Keeping A Level Head

Keeping A Level Head

Like a fool, I chose to do Music A-level, and didn’t even drop it after the first year (note to anyone in the UK doing GCSEs: DON’T CHOOSE MUSIC!!), but, alas, we must live with mistakes made in the past, and do the best we can with them, so now I’m faced with a 20-minute recital at the end of March, worth a hell of a lot of marks. Naturally, I’ll be doing a selection of Irish and Scottish tunes, mostly fiddle, and some whistle, with a bit of English, Finnish, Swedish and Klezmer thrown in for good measure.
The trouble is, though, that the examiners will want to check it for "accuracy". It’s not enough that it sounds great and makes their foot tap, they need to make sure I’m playing it "correctly". With classical music,of course, that’s easy: you give them the sheet music. But, as you know, with this music, the "dots" are only a rough guideline. Any variation and ornamentation put into my playing (probably lots), would be regarded as mistakes. So basically, this leaves me with 4 options:
1) I play the bare bones of each tune
2) I try to notate each tune as fully as I’m going to play it, with all the cuts, rolls, etc, different for each repeat
3) I notate it AFTER the recital, listening to the recording and putting the ornaments and stuff in exactly as I played them
4)I supply the bare-bones sheet music, but with a written commentary for each set and each tune, describing the specific type & style, ornaments that go well with it and where I MIGHT put them, variations I MIGHT do, etc
I’m thinking no. 4, but it’d mean an awful lot of work. How to describe all the ornaments used in Irish music (not to mention Klezmer and Scandinavian!) to a straight-up Classical musician, for instance?
My music teacher thinks I should go with 2), or maybe 3).
Can you help me? What do you think? Or have you got a better idea?
Thanks!

Re: Keeping A Level Head

An offhand, uneducated, man-in-the-street suggestion:

Use all of the above. Say, bare bones for one tune, fixed ornaments for another, and then explain that you are going to improvise (in a historically accurate way) on others and notate them afterwards.

I would be impressed by all that, but then I’m not an academic. I’m sure others with more experience in this sort of thing will be glad to speak up. As always. ;>}

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You’re brave Joe. Do you actually NEED to do trad music? I understand this is what you love etc but what you want in thisinstance is the best grade you can get. What does your teacher think?
Apologies if this is a naive question - I haven’t done any music exams and the only A-Level I have is in Spanish which I did at night school, having many years previously gone through the Scottish (non- A-Level) school system.
But if you have to, I agree, go for option number 4. And yes, it will be work, but it’s the best pass you want innit?
My daughter is doing GCSE music just now, to the detriment of extra maths….alongside twelve other subjects. Not joking.

Re: Keeping A Level Head

4 sounds best mate, even if it is a lot of work. Are you allowed to explain to the examiners the nature of the music?

I did music GCSE, which I hated. I wasn’t given full marks before the final exam because the teacher didn’t want to give me full marks on principle, despite the fact he said I deserved it. I didn’t have any respect left for it by that stage anyway..

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Re: Keeping A Level Head

I’d agree with Danny. Do you have to do trad music for this recital?

Re: Keeping A Level Head

Hit the post button before I could finish that. Multitasking fails me again!

Anyway, I understand playing it because you love it or even playing it to make a point, but if your focus is on a really good grade, than playing a classical piece may be the path of least resistance.

Re: Keeping A Level Head

If you look at the score of a typical baroque piece (a Handel or Corelli violin sonata, for example), especially the slow movement, all you’ll see is the bare bones of the music. A baroque player of the time would have improvised a lot of elaborate ornamentation to flesh out those bare bones (it was expected and demanded of them), and modern musicians who specialise in baroque do the same.

Perhaps you could mention that Irish traditional music is decended from the music of the baroque period.
I hope this helps.

PS, it’s worth looking at "A Performer’s Guide to Music of The Baroque Period", published by The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
PPS, if your examiners aren’t aware of this book then they should be!

I took GCSE music a couple of generations ago (it was called O-Level then), but we weren’t expected to give a performance. The most important topics were music theory (including harmony. counterpoint and some orchestration), history of music (classical of course!) and studying set works (I remember two classical symphonies and a Schubert song cycle). There was a practical exam, which included identifying intervals between notes, identifying chords and the four types of cadence when played, and tapping out a specific rhythm, and musical dictation - writing down a simple tune played on the piano. All very academic and a far cry from today’s exam.

I know what you’re thinking - did I pass? I did not. A couple of weeks before the exam the Headmaster found out I had entered and stopped me from sitting the exam on the ground that since I was in the Science Faculty and Music was in the Arts Faculty I couldn’t possibly be allowed to switch from one to the other. The Director of Music who had been coaching me in his spare time was furious, and apparently had a legendary stand-up shouting match with the Head. The DoM quit later on in the year for a more satisfying post in an university.

Re: Keeping A Level Head

Trust me, if I could play any classical pieces well enough, I definitely would! But I gave up classical training years ago now, in favour of Trad, and I have almost no Classical repertoire. And remember, I only have about 6 weeks, so there’s no way I can get 20 mins of unfamiliar music to a really good standard in that amount of time. I can’t even do a mixture of classical and trad, because it’s got to have a "theme". Mine is "Folk Music of Europe".

Stupid Edexcel bureaucracy! Isn’t it good enough that I’m obviously a good musician?!

Re: Keeping A Level Head

I didn’t do A-Level music (I’ve got Chemistry, Physics and Maths instead), but based on what I’ve done at uni there’s probably a few things you can do to get round a few problems. For example, if you play through with a fairly constant degree of swing or lift you should be able to get away with putting ‘Light Swing’ or whatever at the top then notating the notes as of equal value whilst enabling you to play in a rhythm where they’re not (you could go one further and notate what one bar would look like using plenty of demisemiquavers and double dotted quavers - if you’re playing at even a fairly sedate pace I’d be surprised if the examiners could keep an accurate count). You could also combine number 4 explaining the nature of variation with (for example) 4 bars of notated articulation & ornamentation in an ossia staff, learn it exactly, play it once and then start to vary it.

The problem you face, though, is that you’re dealing with a faceless bureaucratic system. You might demonstrate your musicality to the examiners, and convince them that what you’re doing isn’t a series of mistakes, but to get whoever your examining body is to accept this and have it reflected in your overall grade is going to be hard. As unpalatable as Danny’s idea probably is, if you want the best possible mark and you need these grades for uni you might do the best if you simply tick the boxes - play a classical piece that’s appropriately difficult, turn in the score, and smile in the knowledge that you’ve used the system to your advantage.

I’m sure there’s a lot of people that would urge you not to conform to the examining body’s preconceptions (and ordinarily I’d be one of them) but if you have the misfortune to be in a situation like I was where every single mark in every exam counts, you should consider every way to maximise your mark..

wow, just cross posted with about six people…… 🙂

Re: Keeping A Level Head

The point about Irish and Baroque is good, though. Thanks, Lazy.

Re: Keeping A Level Head

Do the examiners have the faintest idea about what trad is supposed to sound like? Just that they’re actually looking for "accuracy" sounds dangerous. They might mark every uneven rythm, ever slide, etc. - in short, everything that makes a tune traditional - as mistake…
Maybe you can play two versions of each tune, one not just as bare bonse but the way a classically trained violinist would play it as an example of how it should NOT sound (which might be exactly what they’re expecting and what might make them happy, though), and then the way it’s supposed to sound with all the bells and whistles. This way, they know everything you do is intentional and the way it’s supposed to be.

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Re: Keeping A Level Head

I did A Level music years ago - and had to re-sit it!!
I wish I’d had the option to play trad - our school was the oldest, stuffiest kind of music curriculum you can imagine!!
Good luck - I hope you get an examiner with an understanding of trad music. If you’re allowed to hand notation in after the event, I would go with 3 so there is as little misunderstanding as possible!

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My Daughter is doing the A level this year too ,last year as part of her practical she played the bodhran and sang whilst my self and tooty played some tunes .
The examiner nearly fell off the chair in shock not what she was used to. BUT the examiner went on to say how much she enjoyed it as it made a pleasant change from what was usually on offer .My daughter achieved her highest grade on that part of the exam.

Re: Keeping A Level Head

I did number 3.
And I would recommend it.

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You should have done what I did Joe and do a composition instead! Much less pressure…though I do have to do a 5 minute recital! But that’s more than four times less effort than yours despite yours being 20 mins long! Good luck! See you soon! Dan

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Re: Keeping A Level Head

Oh and I second Kenny’s suggesion…the number of people who think that tune’s a Vivaldi Concerto when I play it!

My Uber-Classical Violin Teacher wouldn’t be fooled though!

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