance diploma, plus supporting components including understanding and managing performance anxiety and stagecraft

Feedback from participants at last year’s Diploma Day:

“The introduction was helpful as I’m at the planning stage of my diploma”

“I got the feeling that a diploma is an achievable goal for me”

“A hugely valuable day”

“I appreciated the positive, supportive atmosphere”

“I enjoyed hearing lots of different repertoire, some well-known and some new”

“Graham was fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and was hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike”

The organisers are looking forward to seeing familiar and new faces at this event, and hope that it will be a valuable and useful day for all attendees. For any questions in the meantime please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Claire Hansell at londonpianomeetup@gmail.com.

Tickets for participants (to observe) are £17 each

BOOK TICKETS

Please book by midday on Wednesday 5th July, as there is unfortunately no facility to pay on the door on the day.

Link to Facebook event

graham-fitch-750x750Graham Fitch has earned a global reputation as an outstanding teacher of piano for all ages and levels. He is a popular adjudicator, a tutor for the EPTA Piano Teachers’ Course, and a regular writer for Pianist Magazine with several video demonstrations on YouTube. His blog www.practisingthepiano.com features hundreds of articles on piano playing and together with his multimedia eBook series is read by thousands of musicians all over the world.

avatars-000208691703-0he3lq-t500x500Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. A passionate advocate of adult amateur pianism, Frances co-founded the London Piano Meetup Group in 2013 and is co-administrator of Piano Network UK on Facebook. She has hosted and participated in workshops, masterclasses, courses and meetups for adult pianists, and completed Licentiate and Associate Performance Diplomas (both with Distinction) in her late 40s, having returned to the piano after a long break. Frances writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for Pianist Magazine’s online content and is a guest blogger for classical music website InterludeHK.

Practising a diploma programme effectively

Managing the practise of a selection of pieces, as one needs to when preparing for a performance diploma, can be problematic and at times frustrating.

I find juggling four works at the same time so tricky. If I leave one aside for a while, even only a week, it seems to fall apart!

For my Associate performance diploma I had 7 works in the programme and for the Licentiate 8 (I treated the Bach keyboard concerto as 3 works from the point of view of practising). All the pieces had their own particular difficulties, knotty sections which needed focused practise. Ensuring that everything was practised regularly and systematically became a feat of time-management, as my practise diary attests, with each day’s work minutely mapped. One of the most important things I took away from the experience of preparing for my Diplomas was understanding how to practise deeply and thoughtfully.

  • If you have limited time to practise, learn to be super-efficient. If it helps, map your practise time in advance and keep notes of progress in a notebook. These notes should include 1) what you plan to achieve at each practise session and 2) what you actually achieved. The notes you make after the practise session should offer food for thought and consideration at the next practise session. However, allow your practise plan to be flexible – there will be days when you can’t practise, or don’t feel like practising, and I believe it is important to be kind to oneself on those situations, rather than beat oneself up for not practising. Rigid schedules can be unrealistic and dismotivating.
  • You don’t have to do all your practising in one chunk (and bear in mind that after about 45 minutes, one’s attention is waning and it’s time for a break, if only five minutes to do some stretches and make a cup of tea). Taking breaks during practise time helps to keep one focussed and engaged and ensures practising is productive and mindful, rather than mindless “note-bashing”.
  • Learn how to dissect the pieces to spotlight which areas need the most attention. Take out technically challenging sections and “quarantine” them so that they get super-focused work. And don’t just quarantine sections once: build quarantining into your regular practise routine and return to those problem areas regular to ensure noticeable improvement.
  • Break the pieces down into manageable sections and work on those areas which are most challenging (technically, artistically or pianistically) first while your mind is still fresh and alert. Start anywhere in the piece, work on a section, and then backtrack and do an earlier section before knitting those sections back together.
  • With a multi-piece programme, try to have the works on a rotation, so that you start with a different work (or movement if playing a sonata or multi-movement work) at each practise session rather than spending a week, say, working on a single piece.
  • Even when you feel a piece is well-known and finessed, spend some time doing slow practise, memory work, separate hands practise etc. Be alert to details in the score – dynamics, articulation, tempo etc: even, and especially, when a piece is well-known we can become complacent about such details and overlook them.
  • Schedule regular play-throughs of entire pieces, and (about 3 months prior to the diploma date) the entire programme, even if some works are not fully learned/finessed. This allows you to appreciate the overall structure and narrative of both individual works and the entire programme, and helps to build stamina.
  • Practise away from the piano is useful too. Spend time reading the scores and listening to recordings – not to imitate what you hear but to get ideas and inspiration. Go to a concert where some of your repertoire is being performed and in addition to listening, look at the kind of gestures and body language the pianist uses and how he/she presents the programme (all useful pointers for stage craft and presentation skills, on which one is judged in a performance diploma).
  • When we’ve been working on the same pieces for a long time, we can lose sight of what we like about them as we get bogged down in the minutiae of learning. It’s worth remembering what excited you about the pieces in the first place, why you chose them and what you like about them (I ask my students to make brief notes about each of their exam pieces, and I did the same for my Associate programme).
  • Above all, enjoy your music and retain a positive outlook throughout your practising.

Further reading

The 20-Minute Practice Session – article on Graham Fitch’s blog

I offer specialist support for people preparing for performance diplomas, including advice on planning a programme, writing programme notes, stagecraft and managing performance anxiety – further details here

Piano teachers express their views on the new ABRSM Diploma (‘ARSM’)

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) has launched a new performance diploma, the ARSM, designed as “a bridge between Grade 8 and the DipABRSM”. The new Diploma, ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music), is different to both Grade 8 and the DipABRSM in that it includes no supporting tests (technical work, sight-reading/quick study, viva (for DipABRSM) or programme notes). The repertoire list is taken from the DipABRSM syllabus, though much reduced, and candidates may include 10 minutes of own-choice repertoire of Grade 8 or above standard to create a recital programme lasting 30 minute in total. To all intents and purposes this “diploma” looks very much like a reinvented version of the Advanced Certificate or Trinity’s Advanced Performance Certificate.

Concerns about the new ARSM have been expressed by piano teachers via Piano Network UK, a large and very active Facebook group comprising piano teachers, pianists (professional and amateur) and piano lovers, of which I am co-administrator. I would like to share some of these views here. My colleague and friend Andrew Eales, who writes the excellent Piano Dao blog, will be publishing a more considered response to the ARSM, together with an interview with Penny Millsom of the ABRSM in which he hopes to clarify some of the issues raised below. 

Please note that any views expressed here are independent and my publishing them does not necessarily mean Andrew and I support or endorse them. They are drawn from a diverse range of British piano teachers of differing ages and experience. My own comments and views about the ARSM diploma are in italics.

Level of attainment, marking and assessment criteria

  • I find the fact that Distinction is set at 45/50 interesting (in comparison to 70/100 for the dip/Licentiate levels) – though I have yet to decide what this actually means, if anything, about the marking, relative standards required, contributions of the viva and quick study…
  • In my view, it is simply Grade 9. Something on easy terms just to get letters after people’s names. 
  • Any old examiner, presumably no requirement for them to be a specialist in your instrument. So the exercise itself is kind of worthless, and the marking will be pretty irrelevant. But here, have a qualification…

Is it really a “Diploma”?

  • It’s essentially a composite of other products/services that ABRSM already offer – an examiner who is already there to examine Grade 1 players, a repertoire list that already exists… from a business point of view it seems like a great idea because ABRSM don’t seem to have needed to do much at all to add this to their overall offer, but the market could be quite large.
  • I don’t understand why it is marketed at associate level
  • Doesn’t this just devalue the DipABRSM in performance? By all means have the equivalent of the Trinity Advanced Certificate but don’t call it a diploma when it so clearly isn’t!
  • Same repertoire as the DipABRSM. So like a diploma, minus the bits people complain about. So, not particularly educational. 
  • I just don’t think it is sufficiently rigorous to be called a Diploma
  • It claims “associate” status, but simply isn’t on that level. So it devalues genuine associate diplomas as a whole, and is misleading to potential students/parents.
  • By calling it a “diploma” ABRSM have blurred the boundaries between the graded amateur exams and the higher professional diplomas. And very few people, if any, outside the profession (parents of students for example) will appreciate the difference. My concern is that it may devalue the higher diplomas and lead to further dumbing down across all exams. I’m afraid I feel it is primarily driven by commercial interests on the part of ABRSM. 
  • One of the main purposes of a professional qualification – and especially having letters after one’s name – is so that prospective clients are reassured that we are properly qualified. 
  • Hard to believe that this will confer diploma status, and entitle the holders to put letters after their name. To the general public, there will be little difference between an ARSM and a FRSM, or anything in between
  • This is really just a money-spinner. I cannot understand the logic in it being marked out of 50, or am I missing something?! It doesn’t appear to be accredited at a particular level, and I agree with others that it shouldn’t really confer diploma status. 

Who it is for?

I can see this new Diploma suiting some of my more talented teenage students who would like to improve their performing skills and/or want a different challenge post-Grade 8. A number of adult amateur pianists whom I know have also commented that they would like to take this diploma because the format encourages one to “enjoy playing”. 

A couple of teachers who are keen to improve their performance skills have expressed an interest in taking the ARSM as a form of continuing professional development:

  • …to me it is simply about skill refreshing. I do appreciate others’ concerns but perhaps for piano teachers who haven’t done any serious practice in a while it could be a good thing?

If you have views on the new ARSM diploma please feel free to leave comments below or use the contact page to get in touch.

ABRSM new post grade 8 performance diploma launched today

Source: ABRSM Media release – 4 August 2016

ABRSM is strengthening its current diploma offering with the addition of a new performance qualification, launched today (4 August). The new assessment, the Associate of the Royal Schools of Music (ARSM), has been launched to provide learners with an opportunity to develop and demonstrate their performance skills after Grade 8.

The new diploma will be available to take in all ABRSM practical exam venues worldwide from January 2017.

What is involved?

The exam can be taken by anyone who has passed ABRSM Practical Grade 8 or a listed alternative. ARSM is available in all instruments currently examined by ABRSM, including voice.

Within the challenge of performing a 30-minute programme, candidates are assessed on their musical communication skills, interpretation and technical delivery. Candidates will have to perform:

• at least 20 minutes of music chosen from the ARSM repertoire list (this is the same list set for DipABRSM);

• up to 10 minutes of music can be own-choice repertoire (of at least Grade 8 standard).

There are no written or spoken elements, and no sight reading, aural tests or scales.

John Holmes, ABRSM Chief Examiner said 

“The diploma, which is supported by the Royal Schools of Music, is suitable for musicians who are looking for a challenge after grades and will provide a meaningful goal to work towards.

ARSM is unique in focussing solely on practical performing skills – nothing more, nothing less. It’s about the art and craft of musical communication through a half-hour programme which you choose and put together according to your own individual musical strengths and enthusiasms.

As well as focussing on the playing or singing of your chosen items of repertoire, ARSM also involves assessment of the performance of your programme as a whole, giving you valuable feedback from two complementary perspectives.”

For more information about ARSM, visit www.abrsm.org/newdiploma

ABRSM launches a new Diploma

The ABRSM has announced the launch of a new performance-only Diploma, the ARSM (“Associate of the Royal Schools of Music”). This will be an “entry level” Diploma, somewhat lower than the DipABRSM, and intended to “bridge the gap between Grade 8 and DipABRSM”. Details are sketchy at present, but the ARSM will consist of a 30-minute performance consisting of music selected from the current DipABRSM repertoire list and own-choice repertoire of Grade 8 standard. At present, it is not clear whether candidates will be required to produce programme notes, but there is no sight-reading/quick study element to the ARSM, nor a viva voce.

Currently, the gap between Grade 8 and the Associate level Diploma (DipABRSM, ATCL, DipLCM etc) is very wide. At Grade 8 candidates play three pieces lasting approx 10-12 minutes in total. They may play a single movement of a sonata by, say, Beethoven, Haydn or Mozart as part of their Grade 8 programme, but at Associate Diploma level, candidates are expected to play a full sonata (for example, Beethoven ‘Pathetique’ Sonata, Mozart Sonata in F K332, Schubert Sonata in A, D664). The candidate’s standard of playing, musical insight, musicianship and general level of attainment is expected to be considerably higher than at Grade 8, and the time taken to study for and complete a diploma can be around 2-3 years. The first, Associate, diploma is an equivalent standard to the first year’s study in conservatoire, while the highest, Fellowship, diploma is equivalent to a Masters module.

There is quite a lot of snobbery surrounding Diplomas, with the ABRSM diplomas being considered “better”, in no small part due to the ABRSM’s longstanding reputation and its royal affiliation. In fact, the repertoire lists for Associate, Licentiate and Fellowship diplomas across the main exam boards are almost identical, and all carry the same QCF and EQF points, providing candidates with a recognised professional qualification which can be used as a pathway to further study, for example at conservatoire or university. Ultimately, the choice of diploma and exam board should be based not on snobbery but on the candidate’s personal preference, which Diploma syllabus is most appropriate/ beneficial for the candidate and so forth.

So what will the new ARSM offer to candidates? Already some of my piano teaching colleagues have commented that it will be “Grade 9 without the scales, aural and sightreading” or that is it simply a “money spinner” for the ABRSM. Some anxieties have also been expressed about whether this new diploma will lead to further dumbing down or devaluing of the higher diplomas. However, a number of adult amateur pianists whom I know have expressed interest in the ARSM and regard it as a useful opportunity for those seeking a challenge post-Grade 8 but who do not feel ready to attempt the Associate diploma.

Further details about the ARSM will be available next month and I will share them here. Meanwhile, I would be very interested in people’s views on this new diploma – please feel free to leave comments below, or contact me direct with your views.

 

 

 

Diploma Day with Graham Fitch

The London Piano Meetup Group’s first Diploma Day, an event for people taking or considering taking a Performance  Diploma, took place in the Holst Room at London’s Morley College on Sunday 12th June. Six performers were invited to play some or all of their Diploma programme to an audience of c25 people and then receive a 30-minute one-to-one lesson with Graham Fitch. The event was intended to be friendly, supportive and inspiring to ensure that people felt as comfortable as possible when performing for others (for some this was the first time they had played in this kind of setting). The day was organised so that during breaks between teaching there was time for people to meet to discuss repertoire, performance anxiety and piano playing in general. I gave an opening talk on the need to treat a performance diploma with a professional mindset (including a full understanding of the exam syllabus and regulations, writing programme notes, stagecraft and managing performance anxiety) and the day concluded with a Q&A session at which we discussed various points which emerged from the day.

A number of themes became apparent in Graham’s tuition during the day, including:

  • Taking ownership of your music and playing with conviction
  • Playing with vibrant colour and expression to bring out the individual characters of each piece
  • Being pedantic about one’s preparation

Graham is an inspiring and empowering teacher – as one of the participants said “he is fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and it is hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike” – and everyone came away from the event with many gems of advice and nuggets of information to digest and act upon in practising.

Some comments from attendees:

“A really valuable and inspiring day”

“Really enjoyed it, especially watching Graham teach”

“A great experience for anyone around diploma level whether interested in the actual exam or not”

“It was such useful preparation

“Extremely valuable insights and advice from Graham Fitch

“Frances’s intro was a lovely welcome and very useful

Thank you to Claire Hansell of the London Piano Meetup Group for organising the event and to Graham Fitch for his expert and encouraging tuition.

A transcript of my introductory text can be downloaded here, and I’m also including links to other resources which are useful for those taking or thinking about taking a performance diploma.

Useful resources:

From these links to the three main exam boards you will find:

  • Syllabuses
  • Regulations
  • Information about exam sessions, deadlines for entry, entry fees and exam centres
  • Links to other useful resources for diploma candidates

Trinity College of London Diplomas (including information on teaching diplomas)

ABRSM Performance Diplomas

London College of Music Diplomas

Writing Programme Notes (ABRSM document)

Coping with Performance Anxiety

Why take a Performance Diploma?

For more information about the London Piano Meetup Group please email londonpianomeetup@gmail.com or join the LPMG Facebook group

Diploma #6 – the result!

Liszt

I’m afraid this post is all about self-advertisement. I was really surprised when an envelope from Trinity College of Music dropped through my letterbox this morning. I wasn’t expecting exam appointments for students this soon, and I certainly wasn’t expecting my Licentiate Diploma result (it was a full 6 weeks before I received my ATCL results).

I didn’t bother to read the exam report. The numbers at the bottom are what matter in these situations! 84% – Distinction. I admit I was surprised. A colleague told me to expect to drop a grade in my second diploma, and my preparation in the days leading up the exam this time wasn’t ideal:  my husband had to go into hospital for heart surgery and then we both came down with horrible chest infections. I went into the exam dosed up on Sudafed and paracetomol, and when I played I felt strangely disconnected. In warm up, I messed up four bars of the Rachmaninov Etude Tableau in E flat (op 33). Always the bug-bear of the programme, the piece felt “jinxed” because it was the only part of my programme I had not put before an audience (except my teacher, a couple of colleagues and the family). Perhaps it was my “que sera sera” attitude (quoting Doris Day!) that did it, for on the report the examiner praised this piece for its “good impetus and energy, with orchestral textures well realised”.

The biggest thanks must go to my teacher, Penelope Roskell, who took me on in November 2008 as a nervous adult who, after 25 years without piano lessons, had developed some very bad habits, and who, through her support and encouragement and expert teaching, has transformed me into a confident and fluent pianist. I would also like to thank those colleagues and friends who heard my diploma programme and who offered support and advice in the last weeks before the exam (you know who you are!). Special thanks also to my piano chum and companion in piano adventures, Lorraine Liyanage, who got me out of my “cave” and onto the stage, peforming in various concerts and events with her and her students and friends. This experience has undoubtedly helped me overcome my shyness and performance anxiety, and has taught me that performing is fun! I must also thank my husband, who knows nothing about classical music, but who knows a lot about the pieces I put into my diploma programme, who, every morning before work, would ask me what I would be practising that day, and who checked up on me when he came home from work with the question “So, what did you practice today?”. He was my “coach” and he dealt with my mood swings and crises of confidence like a professional.

So, what next? At at recent piano course, one of the other students asked me if I was going to try for the Fellowship. To be honest, I don’t know, at this stage.  It is another huge step up from the Licentiate and the repertoire is very challenging. But maybe I’ll start learning some of it and see how I feel. The important thing is to keep playing!

Hear my Diploma programme (minus Rachmaninov E flat Etude Tableau) here:

The programme running order is:

Bach – Concerto in D minor after Marcello, BWV974

Takemitsu – Rain Tree Sketch II

Mozart – Rondo in A minor K511

Liszt – Sonetto 104 del Petrarca

Rachmaninov – Etude-Tableau Op 33,  No. 8 in G minor

Why take a performance diploma?

Grade 8 does not represent the pinnacle of learning, and for the talented student, it can, and should, act as a springboard to auditions for conservatoire and music college, or at least to a Diploma, affiliated to a music school, such as Trinity College or the Royal College of Music. Diplomas provide a useful framework for the honing and maturing of performing and teaching skills.

Anyone who thinks a diploma is a simple step up from Grade 8, think again. While it is a logical next step for a competent musician who has achieved Grade 8, a diploma, even at the lowest level, is significantly more involved, requiring a high degree of attainment, combined with a professional attitude to preparation, communication, musicality, presentation and stagecraft. The diploma itself is a professional qualification recognised by other musicians and music professionals around the world.

Trinity College of Music defines the Associate and Licentiate Diplomas as follows:

Associate (ATCL, AMusTCL)

The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component of the first year in a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment.

Licentiate (LTCL, LMusTCL)

The standard of performance is equivalent to the performance component on completion of a full-time undergraduate course at a conservatoire or other higher education establishment. [Source: Trinity College London website]

The criteria and standards one is expected to meet are far higher than for Grade 8: a quick glance through the regulations for the Trinity College of Music Diplomas clearly demonstrates this:

At ATCL and at LTCL you should be able to demonstrate knowledge of the composers’ intentions, with contextual understanding of the musical material:

  • the ability to communicate all technical and artistic aspects of the music at an appropriate professional standard, employing professional etiquette in presenting the programme
  • awareness of your own musical voice in interpreting the performance objectives, drawing upon a variety of experiences in an individual performance

[Source: Diplomas in Music: Performance and Teaching from 2009, TCL]

 

There are many other requirements to be considered, and met, when taking a music Diploma, and the rigour of the exam is reflected in the expected learning outcomes and assessment objectives. For example, unlike in the grade exams, at Diploma level you select your own repertoire (either from the broad syllabus or by submitting an own-choice programme for approval). The choice of repertoire is wide, and from it you must put together a programme that demonstrates a wide variety of musical styles, moods, tempi and technical challenges. In the exam, you are assessed not only on your ability to meet the criteria listed above, but also on programme planning and balance, choice of repertoire, stagecraft, and written programme notes.

In the last five years I have taken three performance diplomas (ATCL, LTCL and FTCL) and the experience of studying for and taking these diplomas has given me some remarkable insights into aspects such as:

  • A deeper understanding of musical structure, “architecture”, harmony, narrative
  • The composer’s creative vision and individual soundworld, and how to interpret it
  • A personal and authoritative interpretative standpoint based on solid background research
  • Historical and social contexts
  • Vastly improved technical facility and general musicianship
  • An understanding of performance practice
  • Learning how to be a performer:  to project and communicate the composer’s intentions to a high level, and to perform with original creative flair
  • Drawing on one’s own personal experiences (not necessarily musical ones) in individual performances
  • Developing a mature musical and artistic personality

Music diplomas also offer the chance to study without restrictions on length of study or the requirement that one is taught in an institution. On another level, they offer the satisfaction of achieving a personal goal.

More information about Performance Diplomas:

Trinity College of Music

Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music

London College of Music

Diploma #4 – a date and a concert

And so, on the day I received confirmation of my Diploma recital date (16th April, at Trinity College in Greenwich, where I took my ATCL), I gave a lunchtime recital at the NPL Musical Society (NPL MS), at Bushy House on the National Physical Laboratory campus in Teddington.

When I booked the concert, it was intended to be the “dress rehearsal” for the actual Diploma recital, for me and my page turner. I have played at the NPL MS before (with a violinist), and have attended a number of concerts there, all of which have been most enjoyable with high-quality programmes and performers. The audience, mostly NPL staff and former staff, is very supportive and friendly, and the society has a rather nice 100 year old medium-sized Steinway.

By the time I’d got dressed up, put my lipstick on, applied some “lucky perfume” (Jo Malone ‘Red Roses’), and warmed up on the piano, it stopped feeling like a dress rehearsal and began to feel like a real occasion, a ‘proper’ concert, the programme chosen entirely by me, without consultation with teacher or mentor, the notes written by me (a requirement for the Diploma): it was ‘my’ concert.

For all three levels of Diploma – ATCL, LTCL and FTCL (and the equivalent Diplomas with other exam boards such as DipABRSM and LRSM) – the candidate is required to give a recital lasting between 35 and 50 minutes, depending on the level of diploma. The material should be prepared to a very high standard (from LTCL on, the exam criteria state “to a professional standard”) and one should display musicality, technical assuredness, understanding of the composer’s intentions and an ability to convey these to the audience, communication skills, and stagecraft. Doing a “dry run” concert, either at home to friends, or in a more formal setting, is invaluable – not so much to flag up errors or inconsistencies (there were very few in my concert, I’m glad to say), but more to check the flow/energy of the programme and to hear how it all fits together. There is always a heightened sense of tension when one plays before an audience, whatever the venue, which can be extremely useful not just in learning how to cope with performance anxiety but also drawing on the release of adrenaline to help one raise one’s game and play better. I have to admit I was so excited about the concert (coming as it did the day after an extremely positive session with my teacher) that I couldn’t sleep the night before.

On the whole, I was extremely pleased with my performance. Rather than slog through the ‘Presto’ of the Bach Concerto (which is still in need of some housekeeping), I skipped the repeats, and no one was any the wiser. The Takemitsu was super on a bigger piano, and I deliberately allowed more “stasis” in the music, a sense of repose and waiting in the rests and silences. The turner missed the second turn, and even tried to take the music away (!) when he realised his mistake: he admitted to me afterwards that he had got rather caught up in the mood of the piece, which I suppose should be seen as a sign of my ability to “communicate”! A couple of things to fix in the Mozart, but nothing serious. And so to the Liszt, the big virtuosic piece of the programme……well, when someone came up to me afterwards and said “the Liszt was particularly haunting” I felt I’d really achieved something with that piece.

Other useful factors? The piano had some “squeaky” keys, but I simply ignored these. At one o’clock someone’s watch alarm went off, and was not immediately silenced (a capital offence at the Wigmore Hall!), but although I was aware of it, it didn’t throw me. Rustling programmes, someone coughing, the general ambient sounds of people and the park outside the window, all entered my peripheral consciousness but did not distract me from the task in hand. All good signs – I have worked very hard on my concentration (in particular using techniques in The Inner Game of Music and The Musician’s Way).

So, with exactly three weeks to go to the exam, I feel focused and excited. Of course, having been there and done it once before helps enormously because I know what to expect, but this Diploma is a big step up from the previous one (it’s the equivalent of 3-4 years in Conservatoire) and requires a greater level of commitment. I think I’m ready for the challenge.

An earlier article I wrote on the value of performing

Now in its 62nd season, the NPL Musical Society hosts regular concerts throughout the year with a wide variety of performers and programmes. Concerts take place in The Scientific Museum in Bushy House, an elegant 18th century house overlooking Bushy Park.For further information please contact Stephen Lea (stephen.lea@npl.co.uk)