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Thread: Acceptable standards for playing in public UK.

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    Default Acceptable standards for playing in public UK.

    I have to post on a regular basis on this site about grade exams in the UK. This happens because adults take them without doing any research into what they are and music teachers don't tell the truth about them. For the US members what this is like is paying over $100 for a test that you don't know anything about apart from what you play in it. I would have expected most adults to want to know what they were spending their money on. What you actually get is a bit of paper and nothing else. So $100 for a piece of paper?

    So lets be clear about this. Grade 8 is an elementary exam. It is like an AS level exam that you take at school. At school someone could be congratulated for passing this exam. But ONLY at school. In the adult music world it is not considered to be a high standard exam. It is considered to be an elementary exam.

    The US members of this site can't understand why I get so upset about grade exams because they don't have these music tests there. So membership of amateur groups is based on playing experience and ensemble standard rather than High School level exams.

    In the UK there are so many amateur players who think that grade 8 is next to professional standard playing. It isn't. The best comparison that I can think of to show the difference is grade 8 compared to a professional player is like comparing someone with an AS level in Biology to a heart surgeon.

    So what we get here in the UK are amateur orchestra concerts that are really really terrible. This is because players mistakenly believe that they can play orchestral music well enough to play it in public. However to play orchestral music as someone who could pass grade 8 is like asking someone with an AS level to perform open heart surgery. The length of time taken to train a professional orchestral player is about the same post grade 8 as the time taken to become a heart surgeon post A levels.

    I can honestly say that I have been to numerous amateur orchestra concerts where members of the orchestra have been told that they need to have passed grade 8 to join. For most of these concerts a pair of earplugs would be a good idea. At many of them the music played is actually unrecognisable. This is due to people missing out notes not playing if the parts are too hard and very often not playing any of the dynamics because they don't have enough skill to play really quietly. I know why it happens. This is because the music that they try to play is just too difficult for someone who has only reached the elementary standard required to pass grade 8. Some of these orchestras charge their audiences more for tickets than they would have to pay to hear the local professional orchestra.

    Getting back to grade 8. You can play in public at the playing standard required to pass grade 8 but you will have to accept that what you play will not be very good. It will not be good enough for people to pay to listen to. It might even be terrible. It won't be a good interpretation of the music that you are playing because you do not have nearly enough skill to do that.

    In fact you can play in public when you have passed grade 1 or any of the other grades. They are all such a low standard of competence that it makes no difference which one you have passed.

    I an totally in favour of people playing in amateur groups. What I am not in favour of is people playing in public when they have no chance of being able to make a good job of what they are playing.

    To the adult amateur musicians in the UK. Please remember that you are not at school now. Many parents go to see their children in plays when the children are at primary school. This does not mean that they would still go to see their children in the same plays when the child has grown up. Playing music in amateur orchestras in public with very low skill levels is like asking an audience to watch a group of adults take part in a primary school play. Yes children at primary school do take grade 8 and pass with distinctions.

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    Senior Member BaronScarpia's Avatar
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    I'm sorry, but if something brings people joy and it's not hurting anyone, who are you to discourage them from doing it?

    Plus, Grade 8 is not an elementary exam. Grade 8 is more like year one of university than AS level.
    "And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music." Friedrich Nietzsche

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jaws View Post
    I have to post on a regular basis on this site about grade exams in the UK.
    No you don't. And your views are getting increasingly bitter and negative, verging on the hostile. I'd leave it alone if I were you - try to move on

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    Grade 8 is not like one year at university. It IS an elementary exam. This is the problem that I always have. People do not research it properly. For music college you have to have passed grade 8 with distinction by the time you are 14. Some people take it and get distinction while they are at primary school. For adult music education it is looked on as an exam that people who are just starting to learn take. Most universities ask for you to have the standard required to pass grade 8 before applying.

    For a professional orchestral player you are looking at 4 years post grade 8 at school. Plus at least another 4 years at music college. So for very gifted players you might get a job in an orchestra after 8 more years of study of music and playing. For the less gifted it could be more than 10 years after grade 8 of study and it doesn't get any easier it gets harder.

    I am not trying to stop people from doing things that bring them joy. If you enjoy playing in an orchestra then that is great carry on. What doesn't bring joy is having to listen to it. If you don't believe me go and listen to your local amateur orchestra concert. Pick one that is in a church and sit on the back row or somewhere in the middle of the audience. You won't be able to see the orchestra and you won't be able to hear any of the delicate little quiet bits because it takes special skill to play quietly in a resonant room. All you will hear is the notes played approximately at the right time at something close to the right pitch and a general mezzo forte. If you haven't been to listen to amateur orchestra concerts and have only played in them then you are not qualified to comment on what brings joy to an audience.

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    Yes I know I have an uphill battle but it is extremely annoying in the UK that so many people put so much importance on these exams and basically exclude many amateur players who haven't taken them. It costs a lot of money to take these exams and as I am trying to help retired people into music as a form of socializing I get really annoyed if they can't get a place in an orchestra simply because they don't own an expensive piece of paper or can't afford the membership fees because the group keeps doing expensive concerts that no one wants to listen to. Before anyone says start your own group, I have. It is a string group. No concerts just music and lots of it for fun. No exams needed just enthusiasm and the ability to learn from others. No way would we ever expect someone to listen to what we are playing and yes at least 3 of us could pass grade 8 given the time and money to do it. But what would we achieve. Nothing.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    Jaws has an Expectations Problem - he wants to hear tolerable music if he has to pay to hear it. What I'm wondering is if his diagnosis is correct. My musician friend's experience with amateur orchestras is that, supposedly because they have to make a living doing something else, the musicians often do not practice their parts. Rehearsals are not for practicing parts, they are for acquiring musical 'togetherness' in the way the director wants the music to go.

    That ain't all that the skill-limited orchestra member can do to make moderately acceptable sounds during a part he really can't handle, but if he ain't even familiar with his part he won't know what to do, eh?
    I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people don't like me anyway.

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    Regardless of any exam ratings or even university degrees for that matter, the piece of fancy paper with scrolls on it does not make the musician a great player. The musician only become great by putting much effort into the craft itself.

    I have seen people exit universities with advanced degrees in music performance and yet cannot play themselves out of a wet paper bag if ever asked to play in a church setting, and even organists who still have no clue how to play a piano (?)!

    I'm not opposed to getting higher degrees in education, but again, the degree does not make the musician.

    And ... what may seem like garbage to ones ears may be the most beautiful music to some else's ears.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Krummhorn View Post
    Regardless of any exam ratings or even university degrees for that matter, the piece of fancy paper with scrolls on it does not make the musician a great player. The musician only become great by putting much effort into the craft itself.

    I have seen people exit universities with advanced degrees in music performance and yet cannot play themselves out of a wet paper bag if ever asked to play in a church setting, and even organists who still have no clue how to play a piano (?)!

    I'm not opposed to getting higher degrees in education, but again, the degree does not make the musician.

    And ... what may seem like garbage to ones ears may be the most beautiful music to some else's ears.
    Absolutely! But if a person decides to take exams as a useful & tangible qualification for further study, or because they see it as a personal challenge, that doesn't make them a rotten musician, either.

    My violin teacher is a baroque performer with various ensembles, including La Serenissima, & he is a skilled improviser & sight-reader too. He's very into developing musicality and learning by ear, and he's also very anti-exam - but even he helps students to achieve good grade 8 passes, because it's useful for them.
    Last edited by Ingélou; Nov-11-2014 at 15:57.
    ~ Mollie ~
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ingélou View Post
    Absolutely! But if a person decides to take exams as a useful & tangible qualification for further study, or because they see it as a personal challenge, that doesn't make them a rotten musician, either . . .
    Nicely stated and spot on with a different twist. Thanks .

    In my younger years I did participate in several competitions where there were judges scoring the player on ability, phrasing, registration (organ stops), memorization and poise. Either certificates or plaques were issued to those who 'competed'.
    Those certificates/plaques that I was awarded mean absolutely nothing in the outside world. I did them to better myself and garner additional experience along the way.

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    I can understand suggesting that grade exams are not worth the money, but I don't understand what this has to do with amateur orchestras. Any orchestra that plays so poorly that people do not wish to hear them will eventually cease to exist. I assume that all amateur orchestras have auditions and that those auditions determine the performance level of the musicians - not the grade level tests.

    The level of play of some amateur orchestras in the UK may not be up to Jaws standard, but apparently those orchestras play well enough to please many others. Is that truly a problem? More importantly, what could change other than disbanding the orchestras and apparently depriving those who play in and listen to them of the joy they get?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jaws View Post
    What doesn't bring joy is having to listen to it.
    If you don't like it then don't go. Problem solved.

    Have a wonderful time with your string group instead. Sounds like a great alternative.
    Heather W. Reichgott, piano
    http://heatherwreichgott.blogspot.com

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    Senior Member TalkingHead's Avatar
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    Maybe the OP just got a "Pass" at Grade VIII?

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    Quote Originally Posted by TalkingHead View Post
    Maybe the OP just got a "Pass" at Grade VIII?
    I fear Jaws has an axe to grind...

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    There are viewpoints on this, obviously. It depends on your view of exams, how you want to measure your progress, what your ultimate musical aims are. For a FRAM / FRCM pianist, grade 8 no doubt is elementary....so is the FRCM to someone who's moved onto the concert stage - but it's also the highest of the non-professional grades offered by the AB, originally set up to uphold uniform musical standards for those wanting to make a start in music.

    As for exams? Well, judging is always an issue. How do you judge someone playing music? The view of a critic, of an examiner? The number of wrong notes? Obedience to the composers' instructions if any? To me, the only judge once you pass the AB exams is public reception. Critics are vampirical eunuchs feeding off those who do the work. Examiners are on a nice sinecure. The public? They're all too often swayed by personality or looks these days.

    I recently had the misfortune to hear a young lady whacking out Liszt's 12 studies. It was appalling. Pedal down the whole time. Flashy playing but no art. But the audience liked her - she was a looker all right displaying her wares nicely when taking a bow. I think she got a contract with DG. She had the personality/looks, I dare say. But to me, it's dysgenics in music. A younger public will set its sights at that as its standard.

    But as for the grade exams, I see nothing wrong if young musicians want to use them as a measure of progress or challenge.

    A more important issue is why someone needs grade 5 theory to move beyond grade 5 practical.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Frasier View Post
    A more important issue is why someone needs grade 5 theory to move beyond grade 5 practical.
    Number of points, mainly for piano :

    Scales build up a sense of tonality; theory fills in behind it.

    Scales help with finger patterns; theory helps with the recognition of chord progressions.

    Aural tests look at cadences; theory fills in behind it.

    The analysis of a piece to help memorisation depends on a theoretical knowledge of the harmonic structure.

    Apart from that, why not? Theory is great fun!
    Music begins where words leave off. Music expresses the inexpressible.

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