Exam Countdown Time

Only ten sleeps until my Performance Assessment. Only one weekend between me and it.

The weighting is 50% on one solo piece, to be performed from memory, and 50% on everything else (technical exercises, orchestral extracts, sightreading and transposition). In addition there is a Pass/Fail Technical Portfolio which must be handed in: this will include details, analysis and evaluation of what I’ve been working on this year.

I’m in pretty good shape with the solo piece. I’ll be playing the first movement of Strauss 1. I need to find some more testosterone from somewhere, but the technical and musical challenges of the work are not overwhelming. My memory is absolutely fine, as it always has been; I’m very lucky to be a quick-study as far as memorisation is concerned. I have a rehearsal with the pianist this afternoon, and I don’t anticipate problems.

Orchestral extracts are less secure. I do have a plan for studying these, and I’ll spend most of this Friday’s horn lesson on them.

Sight-reading and transposition are fair to middling; my sight-reading on the horn has always been strong, and my transposition at sight is adequate for most orchestral work, but I remember well my second-year technical exam where the sightreading and transposition piece was seriously challenging atonal music, which I couldn’t have sung, let alone played accurately. There’s no promise the same won’t happen again, and I’d like to have more skill in this area than I currently do.

While I can bootstrap the orchestral extracts to an extent, the technical exercises and sightreading are simply not the sort of thing where cramming will work. At this point, I’m better off focusing on general playing skills than trying to worry about whether my B Major scale is perfect at a given speed. Ten days is long enough that doing a bit of sight-reading each day, a bit of transposition each day, and some serious work on the scales will help, but only after I’ve laid good groundwork with an excellent warm-up and a thorough work-out. If I do those things, then the technical exercises required by the assessment board will be representative of my general skill, which is how things should be. If I don’t, then no amount of work on specific scales or arpeggios between now and the exam will mask the deficiencies in my playing.

With this in mind, today’s horn lesson consisted almost entirely of going through the Singer book, discussing and choosing exercises for me to work on. Most of them are things we’ve discussed previously, they can seem a bit dry, and writing them out seems ridiculous given the simplicity and repetition of them… but having the book, having a structure on the page to follow instead of remembering what to do ‘in my head’, has already made a difference. I don’t know why it’s easier to play repeated long notes, gradually rising chromatically, when they’re written out on the page than when I’m just reminding myself to play long tone exercises, but it is. Scales I don’t tend to find I need written out (it isn’t as if I don’t know what the notes are), but I’ve always found it easier to practise them systematically when I have some sort of checklist in front of me. I suppose it just makes it easier to divide things into chunks in my head, to convince myself to do just to the end of the page before I have a break. My dependence on a written structure is something I’d do well to remember, though, and apply in all of my learning.

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