Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The story of an exam

You probably know I started taking piano lessons with William, years ago. We registered him and I was sitting half an hour listening to his teacher trying to teach this little person (he was just 4 at the time) how to keep his hands correctly and so on. After the 2nd lesson - I asked the teacher (half sure it's going to be a laughing 'no') if they teach adults too.

You should have seen the sparkle in Lana's eye and the enthusiasm she answered with! You'd think you had offered her some unknown treasure =) In time I learned why - most of the parents tend to be too demanding of their children - and I am the first one to admit: had I not started working with her when I did, I might have gone through the 'come on, it looks so easy, how come you can't play it properly' frustrations.

But I did start working with her (the very next week) and I learned first hand how it is to see a bunch of notes that seem so darn easy on the paper and are so darn impossible to recreate in music! I don't have natural musical talent - my ear needs tons of training (unlike William's and Florin's - they have close to perfect ear! and tons of talent comes with that too)... but that didn't stop me from working my behind off! It can be frustrating to be on a 2 page piece for months and months at a time - probably more frustrating for Lana :) but I kept going.

After the first year the teacher slowly pushed me into performing at the school recitals. To say I was terrified is a gross understatement. My very first piece was a small one - can't recall which one now - but I recall one thing: my hands trembled so badly, I could barely play. It became easier and easier - I still get nervous, and I still have the 'OMG, I forgot **everything**' panic moments and tons of butterflies. But now most of the time I can go through the piece without much tremble. I still make mistakes - but I learned how to continue and make them sound part of the piece :) And I have fans too! There is a family in the audience who's always encouraging me and they always clap the loudest :)

Last spring Lana decided I should go to take RCM exams. At first I asked her 'why?' to which she responded with a logical 'why not?'. Then I realized there is nothing to be lost in the process, after all (except some money). So I reluctantly agreed.
I wrote the theory exams (and I just got my results - passed it with 100%... which is nothing to be very proud of, that was the 'preschool' level, I really know a lot of theory, and know it well) and yesterday it was the day to take my practical exam.

Today - I presented myself 15 minutes earlier (as per the exam paper) and the lady at the sign-ups looked at her papers and asked "So, are you with Alicia?"... Not really, I *am* Alicia! She looked half shocked half amused with a little bit of 'good for you' sprinkled on top. I don't think there are many adult students in our neighbourhood! After I put my name down and she explained what I need to do, she also gave me a little bag with a comment along the lines of "This is for you, so you continue your efforts!" and a sheepishly smile. I couldn't check the bag, I was suddenly terrorized that I didn't brink my sight-reading and ear-testing book with me... what if it was needed? By the time I rationalized the examiner must have her own tests and not need my book I was called in.

I thought we will be using the church's instrument (some sort of a small piano, probably digital) - but they actually brought a real piano in!

The examiner - a nice lady - made a small comment on me being there too (it's impossible to not notice an adult when all the other students are kids!) and we started. The first part (scales) went well - I think :)

Then it came the 'repertoire' part. We have prepared the 3 pieces I needed for it and worked what now seems forever on them.

They should file practical exams of any sort under 'extreme sports' - it is nerve wrecking! The examiner was very nice - but that doesn't change the fact that a person was there, ready to catch everything I would decide to do!

There were 3 short pieces I prepared: one that I loved from the beginning and I was enjoying playing, one that I didn't get in the beginning and I worked incredibly hard to learn and to play it decently (at least), and one that I didn't care much for at all and I worked the least on (as I learned it last). So what do I do? I played them in that order and I did from worst to bad to decent. How is it that a piece I love and I can play it for you in my sleep goes the worse? I don't know. All I know is that by the time I finished all 3 not only my hands were trembling, my feet were too!

And I still had one part of the test to do - the ear test! which I fear the most. I wasn't stellar, but I wasn't a catastrophe either: there is something I need to train more for: playback. I can clap you back a melody, but playing it back is... well... a challenge. If I can figure the starting note I am OK - this time my brain refused to cooperate and it took me almost all the allotted tries to get it (I got it on the last one :) how do I know - the lady said "let's move one" right when I got it)

All in all - a mix of pride and terror. Pride that I put myself through this. Terror that I will have to continue... Interestingly enough - there was no shame in the mix; I used to be of the "OMG, I made a fool of myself" clan. Something switched long time ago and now I am of "If you think you can do it better - please keep quiet" tribe :) A much more entertaining one!

I have about a month to wait on the results... I honestly hope I passed - don't think I can play those 3 pieces again! ;-)

P.S. Once I got home I looked in my bag: a music notebook (good for practice or if I ever decide to compose!), an RCM pen (I must keep it as a reminder of my first exam) and... stickers!! I laughed so hard - now I understood the sing-up lady's smile!

P.P.S. The examiner asked me at the very end "Good for you, is it nice to get back to playing piano, isn't?" To which I replied, laughing "Actually this is the first time I learn it - I started a few years back". Her answer? "That's amazing! I hope you continue". I hope so too!


  1. You go, girl!!! Am very proud of you!!!

  2. it sounds like everyone involved in this was very supportive and had a great admiration for you putting yourself out there. good for you!!! there are so many nuggets of inspiration in what you are doing but the best part is you putting yourself directly in your son's shoes (minus the perfect ear ;-)). it is rare as adults for us to go to that place.

  3. Congrats on putting yourself on the line, Alicia... I'm certain your son has much more commitment to music study knowing you are learning along with him. I chuckled several times reading your story. I never minded the exams myself, but the "recitals"... ugh. I was a teenager when I started piano, and I was almost always the oldest in my group. Not sure if I would have the guts to do it again. So HATS OFF to you, girl!

  4. What a story! As I was reading it, it reminded me of my "word for the year"...Fearless! You go, girl!!!!

  5. Thank you, ladies, I appreciate your friendship and encouragements!

  6. Wow Alicia, I am impressed. I know what you mean by the music notes ...that look so darn easy on paper and so hard to play. I started with my child too, when she was barely five, I could not pass those darn notes, but my daughter, now a mom too, learned all the cool pieces of classical music. I am happy.

    Thank you for dropping by my blog and leaving your kind note on the OLD COIN... Love. Dita.

  7. Oh !
    Sunt copleşită- de emoţii pentru tine, la ideea pe care ai avut-o şi , desigur, la gândul examenelor,- de mândrie , faţă de ce ai izbutit să realizezi-- şi de oarece împlinire ( aici voi fi sigur scuzată, de mulţi părinţi !) , la gândul că măcar astfel imi realizaz parţial ceva ce mie, din motive pe care oarecum cred că le cunoşti-- mi-a fost refuzat.
    Deci : succes , la mai mare şi , cât de curând, poate te auzim-vedem in vreun recital !

  8. The previous reply is from my mom, I will try to translate it as close as possible:

    Oh! I am overwhelmed:
    * with emotion for you, for the idea that you had and, of course, the thought of exams,
    * with pride, from what you managed to accomplish
    * and fulfillment (here I'll be sure excused, by many parents!), at the thought that at least partially I have accomplished something that, from many reason you know, I was refused.
    So, success and soon maybe we can you hear-see you playing a concert!

    Thanks, mom :)


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