Lots of Surprises
Piano exam 2012
Imagine your piano teacher informs you of the exact date you are to have your piano exam. Does your heart become stricken with dread as you foresee the enormous amount of practicing you will have to undergo? And do you dread just thinking about how much stress, anxiousness, and nervousness you will have as you play for a judge, who is a stranger, and will grade you as you play? If you don’t dread merely thinking of the aforesaid scenario, then you are deservedly entitled by me, a “Daniel” or an “Esther”. I, for one, am not an “Esther”.
Yearly, I take this piano exam named, “American Guild”.
This year, my program consisted of nine pieces with an additional ‘ear training’. The pieces in the program were Bach’s ‘Inventions’, Mozart’s ‘Concerto E Flat K271’, Bartok’s ‘Pe Loc’, Debussy’s ‘The Snow is Dancing’, Chopin’s ‘Waltz in E Flat Minor’, and finally, Tchaikovsky’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’.
In my opinion, the most difficult piece was the Mozart Concerto. That piece required much memorizing because it had fifty-one pages divided up into three movements.
I always thought that a majority of piano judges were always strict and mean. I also thought them of people who just judge children for fun just to see how many of them played well. And if the child didn’t play well, then the judge would give the child a bad grade…without any sympathy for the child and how much time and work the child had to dedicate of his own precious time to prepare his program.
I practiced the piano daily. Months passed quickly and before I knew it, it was one month before the exam. About that time, my stress level increased and I doubted if I could finish in time. You see, it was only a month before the big day and I had only memorized 20 pages of the Mozart!
My friends willingly prayed for me as I shared what was happening.
Also, I didn’t have all day to practice. School was mandatory. Moreover, my problems didn’t stop at the Mozart. I had eight other songs to worry about too! Three pages from the Chopin Waltz were yet to be memorized, the Debussy needed to be learned, and the other pieces needed perfection.
Every day, I debated on which pieces to practice. It was either one or the other. The Mozart itself took forty-five minutes to play it once. By the time the forty-five minutes passed, I would be exhausted. My back would ache from sitting so still without support. It would take my remaining strength to play the other songs. In reality, I would practice the remaining eight pieces one day, and then the next day, I would practice the Mozart.
Yet my friends continued to pray.
Finally, two weeks before the exam, I called up my piano teacher saying, “I don’t think I can memorize the third movement of the Mozart Concerto before the exam. I already finished memorizing the first movement. For the second movement, I have only five more pages to memorize. So may I replace the third movement with something else…say, a Bartok?”
To my relief, he assured me that it was a wonderful idea.
So I joyfully replaced the third Mozart movement with a Bartok—which was only one and a half page.
When the final week arrived, I barely worked on my schoolwork. This would be my daily cycle: I would awake. After breakfast, I would hurriedly rush downstairs to the piano and play for an hour or two. Then I would work on school until dinnertime. After dinner, I would practice again for an hour more.
During those last few weeks, my back ceased aching. I reckoned that I had already gotten used to playing for such a long time.
For inspiration, I would open the piano cover and I would observe how the piano worked. What great fun! I found that by opening the cover, it made it easier, if played properly, to produce a crisper and sharper sound. And I found that by closing the cover, it made the music seem muffled.
During that final week, I begged my mom, “Mommy, could we please go to Auntie Linda’s house to practice on her grand piano? Please?”
“We’ll see,” I found to be one of every moms’ favorite sayings.
However, she set a time for me to practice on the grand piano. That frees some of my worries because in the exam, they make sure that there is a grand piano there so you may play on it and I was worried if I could play well enough on a grand piano due to its heavier keys compared to an upright piano.
The dreaded day crept closer and closer until it was one day before it—Monday. That afternoon, I had a piano lesson. After hearing me, my piano teacher, Michael, advised me to refrain from practicing again a few pieces before the exam for fear of over-practicing. One of the pieces he advised against playing again was the Mozart Concerto.
The following day, I cut my usual of late three hour practice to an hour. Lunchtime arrived and I had no appetite. Neither did my sister. But because our mom insisted, we ate…a little. After I ate, I raced to the computer to listen to my pieces but played by professionals. I listened intently, trying to find ways to improve my playing.
The music (which was Mozart) was playing beautifully when suddenly; I froze in horror! I had forgotten to practice one of my weakest spots in that piece! I rushed to the piano frantically and attempted to correct my mistakes in the last five minutes before we had to leave.
At our arrival, we were introduced to the judge, Andrew. He was the type of person who puts you at ease.
Rachel decided to play first so I dutifully went second. With each note in the first song, I was slightly hesitant to play the next note; I feared that I would make a mistake. But my anxiety was a waste for I performed that piece perfectly.
After the last note died away, it was very still.
I turned around to face the judge. His face mirrored disbelief. Suddenly, he exclaimed, “Excellent!” He shook his head and pursed his lips in what appeared to be incredulity. “That was simply, excellent!”
His praise threw me off-guard.
What type of judge is this—telling me so profusely how well he thought I played?
But nevertheless, we reached to my most important and difficult piece—the Mozart Concerto.
“Ahh…” he commented, “We have some advanced stuff here!”
I was getting more and more nervous by the minute. And that was how I began to play the Mozart…nervous.
Eight pages out of the twenty-nine pages I played well, but not as well as I have played once. I was about to play the ninth page when disaster struck.
You see, the Mozart is full of repeats but always, the second time it would repeat, it would be played in a different key. When the music would be repeated, it would always lead to a different middle and ending.
Thus, as I began to play in a different key, I suddenly realized that something wasn’t right! But sadly, although I had realized this, I continued playing—though very slowly and very uncertainly. Then I discovered what was wrong. I was merely playing the last eight pages again! Comprehending this, despite my pride, I stopped playing. I fumbled around keys; trying to figure out what key I was supposed to play. At this point, I no longer cared if I failed this exam or not. I just needed to find this key! Not only that but I could hear the song in my head tormenting me!
“Someone is not praying for me…” I thought.
“Help me, Lord!” I whispered over and over again.
I played around the keys for what seemed like hours, but was actually minutes.
Suddenly, I came with an inspiration to start again from the fourth page. So I did and I successfully flowed past the area I was struggling with earlier. But my joy was quenched quickly when disaster struck again. As I crossed my right hand over my left hand, my mind just emptied out and I instantly lost my spot.
At that point, the judge stopped me. “Okay, we should stop now. Let’s move onto the next movement, but first, please play the scale and cadence that goes with that piece.”
Mortification and shame flamed my cheeks. My hands quaked as I played the scales. I became stunned by a thought: The second movement is even worse than the first movement. Now he’s going to hear all of the second movement! Oh no!
However, I played the second movement without any major memory issues.
Once again, after the last note died away, the judge gave me his opinion on the piece. To summarize his lecture is this:
“This is a very difficult piece. But you have such an excellent touch and feeling for Mozart. Now, this is a in-progress work. But in a few months, I am sure you should be able to play better.”
I knew what he said was right. The Mozart was, after all, in-progress. But I couldn’t understand what made me play so badly. I had been playing it really well the last few days…but I assume that because I was nervous and not used to the piano, those two factors made me play it that way.
I will not describe in detail on how the remaining eight pieces went but they all went well.
Delightedly, the Chopin Waltz was fabulous! I played it the best I had ever played by memory and for an audience.
After the exam was over, the judge asked, “You’re only thirteen?”
“Yes, I am thirteen.”
He led me back to where my mom and sisters were waiting and then he went back into the room to finish writing up the report card.
The report card consisted of forty-three different techniques. Some of the techniques that were listed are—accuracy, correct notes, maturity in memory, singing tone, avoidance in blurs, etc.
If the judge thought you played so many correct notes that it was more than satisfactory, then the judge would mark the ‘C’ section (‘C’ standing for commendation) for correct notes. If the judge thought you played too many wrong notes, then the judge would mark the ‘A’ section (‘A’ standing for attention).The judge will do the same thing for singing tone as well. Now let’s say ‘avoidance of blurs’ were left blank in both ‘C’ and ‘A’ section. That simply means that your ‘avoidance in blurs’ was ‘satisfactory for age, ability, and time studied’ not that you didn’t it.
Now let’s try a different scenario. Let’s say you received all forty-three ‘C’s. Does that mean your score is 100%? No. If you gained all forty-three ‘C’s, it only means that you received forty-three of the possible techniques you could earn.
“I think I’m going to get less than 30 ‘C’s. Last year, I got thirty ‘C’s but I messed up so much on the Mozart that I think I’ll get even less this year,” I told my mom.
At last, the judge walked in. He told my mom,” You should be proud of your daughters. About Megan, Megan’s posture is simply excellent! The way she plays the piano; she is like gliding her hands across the keys! Also, her pieces are very difficult and she has played them well. But this—“he took out the Mozart Concerto, “is in-progress work. She still has some work to do with this. But keep up the excellent work! ”
Then he handed me my precious report card, shook hands, and walked out of the room. Slowly, I opened my report card. My eyes trailed to the bottom of the card which pronounced the score. I gasped. I had forty-one ‘C’s!
“Oh my! Oh my! I got forty-one ‘C’s, mommy!”
I couldn’t believe my eyes! Every single ‘C’ was check-marked except two!
And not only that, I had only six ‘A’s! That was one of the lowest amount of ‘A’s I had received in a long, long time.
I was so jubilantly thrilled that I immediately called my piano teacher.
“Praise God!” Uncle Michael said after I related my score and all that the judge had said.
So that brings us to the end of this year long journey.
This year, my pieces have become almost a part of me. Although many of my pieces have caused me pain and frustration, I am reluctant to part. The Chopin Waltz is one of my favorite songs this year. When I am sad, it sets me into a happier mood because of its liveliness. Or when I am happy, the Chopin makes me want to dance.
But here, I stand amazed on how much I have experienced and changed this year in terms of my musical experience.
This year’s road has not always been smooth. There have been plenty of bittersweet moments. But I plan to store them all—bitter or sweet, into my heart.
Just last week, my piano teacher said that I could leave all my pieces and he gave me different pieces to pick from. Although I am relatively sad to part with what has become part of me, I wonder what will next year hold? Lots of surprises, without any doubt.
****** Any PASSIVENESS? Any humor you spotted? Where did my humor, if any, fall flat? Grammar mistakes? IS THIS BORING?! Please give me a rating from 1-5. I am not interested in overly sugary and artificial chocolate cupcakes. Any place you don't like? Any ways I should improve? Did I connect with the reader? TELL ME EVERYTHING!!