Wednesday, 14 March 2012

ABRSM Grade 4 Exam Day

So that is that then? ABRSM Grade 4 Singing Exam done and dusted. After all the build up, all the stress about whether I would get my tongue around 'nachbarn nicht', all the worry about whether my brain would go blank during Barb'ra Allen. Then in a flash it was all over and all that's left is the need to go over the entire proceedings in some form of literary post mortem.

What better way to do that than pour it all out into this humble blog. So settle down with a nice cup of tea and let me tell you all about it. Before I start, may I point out that Anna-Ruth was also doing an exam today - Grade 7 in fact and light years ahead of me. But this blog will unashamedly concentrate on ME. Hell, it's my blog after all. Anna can add her thoughts herself later if she so wishes.

Right then, an important part of my preparation is to ensure a good night's sleep and thankfully I was feeling calm, relaxed and confident about it all. So no last minute panic text to Caroline would be needed this time. I've no recollection of any dreams, but I'm sure any would've involved singing. I got up feeling okay and there was no time to ponder the events to come as parental duties were required. Firstly I needed to drop Ruth off for her bus to work and then take Amy to the Docs.

With that done I returned home to relax in a nice warm bath! Bliss. . . . Food of some sort was required but I could only contemplate fruit strangely - bananas to be precise. The lack of appetite was a sure sign that the nerves were starting to kick in. The guts had started to do the 'hokey-cokey', but things were under control. I had a determination to try and enjoy this experience which shouldn't be too unrealistic particularly as there was nothing riding on this exam other than pride. But the nerves persisted right up to the start.

Caroline later arrived at our house for a pre-exam warm up. I had by this time noticed a tickly sore throat starting to rear it's ugly head, but didn't mention it to anyone for fear of sounding like I was making excuses. Anyway, I can sing through that any way! The worst thing about performances and exams,  is the waiting beforehand. It is simply torture - no other word for it.  We left for the exam venue, Emmanuel Church, Loughborough in good time and found that a 'no-show' meant I might be on a little bit earlier. Great! Let's get on with it.

The call came soon enough and it was 'game on'. In I strode with the old heart a pumpin', trying to look relaxed and confident and probably failing. Thankfully a cup of water was available as the bottle of water that I prepared beforehand was left behind. Oops! The exam room was rather small containing a desk for the examiner (a bloke) and thankfully, a piano. The somewhat deadpan examiner did little to settle the nerves so nothing for it but to crack on.

With the nerves there, I did nevertheless feel determined to give it my best shot. Nest started Caro mio Ben and we were off and singing! Considering it was the first piece it was okay I thought. I think I rolled the 'r's sufficiently in suitably Italian fashion and thought it was a good start. A quick glance at 'Mr Grumpy' behind the desk gave me nothing, so on we went with An Die Laute. A good sip of water prepared me for the previously described tongue-twisting German lines. I do seem to be developing the ability to sing the words and at the same time think about the lines that are coming up next, which is quite handy really. The slightly trickier second verse went well and all lines were sung in the right order. So that was 'two down, two to go' and 'so far so good'.

Mr Grumpy said 'carry on with the next piece when you are ready' so on we went with Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful. The slightly confusing intro was made easy by Nest's nod of the head and this piece went well too. All through all the pieces I was aware of a slight wavering of my voice due to nerves, but this is never really apparent to listeners apparently, so I didn't worry about it. At some point I made the mistake of looking at the examiner who was looking at me and our eyes met for a split second. Bad idea and not something to be repeated. Puts one right off! After this piece was finished Nest then got up and left the room. As if the unaccompanied piece isn't traumatic enough, it is quite awful to see your accompanist get up and leave as you then know exactly what's coming up.

Mr Grumpy then told me to play my starting note and I realised with horror that Nest hadn't played me my 'E' flat before she left as she'd promised to do. Now, my grasp of the piano is basic at best, but thankfully I remembered where 'C' was and worked out where my starting note was. It sounded right anyway! Crikey, if I'd got that wrong it could've proved fatal! So off I went feeling like I was back on Rivington Pike again. On reflection, it went reasonably well with the exception of: 1) singing 'green birds they were swelling', rather than buds. Eejit! 2) forgetting to sing 'so slowly, slowly, she came up' err, SLOWLY! I rattled through it at the same pace as the rest. Doh. and 3) had a mental block after the second verse. I failed to remember that after Jemmy Grove was dying, he was then 'laid in grave'. Yes, it's a jolly tune, this one! Rather like the church lesson reading fiasco as a 10 year old, it felt like I paused for half an hour, but in reality it was probably only 4 or 5 seconds. What the hell, I sang through the rest, finished off well and in tune as usual. I think!?!

Then, just when you think you've done it, up come the sight reading and aural tests. Oh Lord. Actually, the sight reading wasn't too bad. I know I went horribly off at one point but did manage to keep going and at least ended well. Clapping out the rhythm was a bloody nightmare! It seemed okay and I was quite happy with it until he just kept going. And going. AND GOING! How the hell any human being is expected to remember all that God himself may fail to fathom. I think I got the first half of it about right, but the rest?

The slightly odd exercise where one is played a chord and then have to sing 4 or 5 notes was easy-peasy, but the one where one is asked questions about a piece of music was pretty awful. I was asked to comment on tone and what gave it its character. As for character I hadn't a clue. It was such a non-descript piece that all I could think of to say was (brace yourself), 'its key'. This naturally brought the question 'was it major of minor?' Oh poop! Mentally I tossed a coin and said 'major', confidently. Oh dear the one question I didn't want....

And that was it. All over in about 15 minutes. I left Mr Grumpy behind thanking him for his time and returned to the waiting Caroline, Nest and Anna, who then went in to show how it's really done!

If I was to be hyper-critical of myself I would say I sang quite well, in tune and with a bit of expression at times, but the nerves probably showed in my clenched fists  and fixed stare at a poster on the wall. There's still some way to go before I can say I actually 'perform' a song rather than merely 'sing' it. But it was a great experience and I'm so glad I did it. By the way, I'm only joking about 'Mr Grumpy'. He was fine really, he just didn't say much or give anything away about what he thought. So I suppose he was just doing his job and 'examining'.

So time to chill out and put my feet up now then? Ha! You're joking aren't yer? No sooner had I sat back down in the waiting room than Caroline just happens to mention the possibility of doing a solo in the upcoming Caroline Sharpe Singers concert in April! Actually, it wasn't too much of a shock as I'd rather suspected she was letting me get the exam out of the way first, before dropping something like that on me.
On the Street Where You Live, which I'm quite familiar with thanks to Nat King Cole, so that should be a breeze.

All that remains is to say a big, BIG thankyou to firstly my wife Ruth for enduring endless renditions of the above songs ad nauseum; to Caroline for her patience and unwavering belief and of course Nest for her tremendous piano playing. Thank you all!

I'll let you all know when the results are out in a few weeks time.

Cheers for now,

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