Exam Summary

Now I’ve had some time to recover, let’s see how much I can remember of my exam…

The day was rather busy. I had paperwork to print out and as always, this took longer than I expected. I was also playing in someone’s 4th-year Composition final: good music, but sadly under-rehearsed and the rehearsal did not go well at all due to missing personnel and rather more set-up than had been anticipated.

I got back to Trinity in plenty of time for the exam, though, and had a good warm-up. I was getting a bit jittery and ended up playing piano for part of the warm-up; I’m not sure when I got into the habit of doing this but it is helpful.

Walking into the exam, I realised I hadn’t actually played an exam for two years, due to taking a year out last year. Oh, there was an exam for my re-entry into studies, but that was less formal somehow, less frightening; this was my first real exam since 2006. Walking into the examination room was perhaps not the best time to remember this.

It’s always the breathing that seems to go first with nerves, and Friday was no exception. I tried to slow down, tried to take my time, but it wasn’t wonderful. Overall, I think I could have played better.

Strauss 1, first movement, was the first thing to play. I don’t think this went too badly. I did stuff up one of the high bits, which is extremely annoying as my high range is normally pretty reliable. My accompanist did take a tempo rather slower than we had taken before, and it’s not an easy piece for me to push on, so I was unhappy with that aspect of things… but there’s not much I could do about it at the time.

Next came orchestral excerpts. These were possibly the worst bit of the exam, in terms of how well I can play them compared to how well I did. The extracts were:

Beethoven ‘Fidelio’ overture, 2nd horn
C. Franck Symphony (er, D minor I think)
Strauss Till Eulenspiegel’s Lustige Streiche
Weber ‘Oberon’ overture
Mahler Symphony No. 7

Beethoven was patchy, I ended up playing more heavily than I’d like to just to get the notes to come out. Ugh. Franck was okay but not brilliant; probably sounded strained and inflexible. Strauss was rusty and I kept taking the damn thing too fast which is not going to help. Weber was okay but pitch and tone probably too tentative. Mahler was quite strong, I thought: not sure if I got the right tempo, I may have been a little slow, but the notes were all there (even the low-ish G’s at the end that have a tendency to come out all fluffy) and I played musically.

Next: sight-reading. I did very well on the F sight-reading, one or two rhythmic inaccuracies but nothing awful. I was starting to relax by then and I guess it showed. The transposition sight-reading was a deceptively simple-looking passage which they wanted in B flat basso, I took it faster than I could play it and made rather a dog’s dinner of the thing. I feel slightly consoled by the fact that it is very much not hand-horn writing and there are few situations where I would be asked to sightread something like that in such a key.

Scales were next on the agenda. My low-range tone was not what I would have liked, but other than one or two minor slips I think I did well on scales, arpeggios and so on.

They asked me some questions about the various extracts. For some I was able to answer and even elaborate a bit, for some my mind went completely blank, despite having studied the information.

That’s it: the whole exam. Later in the day I did end up catching up with one of the examiners, who was my old teacher. It was good to have a chat with him again, I’d not been in touch for far too long.

After that I went to a rehearsal in Maida Vale and proceeded to play rather poorly, mostly through being mentally tired and spaced out rather than for any physical reason.

Hopefully the good bits convinced the examination panel that I was nervous, rather than woefully underprepared, for the less-good bits: I’m not going to say here which is actually the case, of course. 😉

Mostly, I’m glad to have the exam over with. I did try not to cram for it but I also found that even the amount of preparation I did was quite time-consuming, and interfered with working on more important things. As I said in a text message to my teacher on Friday afternoon, I’m really looking forward to having the time to get some solid technical work done over the summer without the interruptions of Performance Department projects and an exam to worry about. I’ll have some interruptions and deadlines this summer, but they’ll be my interruptions and deadlines: a week playing chamber music at Charterhouse playing chamber music, hopefully some lunchtime recitals in August playing the Brahms horn trio, and if I’m lucky and brave some jazz jam sessions, somewhere in London. I can deal with that, I think.

For now? I’ve taken a few days off. I’m not playing again until Wednesday afternoon, to warm-up for a rehearsal Wednesday evening, and I’m not going in to Trinity until Thursday. I’m using the sudden onslaught of free time to do desperately exciting things like catching up on laundry and tidying my bedroom. If I’m very, very lucky I’ll get some sewing done, but I don’t hold out much hope at this point.

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