Thursday, April 26, 2012

ABRSM Exam Week Spring 2012 Day 3: Venues, Students, and the Joy Of Uneventful Days

Day 3 went smoothly, uneventfully.  Not all exam days unfold in that manner...there are tales to tell, but not today.

The Nashville exams are blessed to have great venues, thanks to the generosity of a few local churches over the years. I know that this is not the case in many locations in the US and around the world, and it's not taken for granted.

A good venue provides a quiet, well-lit, comfortable room with a good piano, and a comfortable waiting room out of earshot, but within easy reach of the steward. The right venue contributes much to the joy of an uneventful day of examinations.

With little news to report, let me share a couple of images of happy candidates.  One of the perks of the job is watching bright kids grow up, and return to exams every six months a bit taller, more focused, and aware that they are accomplishing their goals.

Off to Lipscomb University for today's exams. More on that most special place later.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

ABRSM Exam Week Spring 2012 Day 2: The Steward

It was a long day, breakfast at 7:00 am and dinner at 8:30 pm, with a multitude of candidates in between.  Impressively, we actually ran ahead of schedule all day. Efficient examiner, well-prepared students.  I began training a new steward who took to the job readily and kept the day going.

The exam steward plays an important role in the process--part traffic cop, part personal assistant to the examiner, part stable pony for nervous candidates. The steward's job is to usher candidates into the exam room, making sure the examiner has a prepared mark sheet and music needed,  ushering the previous candidate out, while keeping everyone calm and the day running on time. The steward also guards the door to prevent parents and teachers from attempting to break in on the exam--it happens from time to time, really.

It takes a calm, organized person to do this job. After a bit, if things go well, the steward and examiner begin to work in synch, and the day takes on a sort of rhythm worked out between them. If the steward is a student, it is one of the best music educations available, as he or she hears every exam go by, and inevitably comes along for a lunch or dinner with the examiner. The steward gets to hear the funny stories from exam rooms around the world, and is given insight into how the examiners approach their work.

Our steward of the past two years, Roseanna, is now away at university. She became so adept at the role that I simply packed up a rolling file box with the needed supplies, handed it over to her, and made myself scarce. She had matters well in hand. More than one examiner sincerely wished they could fly her around the country for other stops on tour. She rejoins us in Louisville in May, and I lok forward to her presence.

Trainee steward Jordan shows real promise, and I have high hopes. She is also young enough to keep around for another couple of years. She showed real calm and presence of mind. I only had to give her instructions once, and she was on her way. She kept the day flowing, when it easily could have bogged down.

Monday, April 23, 2012

ABRSM Exam Week Spring 2012 Day 1

Early morning....

ABRSM, as an organization, has an effective 'corporate culture', to use that old buzzword. It seeks to learn how to do its mission better, based upon what it learns from its ongoing experience.

One detail they learned along the way is to fly examiners in early enough to allow their bodies to acclimate to the local time zone, weather, cuisine and culture. It makes a big difference in how they perform their task and hold up on their long tours. Thus Richard arrived to us late Saturday afternoon Central US Time, late evening London time. There was time for dinner, time to check him into his cottage at East Hills Bed and Breakfast, and a day off to recuperate.

Today, then, is Day 1. We begin with breakfast at the B&B, served by our hosts John and Anita Luther. It's time to go over the week's timetable, make certain we have all our ducks in a row regarding special needs tests, venue arrangements, etc. It's also time to relax and chuckle a bit, because the work-load ramps up dramatically from this point on. I call ahead to the church venues to make certain we will not be walking into a funeral service or wake being held in the exam room. No kidding, it happened once, not an experience to repeat.

The first exams are held today at First Baptist Dickson Tennessee. We are fortunate in the South to have so many churches, and so many of them still willing to open their doors to examination days. I understand this is not the case in other parts of the country.

It's an afternoon session of students from this region of the state, west of Nashville. I'll be training a new steward, since our beloved Roseanna who handled the duties for the past two years is now at university some two hundred miles distant.

For now, it's time to assemble the signage, the schedule books, and prepare the mark sheets for the examiner--after I field the phone call from the officious mother who wonders why the entire world does not stop in order to answer her questions at the moment she poses them...


All went smoothly--pictures will follow in due course. Richard heard exams from candidates ranging from about age seven to college students, including a number of prep tests. No one came out of the exam room crying (which occasionally happens), and several came out beaming telling us what fun they had. That's the reaction we really like! The examiners are vetted and trained intensively on a certain style of etiquette designed to keep the candidate as relaxed as possible during exam time, and Richard certainly does this well.

We actually ran a few minutes ahead of schedule, also a good sign. All went smoothly, and the parents of the younger children enjoyed hanging out together, talking with Carol and today's applicant Amy Shafer, LRSM. (More about her in due course.) I had to run some administrative errands, and helped with the chauffering, set-up and tear-down of the exam room.

We ran into an odd situation in the exam room, with the piano up on the pulpit area, with an unusually designed set of stairs leading up. With a bit of engineering involving a potted plant and a 'mourner's bench', we created a path up and back that no child could miss, avoiding a tumble during an exam.  Always something new, always something to learn....

Back to prepping mark sheets for Tuesday. It will be a long day, picking Richard up at 7:30, and we'll be bringing him back about 9:00 p.m. Some days are like that, thankfully not most.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

ABRSM Exam Week Spring 2012 Nashville

One of the happiest things I get to do as a musician is help coordinate local examiner visits for the world's leading music examination organization,  The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.

It's hard to explain and describe ABRSM in twenty words or less, living as we do in the Age of Twitter, which demands instant wisdom in 140 characters or less.

So allow me to take a stab at it: ABRSM is the very best system ever invented to motivate and measure progress in music students. It was founded in London some 120 years ago. Its reach is world-wide, some 650,000 examinations annually, in every corner of the planet.

Carol and I had the pleasure last night of greeting this week's examiner, Richard Storry, and look forward to his week with us in Nashville, and a further week in Louisville in late May. He is an award-winning guitarist and composer, as well as an experienced examiner. ABRSM has sent him around the world, from the US to Hong Kong to Malaysia to Guyana to New Zealand to Tanzania and South Africa. He brings with him, as do all these extraordinary musicians, a great good cheer, a love for music and students and life.

Having greeted examiners since 1998, and watched over many thousands of exams, I have met wonderful examiners--some now lifelong friends--and have seen the lives of students transformed by their participation in Board exams and the approach inherent in their syllabus.

So, this week, I'll try to journal the week's events, to give parents and teachers an account of how and why this works so well.

The link to ABRSM is here, and I hope you take a few minutes to explore.

A parents' guide to ABRSM is available by download here. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Baroque Fiddling Project: Tracing Tennessee’s Musical Roots With Music City Baroque

My dear bride suggested we have a date night last Monday evening April 16 to hear Music City Baroque at the famous Loveless Hotel and Restaurant on the west side of Nashville, where the Natchez Trace meets the old state road to Memphis. I'm always happy about a meal at the Loveless, and Music City Baroque is always a wonderful evening of music. No way to resist that double invitaton. In any event, our friends in the group spotted us, and the next day I was invited to review the concert, since illness befell the fine gent who usually does these sorts of things. I was flattered to be asked, and share it with you below:

The Baroque Fiddling Project: Tracing Tennessee’s Musical Roots 
The Loveless Barn, Nashville, TN April 16, 2012 

The prospect of a lovely spring night, dinner at the Mother Church of Southern Cooking, and a performance by Music City Baroque attracted a warm and enthusiastic crowd of about a hundred to the Loveless Barn, located just behind Nashville’s iconic Loveless Restaurant, located where Highway 100 meets Natchez Trace Parkway. The Loveless is an appropriate setting in so many ways, not least because its history and the history of Nashville’s music are so intimately connected. The food and service, as always, were classic Loveless--warm biscuits and good cheer in abundance.

Music City Baroque’s presentation mirrored the venue, with a wide variety of offerings offered with good humor and style. American music from about 1900 onward so dominates the world landscape that it is easy to forget that it came from somewhere, actually a variety of ‘somewheres’; like so much of our culture, imported from Europe and the British Isles and transformed into a homegrown American genre. WPLN’s Will Griffin expertly narrated the evening’s program, walking the audience through that journey from imported to native grown music, noting the historical figures such as Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Jackson, Crockett and Lafayette who lives intersected American music or were memorialized by it.

Beginning with a Corelli trio sonata, likely heard at Monticello, the program quickly moved to Baroque dance forms that were popular in colonial America, with a bow in the direction of Franklin’s ambassadorship to France, and included excerpts of his string quartet. This was followed by an entertaining set of fiddle tunes, parlor songs, square dances, and original music composed in and for nineteeth-century Nashville. Square dancers joined in to demonstrate the intricate steps associated with the tunes. European imports to Nashville Emil Heerbrugger and Ole Bull were recognized for their contributions to 19th century Nashville culture, and the evening closed with a final set of square dances, led off by Yankee Doodle.

The entire ensemble richly deserved the enthusiastic applause at the evening’s end, but two performers must be especially noted. Tammy Rogers King especially impressed with her fiddle work, featuring a Scandinavian ‘hardanger fiddle’. Artistic Director Murray Somerville was honored for his unselfish work in championing historically informed performance in Nashville. This was his final performance with the group before his upcoming move to South Carolina. He will be sorely missed.