Music has been a lifelong friend for as long as I can remember – I love it. Being able to make it my way to earn a living too is brilliant. I always had a hankering to become a music examiner – it was on my ‘bucket list’ of things to do. Well, I have since been able to cross it off the list as now I am one, and have been for several years. I knew as soon as I saw an advert for the brand new Trinity Rock & Pop exams that this was for me – as long as I could get through to an interview, complete the training and be accepted onto the team.
Everything has worked out fantastically, as I was accepted and offered a contract after the training sessions, and then went out on the road. I am used to being on the road, having been a gigging musician for as long as I can remember. So I packed my case and was ready for my journey as a Trinity Rock & Pop examiner to begin.
I have to admit, it always seems a little strange to travel without an instrument, so I bought a plastic flute (it’s bright pink – loved by my students) and can throw this in my suitcase for those times when I feel the urge to play. I find I am quite inspired after examining candidates, watching them enjoy performing to me, so when I return to the hotel I can keep the music playing.
One of the main things that drew me towards Trinity’s Rock & Pop exams was the fact that there are well-known songs in the syllabus, music that everyone knows and loves. Throughout my many years of teaching, I am always asked by students ‘when can I play something I actually know?’ I try to keep them away from old classics like ‘When the Saints’ and ‘Yankee Doodle’, and teach them a little bit of Abba or maybe George Ezra.
One of the main reasons someone takes up an instrument or singing in the first place is because a particular artist or group has inspired him or her. Having on hand a complete syllabus stacked with well-known songs, in many different styles, is an amazing resource for both students and teachers alike. Imagine getting out your guitar and rockin’ out to ‘Knights of Cydonia’ by Muse – foot on the amp. Or singing ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ by Journey with microphone poised and plugged in, instead of having to mime with a hairbrush. What about ripping out a monster solo on keyboards from ‘Great Balls of Fire’ in the style of the great Jerry Lee Lewis? Or sitting right in the pocket playing a full-on funk beat which was used to support the great man himself, James Brown? Or playing bass and exploring all the techniques that Mark King put into his bass lines in ‘Love Games’? You also get the opportunity to perform these pieces in a real life situation, like a gig, but in front of a friendly examiner and receive expert feedback on your performance. The syllabus also gives candidates the opportunity to work as a band with some songs suitable for all instruments and vocals.
I also enjoy the improvisation section, if a candidate chooses to take this option for the Session Skills. Having been trained as a classical flautist and pianist I found it a very daunting thought that it was possible for a musician just to stand up on stage and improvise, without any musical notation at all – this just seemed impossible to me. However, after many jam sessions, open mike nights, soloing in bands and much wood shedding at home, this is an area I really enjoy. The freedom it can give is exhilarating and exciting, giving the music an edge and keeping it fresh for the musicians who can react differently in each situation, even though the song remains the same. I feel I know when I have produced a good solo: I tell my students it’s like watching a really good film – you find yourself completely engrossed in it and unaware of the time that has elapsed. If you find yourself really in the moment, then you have nailed the solo.
As to my experiences on the road as an examiner, I have had many and been introduced to so many new people, candidates and representatives, looked after so well, and the food well… I have to mention the Tom Yam Soup that I was recommended to try on my last tour in Malaysia, the level of spice appreciation I thought I could manage was tested to the limit with this one…
I also came across the most fantastic table for the examiner at ‘The Precious Music School’ – pity I couldn’t fit it in my suitcase!