Aureus Academy, the fastest-growing music school in the region with centres located at Hong Kong’s Island Resort Mall, Citywalk and Olympian City, is working with musician, examiner and teacher Bill Thomson who holds the role of International Visiting Artist in Pedagogy. With a clear mission of offering a music learning experience like no other, Aureus stands out by hiring only full-time teachers, many of whom hold a Master’s degree from performing arts universities. To establish effective teacher-student communication, the Academy works with experts such as Bill to provide regular training to teachers. Over the past year, Bill has been educating teachers about preparing their students for remote music examination.
Lawrence Holmefjord-Sarabi, Chief Executive Officer of Aureus Academy shares, “As an ABRSM exam provider, Aureus works with Bill to prepare our highly-skilled teachers in Hong Kong and Singapore for the changing landscape of music examination. The pandemic has shifted many examinations to take place remotely and via video. Not only is this a new method for students being examined, it’s also adapted the way our teachers teach. We’ve been quick to evolve with the times, and thanks to Bill, the Academy and its teachers could not be better prepared to offer the highest quality of teaching and exam preparation in the new-normal.”
Bill Thomson was formerly the ABRSM (the world’s leading provider of music exams) Regional Consultant to South East Asia and ABRSM Hong Kong and Singapore Development Executive, and has been involved in music education for over 20 years. Today, Bill is an ABRSM Examiner, the European String Teachers’ Association Ambassador to China and South East Asia, as well as the International Visiting Artist in Pedagogy at the Aureus Academy.
Bill Thomson says, “The new ABRSM Performance Grade Exam structure provides an exciting opportunity for students and their teachers to work on a learning journey that culminates in a video recording of four very different pieces of music, exploring different, keys, tempi, musical textures, styles and of course at the heart of the learning, the development of technique. The learning process may not be so very different, but the demands of the exam are new.”
Bill Thomson shares his tips on how teachers, parents and children can best prepare for remote music examination:
The songs are at the heart of the process. Repertoire needs to be tailored to suit the emotional, physical, musical and artistic needs of the learner and the teacher alike, understanding that it is the four songs, nothing more and nothing less, which will be assessed. It is imperative that the repertoire provides scope to demonstrate not only different keys, styles, tempi and musical periods, but also equally provide the best opportunity for the candidate to show their musical engagement and communication skills. It is also fundamental to find a repertoire which interests, develops the learner’s imagination and motivation and which provides an appropriate challenge.
The new format requires that four songs are performed, rather than three songs as previously experienced at in-person examinations, thus making the examination more physically demanding. Developing stamina will empower an exam candidate to have the physical, mental and emotional strength to be able to perform to their best in one ‘take’.
For many students, who are for the most part children and teenagers, the use of technology is a part of social life, education and entertainment; so although the use of video may be daunting for parents and teachers, it’s actually very normal to students. Teachers should make video recording a routine activity during lessons and exam preparation, to help remove any anxiety, stress or fear in front of the camera. I suggest making short videos for assessment from the teacher, who can help to guide the learner towards improved outcomes.
The examiner needs to be able to relate to the performance and ‘hear’ the musical outcome of each song. Quality of sound, appropriate balance between instrumentalist or singer and piano accompanist should be considered. Resonance level in the recording space can adversely affect the outcome, for example, in Asian cities such as Hong Kong or Singapore where apartments frequently have ceramic floor tiles a piano can sound very bright and strident, and clarity of touch can be lost. Some judicious experimentation with a blanket over the top and down the back of the piano can reduce any unwanted resonance. Time spent on matters such as this can help with the ultimate recording quality.
This new exam format may be better suited to the emotional needs of young children, as the previous format could cause some students anxiety about playing for an unknown examiner in an unfamiliar place. The new format is so much more than an exam: the recording itself is something to be proud of and parents, grandparents and teachers can enjoy the final video recording and those made along the learning journey – this can mean a great deal to a young child.
The effort made with ‘dress’ and ‘platform’ awareness is likely to enhance the ‘moment’ for the candidate and perhaps enhance the quality of the performance.
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