DipLCM in Piano Performance: My Experiences

I almost subtitled this post: ‘Anyone can do a diploma if I can, three days after coming out of hospital, and minus my gallbladder’…

As I think everyone knows by now, I recently sat and passed the DipLCM piano performance diploma (recital option), so I thought it might be of interest to share my experiences with you…it’s a kind of interview yourself type post…

Why did you decide to do a performance diploma?

I guess, there was no ‘need’ to do a performance diploma. Nothing nor nobody requires me to do one, and it won’t directly increase business in any way. I guess that for me, it’s a personal challenge. My education has followed a similar course: I take a course or work towards an exam and expect that to be my limit. I then finish it and pass it, and am curious as to whether I could manage the next level. That’s what happened when I’d finished by undergraduate degree: could I study at postgraduate level? Then, when I’d done that, could I go further…now I’m studying for a PhD (I think that has to be the limit!). I’d done my Grade 8 Piano, and I’d done the DipABRSM in Piano Teaching, so a performance diploma was, I suppose, the next step.

When did you decide to do a performance diploma?

I’ve been looking at performance diplomas for several years, and have had various programmes worked out; as ever, other things (usually ‘life’) get in the way and have to take priority. Then, in March this year, and with encouragement from some good friends, the time seemed right. I promptly entered and paid my fee on the basis there was no pulling out. Then, as ever, the best laid plans went pear-shaped. I spent a week in hospital during the Easter holidays and was left with the prospect of surgery in the next few months which was likely to clash with the exam period. So, the dilemma: do I pull out? I could have withdrawn and entered again next session for half the fee, but I came to the conclusion in the end that I might as well leave things as they were. The date for the diploma came first, the 24th June, then the surgery date for the 19th. I should have been in and out of hospital on the 19th but I ended staying overnight. I literally had no idea until the day of the exam whether I would be fit and pain-free enough to do it, but at least I had three days for final preparations!

How did you decide what to play?

For the DipLCM recital option, you have to select pieces from the syllabus (which is short compared to similar diplomas), but you are allowed one own-choice piece. In addition, one of the pieces had to have been written after 1945. The time allowed was 25-30 minutes. I ended up with the following programme:

1. Debussy: Prélude (from the Suite Bergamasque)
2. Mendelssohn: Duet (from Songs Without Words, Op. 38, No. 6)
3. Jenni Pinnock: Captive (post-1945, own choice)
4. Kabalevsky: Sonatina in C, Op. 13, No. 1 (1930)

I initially had one of the Bach Preludes and Fugues too, but it was pushing the time limit a bit. We forget when programme planning that time is needed between pieces and movements for practical things like changing books over, finding the right page etc.

Generally, I felt my programme was balanced, although it didn’t include the traditional one piece from each musical period. I think at the end of the day, I selected pieces I liked playing!

How did your preparations go?

One of my weaknesses is that I am (not wishing to show off) a pretty good sight-reader. This, as people will tell you, means I can make a pretty good stab at most things and they sound reasonably convincing. This is fine, but clearly not OK when there’s an examiner listening to every note, and who also has the music in front of them. The challenge for me was to really perfect the difficult bits rather than just glossing over them with some invention, extra pedal and improvisation! I have to say, I found this both incredibly challenging, frustratingly dull, but eventually, infinitely rewarding. About two weeks before the exam, I was at the stage of playing the programme through in full about once a day (OK, maybe every few days, and on neither of the days I was in hospital!). Personally, I found this the best way to get it together in the final stages; I think it gets to the point where no amount of working on it will change it at that stage! It was great to have a diploma buddy too (more on that at a later date, as my buddy hasn’t had their diploma yet!).

How did you find the exam?

Thoroughly enjoyable; I was disappointed it ended so quickly. Annoyingly for everyone else, I don’t tend to get nervous on these occasions, and this wasn’t really an exception. I don’t consider myself a performer, and performing doesn’t particularly interest me, but I have always enjoyed playing to other people. The examiner was very friendly and supportive throughout the exam, so it felt relaxed. It wasn’t the very stiff ABRSM response of “Thank you” after each piece, but rather she felt at ease to say things like “Gosh…that must have been exhausting”! This, coupled with the local rep, who was so supportive all the way along made the experience all the more enjoyable.Would you do another one?

Well, I rarely say “never”, but I’m in no hurry to do another performance diploma. I shall enjoy exploring new repertoire, and I expect, eventually, enjoy going back to playing the exam pieces (I’d like to learn the second Kabalevsky Sonatina)!

If you’ve got any questions about my DipLCM experience, I’d be more than happy to answer them. Drop me an email, a Facebook message or a Tweet.