Exams and competitions

It’s been a week of exams and competitions for me in a surprisingly sunny Scotland. Last Saturday I adjudicated the clarsach competitions at the Moray Music Festival in Elgin. It’s the first time that clarsach has been part of this successful competitive music festival and though it was a small field it was a good standard and bodes well for the future.

Then after a few days back at base camp it was on to the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music (Sgoil Chiùil na Gàidhealtachd) at Plockton High School. This is the 5th year that students from the Centre have entered Trinity Guildhall exams, using traditional repertoire and instruments – ie what they work on all year. The opportunity for students of traditional music to be able to gain an external, internationally recognised and validated music qualification, without in any way changing or compromising what they play, is very valuable.  Trinity are a great organization to work with – they really do appreciate the nature and character of whatever music they are asked to examine, and never try to squeeze music to fit their rules.

Trinity have worked with the Centre, allowing us to set our own criteria for these exams – note that we don’t set repertoire lists just general things such as by the Advanced level the recital should demonstrate a good knowledge of the full range of Scottish tune types – while obviously keeping to the standard criteria of timings etc. The idea is that this is the chance for a student to perform (unaccompanied unless it’s an ensemble exam) the material they’ve worked on with the tutor during the year and get an external critique and a qualification. It gives them the kind of experience in programme planning, stagecraft, presentation and solo performance that will be very useful for future performances from auditions to gigs.

There are no supporting tests as there are in grade exams, so no one is disadvantaged by lack of sight-reading ability or formal theory knowledge (though our students do work on these!). It’s strictly a performance exam – and I can’t see any downsides to it all. Likewise for the kids doing the clarsach competitions at Elgin last week – they got the experience of performing a piece in front of an audience and getting feedback from another player than their teacher. As long as traditional musicians  can play our music honestly and in traditional style then I think exams and competitions have their place. Trad music has moved into the educational establishment here in Scotland, and though that’s not without its dangers, you can’t unring the bell, so let’s make sure trad players get the same opportunities and with that the same qualifications and responsibilities as classical players. Any thoughts anyone?

Oh and by the way, our students all did very well!


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