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!

Neil, performer

“Another fabulous day and Graham Fitch was superb. I have picked up so many technical and practising tips

Janet, observer

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.

Kate, performer

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.

Read the tweets here

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 londonpianomeetup@gmail.com 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.
Choosing a programme
  • 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!
Further reading
Many more articles on Diplomas, including my own Diploma journey, can be found on this site – type Diploma in the Search box.

masterclass

ˈmɑːstəklɑːs

noun

noun: masterclass; plural noun: masterclasses; noun: master-class; plural noun: master-classes

1.

a class, especially in music, given by an expert to highly talented students.

The word “masterclass” can, for some, conjure up a terrifying scenario: the private lesson in public, with a formidable “master” teacher and a student quaking at the keyboard, their every error and slip heard and duly noted by teacher and audience. I remember watching music masterclasses on BBC Two in the 1970s (in the good old days when BBC Two broadcast such edifying and instructive arts programmes), with eminent musicians and teachers such as Daniel Barenboim and Paul Tortelier. It seemed to my junior piano student self a most nerve-wracking experience and certainly one to which I would not wish to submit.

Fast-forward thirty-odd years and I’m now a mature piano student and teacher of piano. For me, the masterclass seems one of the most normal and beneficial ways of learning, providing as it does not just a lesson with a fine teacher but also a forum for critique by others and the exchange of ideas and discussion about aspects such as technique, interpretation, presentation and performance practice. It is this element of interaction with other pianists and active listeners/participants that makes the masterclass scenario quite different from the private lesson.

For students in conservatoire and specialist music schools, the masterclass is an every day form of learning, and for the teacher it is a way of sharing and passing on information to a group. A skilled teacher will ensure that all the participants in the class feel included, not just when they play, but also when others play, encouraging comments and discussion on what they have heard. A good teacher will also make sure negative comments are delivered in the kindest and most constructive way, so that participants feel supported and encouraged.

At many of the courses for adult amateur pianists in the UK and beyond, the masterclass is also a popular form of learning and teaching. Some of these classes are called “workshops” to make them sound more friendly, but in reality they are nearly always a group of c10 pianists, seated around the piano, eagerly absorbing wisdom from the teacher.

Masterclasses are not just for advanced pianists either. The format is applicable to students of all levels and early students, and children, can benefit from observing a teacher working with another student on advanced repertoire, and vice versa. Seemingly complex aspects of technique can usually be reframed to suit early/intermediate students, and sometimes working on quite simple repertoire within a group can shed a new light on more difficult music. It is also useful training for concert/competition performance and can be a huge help in learning how to manage anxiety.

Watching a masterclass is a window onto how hard the pianist works and an insight into the practice of practising. Sometimes only fragments of a piece are worked over with the teacher, repeated, recast until a new, different or more exciting interpretation begins to emerge. Observing this process can be extremely exciting and enlightening, and for the masterclass participant, the instant feedback one receives from the teacher and other participants can be highly rewarding, often producing interesting and unexpected breakthroughs.