What’s your musical background?
I play all members of the Clarinet and Saxophone family, the Flute, and Piano. I play Alto Clarinet with the British Clarinet Ensemble, and I have travelled with them to Holland, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Japan. I teach Clarinet and Saxophone at Colchester VI College, and Framlingham College Preparatory School.
What made you want to get into examining?
My piano teacher was an examiner, so exams were a natural part of my musical education. As I started teaching and entering my own students for exams, it seemed a natural progression to consider becoming an examiner myself, and I was encouraged by a visiting examiner, who had heard my pupils, to apply for training. I see it as giving back to the system which helped me so much.
What do you feel the benefits are of taking a music exam?
Used correctly as part of a musical curriculum, and not the sole aspect, music exams can be a performance opportunity alongside other activities such as concerts. They can be a motivator, and provide students with a benchmark and recognition for their achievements.
What do you like about the Trinity syllabus/exam process in particular?
I should let my students answer that. They like the wide range of pieces and that they can select which supporting tests to present – they all choose different ones! They all like our friendly examiners as well…
What are your memories of doing graded music exams yourself?
I took all my grades on Clarinet, Saxophone, Flute and Piano with varying degrees of success! And then diplomas on Clarinet and Piano. I do remember the nerves beforehand and the sense of achievement afterwards, walking out the exam room. It always motivated me onto the next level.
What do you enjoy most about being an examiner?
A former student once said that he could not imagine a better job than sitting listening to music all day; I think that sums it up perfectly! And meeting other musicians.
What are you looking for in particular from a candidate during an exam?
Musical understanding of the pieces, and developing instrumental control in the technical work. The basics of musicianship being present in the supporting tests.
What’s been your most memorable moment as an examiner?
This actually happened last term when a singer gave such a heartfelt performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ from Les Misérables that I had trouble keeping the tears under control. Absolute magic in an exam room.
Which is your favourite part of the examine to examine and why?
The supporting tests, when I have the chance to interact with the candidates.
What are your top tips for preparing for an exam?
Pick pieces that you really enjoy playing – this will come across – and give yourself enough preparation time. Make sure you understand what all the supporting tests have to offer, and give yourself enough time to practise them and the scales!
What are your top tips for the supporting tests part of the exam?
Don’t leave them until the last minute! Also, try to incorporate them into learning your pieces. Sight-reading is needed first to learn your piece; make sure you know what all the terms and signs mean (ie, musical knowledge) and use improvisation to make up exercises to practise difficult areas. Try to incorporate the aural tests as well – identify intervals, key changes, modulations etc. Your teacher could even deliberately make mistakes in playing the piece for you to identify.
What are your top tips for dealing with nerves?
Remember that it is ok to have nerves; top professional players all get nervous! Take a few deep breaths as you enter the room, and you will feel better as soon as you start to play. My students are always amazed at how fast the exam goes. And it helps to know that you are thoroughly prepared.
What’s the main piece of advice you’d give someone taking a music exam?
Examiners look forward to hearing you play and want you to do well, so just really try to enjoy playing and communicate the character of your pieces.