In 2013 I had successfully completed Grade 7, so this year was the year that culminated in the last of the 'Grades' for piano and something that I had set myself for a long time. Ever since my return to piano after taking a hiatus during my early to mid twenties, I had wanted to complete my piano grades. Not only was it due to a sense of completion, but I felt it would aid and progress the other facet of music which I love, that being sharing and teaching.
The morning was first filled with sharing Eef's birthday and sharing the celebration and sentimentality much to Eef's chagrin. I then had to put my pianist cap on and hit the piano- time to get to work!
Technical is something I'm very wary of and something which I didn't want to lose any marks on, so I went through my C majors and minors, B, G#, and Am...melodic, harmonic, contrary, arpeggios, 3rds, 6ths...the list seemed endless!
A run through of my four pieces was done and I was set. Nerves are a funny thing and although I had a high level of excitement in the lead up weeks to the exam, as the hour approached, that niggling ball of nerves started to appear, and there was little I could do to suppress the butterflies in the stomach. With nerves came also a wave of thoughts - "What if I forget stuff? How did the fugue start again? What was the fingering for...?" All these thoughts are completely natural for the student going into the exam and the secret is how to best manage them.
Arriving at the Clarence Street Studio, I was able to fit in a 5 minute warm up in one of the practice studios especially for Grade 8 and above. I must admit I felt a level of pride using this room- again, the culmination of work resulting in now taking this exam was very satisfying for me.
Before long, I was at reception again waiting my turn- my exam was scheduled for 1.15pm, and when I arrived all examiners were out to lunch, I thought to myself, "This is good- the examiner will be well fed, rested and relaxed going into my exam!".
At last I was called in by Mr. Francis Louran, and I took my seat and prepared my sheet music.
Technical work- started solidly however I was very aware of my nerves. I was actually doing quite well until the chromatic 6ths for E flat was asked by which my fingers decided to play freestyle. I had to stop and start again but unfortunately the combination of nerves, a sense of time elapsing, an absence of finger memory heralded my first significant slip. Nevertheless I was waved to move on and finished the technical with a bit of a limp...the always awkward arpeggios for the Dom 7th of C major with all its inversions reared its ugly head.
Apart from a false start to the fugue, all four pieces I thought were played with a level of confidence and by the time I went through Bach and Haydn, and came to my favourite composer/era (that of Schumann) I hit my stride.
Playing from memory certainly does free you up as a performer and I recommend this highly to students- if you know the piece well enough even to play with nerves, then playing from memory will certainly enhance your standing in the exam. Debussy was the final piece and by this stage I was very much relaxed- perhaps the relief that I had come towards the end, and the satisfaction of how I performed the Schumann were probably contributing factors.
Sight reading was good and solid, and the aural tests were not that confident but I managed to get by them!
The final section was general knowledge and I felt I did well in this. Having studied Ross Hamilton notes, I was able to answer all the questions on each of the pieces played (which surprisingly was the most time ever spent in general knowledge in all the exams I had done). I'm very fortunate to have studied the notes intricately since some of the questions were quite involved, so being able to answer these with a level of confidence was pleasing.
Having finished all the sections, I was thanked, then informed to leave the room. I thanked the examiner then left- almost forgetting one of my bookmarks which I had missed as I made a beeline for the door. All that was left, was to wait for the result, in which I was informed would take up to two weeks....
Two days later, in the late evening, I received a text message from my teacher hoping that I hadn't gone to bed and asking if she could send via email my results.
The nerves returned however Eef and I were eager to finally lay to rest the suspense which had built ever since the completion of my exam.
What a delight! I had received a Credit (B) for my efforts which I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear as I read the report. There were certainly areas in which I could improve however most of the marks deducted appeared to come from errors or slips borne from the nerves which I just couldn't shake off during that day.
Most of the other comments were highly positive and one of the most motivating ("There is a lot of musical potential here...") has urged me onwards to continue enjoying my music and to strive for further achievements in the world of piano!
Nothing can't be done!
Bring on the next challenge!