I took my first singing exam in… oh, I won’t tell you, but I was aged 14 and in year 9 at school in the south of England. I had been taking violin lessons since I was eight, but my interest had waned, not least because my teacher refused to let me take any exams (I was about grade 4 when I stopped, but have only grade 1 to show for it).
My singing teacher let me skip over grade 1 as I had sung in choirs since I was seven or eight and knew a bit of music already. We prepared three songs, as well as covering the aural tests and some of the sight-reading. I can’t remember what I sang any more…
*goes to look up on the syllabus…*
Ok, I had prepared The Mallow Fling, Die Henne and The Little Spanish Town. All of them are still on the lists, and I enjoy teaching both The Mallow Fling and The Little Spanish Town to students. I can vividly remember hating Die Henne, but we had chosen it, and so that was the song it was to be! Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m always keen to help students find songs they enjoy singing for exams.
I rehearsed several times with my accompanist, who was a good friend of my teacher’s. My first singing teacher did not play the piano, so her friend accompanied for exams. My second teacher played and accompanied me for my exam, and my current teacher does play the piano, but does not accompany me for exams.
My Grade 2 exam was scheduled as part of a special visit at my school. Examiners will come to any location at any time if there are enough candidates, and so there were a range of students nipping out of lessons to take exams. The room they used was the Old Library – a very large room with a grand piano. It was a lovely space, but intimidating to fill as a new singer. Quite different from the other venues I have taken exams in – a church sanctuary, a musicians society room, a conservatoire opera studio and someone’s lounge! I remember the examiner being very kind and reassuring, and that once I started singing everything felt so much easier and less nerve-wracking than it had minutes before. After that, I don’t remember much, so it can’t have been a bad experience!
I did well in my exam – I got a solid merit. I went back and completed my Grades 3, 4 and 5 over the next few years, and I am now working towards a performance diploma for classical singing and for musical theatre.
My first exam experience was just as scary as anyone else’s, but it was the beginning of a life-long passion and a life-long journey to become excellent at music so that I can share it with others.
What was your first exam experience like? Are you preparing for your first exam right now? Tell me about it in the comments below.