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

Now in its fourth year, the London Piano Meetup Group’s annual Diploma Day is fast becoming a “not to be” missed event in the adult amateur pianist’s calendar. For those who are taking or thinking about taking a performance diploma (post-Grade 8 professional qualifications), the event offers 6 performing participants the opportunity to play part of their diploma programme to a small friendly audience and have their playing critiqued by Graham Fitch. For everyone there is practical advice on selecting a diploma, choosing repertoire and creating a programme, writing programme notes, stagecraft and presentation skills, and managing performance anxiety. It is also a chance meet and socialise with other pianists and at every event there is much “piano chat” during the breaks, and in the pub afterwards.

Of the 6 performers this year, five were preparing for Associate level diplomas and one for the FTCL. This made for a more “equal” atmosphere than at other workshops/courses where the less advanced/confident player can feel intimidated by the very advanced performers. Previous events have been praised for offer “invaluable” support and advice, and this one proved equally valuable and inspiring.

I thought it would be helpful to include this review of the event by one of the observers, Howard, who is a member of the LPMG:

I have just attended, as audience/observer, ‘Diploma Day’ held at Morley College, London. I wanted to share how valuable I found this. While not ready for such teaching myself, I am always looking for ways for find out what lies ahead in this crazy journey, as adult learner.

This specific day (9 ’til 6) was hosted by Claire Hansell of LPMG and presented by Graham Fitch (Diploma teaching) and Frances Wilson (performance coach at this event and best known as The Cross Eyed Pianist, music blogger).

I am a grade 6 pianist (on a good day. Yet, I learnt so much from attending #DipDay.

Claire Hansell gave an introductory talk about the purpose and methods involved in the development of a good Programme Note for any Dip performance. Frances Wilson presented an overview of the different types of Dip available and how to choose among them. Later, she presented advice on conquering the inevitable anxieties that accompany every important performance at this level …. perhaps at any level!

Six amateur pianists (post-Grade 8) played and Graham Fitch therefore conducted six mini-masterclasses. His mix of technique advice and musical interpretation guidance, delivered spontaneously in ‘real time’ as it were, seemed to me to be fostering some minor miracles of significant improvement by the pianists. I sat, rapt, never bored throughout the day. I cannot tell you how helpful this was.

To take away as notes, I was given a summary set of Diploma requirements from the different boards, checklists for the weeks before the day of the Diploma performance and for the development of the (required) Programme Notes oriented to the audience and examiner. The notes included that essential ‘mindset’ orientation for coping with the anxiety (a problem I know all too well and which came as a complete surprise).

Available to take away were also Diploma syllabus pamphlets and repertoire lists from each of the main exam boards. Example books to help with Diploma studies were on display.

An amazing day. Apparently, this was the 4th organised by the LPMG. I will be there next year 100% certainty, even if I am in no way ready for such a step beyond ‘grades’ work. Thank you to all concerned in putting this together.

 

Repertoire performed:

Bach – Prelude & Fugue in F minor from WTC book 1, BWV 857
Mozart – Sonata in D major, K.311
Mozart – Sonata in A major K.331
Mozart – Sonata in F major K.332
Beethoven – Sonata in F minor op. 2 no. 1
Beethoven – Sonata in C minor op. 111
Schubert – Sonata in A minor D.537
Brahms – Intermezzo in A major op. 118 no. 2
Debussy – La cathedrale engloutie, no. 10 from Preludes book 1 L.125
Rachmaninoff – Étude-Tableau in G minor op. 33 no. 8

 

Plans are already underway for Diploma Day 2020, and given the popularity of the event, it will probably run over 2 days with more performer slots. Please follow London Piano Meetup Group on Twitter (@LonPianoMeetup) and/or this blog for updates.

Compilation of tweets from Diploma Day 2019

Frances Wilson’s Diploma Day notes

A performance diploma checklist


Frances Wilson offers support and advice to people preparing for performance diplomas, including selecting repertoire and creating a programme, writing programme notes, stagecraft and presentation skills, and managing performance anxiety.

For further information please contact Frances Wilson

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