It’s always exciting to be offered an examining tour, especially when it is to a part of the world that you’ve never been before. There’s an equal amount of trepidation (yes examiners have nerves as well) and excitement and as with any trip, the inevitable dilemmas: what to pack, how many pairs of shoes I will need.
Each examining tour is unique and no two days are ever the same.
Recently I was fortunate to examine in Dubai, Muscat and Cairo and I’d like to share a few experiences and stories from the tour to give you a little insight into my life on the road as a Trinity Rock & Pop examiner.
Day 6 Dubai
I’m a very keen skier and when I heard that the largest manmade ski slope in the world is in Dubai, I had to go. I’ve been to many ski slopes but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen penguins on one.
A group of nearby school children became very excited when their instructor announced free ski time and two of them made a beeline for the advanced lift. Unfortunately, they didn’t make it very far and fell off. Once skis had been recovered, they made their way down with nothing worse than bruised egos.
This set me thinking about how improvisation in the Session skills section of the Rock & Pop exam is like skiing without following an instructor. You’re on your own and left to find your own route down. To some, I know it can be terrifying, but in the same way as you prepare your songs, with preparation, improvising becomes a thrill.
So what exactly is improvising?
Improvising is like an adventure within boundaries. Imagine going to a new country, taking the metro, passing through several stations and then arriving back at the hotel without ever exploring? You wouldn’t dream of it as, after all, the excitement of a new place is discovery. I like to think of improvising as a journey through the stations (chords) but I only have a limited time frame to explore (the number of bars) and of course I must be dressed for the weather conditions (style). So here’s an idea: prepare your metaphorical wardrobe with all the costume styles you might need (eg: samba, disco, swing) for your grade, choose the appropriate style of outfit for the music, work out your route exploring the area between the chords whilst keeping within the time frame. Remember to have fun!
Day 7 Dubai
Today I went to a new exam centre and when I connected my MacBook to the mixer, there was no output. We tried two more cables but there was still nothing. I had to act fast and with the help of Elshan, a UAE Trinity Rock & Pop co-ordinator (whom I was fortunate to have as my steward) and his laptop, I managed to deliver the exams.
I returned to my hotel exhausted and tried the old hair dryer trick in the headphone socket as this worked for my iPhone. Unfortunately, this time I was not so lucky so turned to Google and found that this had happened to other Mac users. This was the solution:
- Go to System Preferences > Sound > Output
- Plug in your headphones
- See where it says Output Volume and uncheck the mute button.
I couldn’t believe it – yes it was muted and with a quick click the whole problem was rectified. (I thought I’d share this with you in case it may be of help someday.)
Day 12 Muscat to Dubai
I arrived back at the hotel in Dubai from a quick overnight trip to Muscat. The exams went very well, the candidates were delightful and Mr Zak Pachiyannakis, Trinity Co-ordinator for Muscat, arranged for me to be taken on a quick tour of the city by one of his team, Issa Gani.
Issa is a musician and music teacher from the Philippines and has lived in Muscat for 7 years. He was showing me around and also taking photos himself, as there were things he hadn’t seen before. Thinking again about improvisation and the importance of listening to recordings to learn style, just as Issa spotted new things through his guided tour, there’s always something new to discover in a recording – even if you’ve heard it before.
Day 21 Cairo
On the last leg of this trip, I was delighted to conduct the first session of Trinity Rock & Pop exams in the Cairo centre. Trinity Cairo celebrated its 100th year anniversary this year and now a whole new chapter has begun with the recent addition of Trinity’s Rock & Pop exams. The Trinity team, Sami Ayad and his daughter Marianne, were wonderful hosts and the two days of Rock & Pop exams ran very smoothly, thanks to their expert organisational skills.
I find that examining tours are always fascinating experiences for a number of reasons. There is the travel and sightseeing, but above all there is some wonderful music-making to be heard, all supported by a dedicated team of Trinity co-ordinators working tirelessly to make the exams run smoothly and ensure that candidates have the best experience possible inside the exam room.
About the author
Hello my name is Moira Hartley, I am both a Trinity Rock & Pop examiner and a freelance musician working mainly in musical theatre. In the four months leading up to my last examining tour, I played in the band for ‘Tell Me On A Sunday’ by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Don Black. We were appearing in a new venue each day on what was a very hectic touring schedule. On arrival at each theatre the band would have a quick sound check followed by a show, then pack up and head back on the road. I fully appreciate the pressures that each candidate is under when entering the exam room with only a quick sound check before performing.