Never thought I’d have one of these.


Here’s a picture of something I never thought I’d hold in my grubby little hands, not in my wildest dreams: my Grade 8 certificate in Singing! But there’s one word on that certificate that rankles: Merit.

Miss DD and I had been discussing this a few days before. “The worst thing,” we opined, “Would be to get just a couple of marks less than a Distinction or a Merit.” Sure enough, I achieved a mark of 128, just two marks short of Distinction level. Now I know that a high Merit grade is very good indeed but I am goaded, taunted, by the thought that that Distinction was within my reach with perhaps just a little more effort or control. That’s me all over, folks.

Having worked hard and practised and prepared and sung solo to an audience for the first time ever, I did not go into a blind panic this time, but the exam nerves manifested themselves in the extra breath or two I had to take during Lotti’s Pur Dicesti, my first piece and a slight stumble over the words of Les Roses D’Ispahan by Fauré, my second.

My third piece, Madeline Dring’s Take O Take those Lips Away – I was keen to sing a piece by a female composer – went well, I thought, but perhaps I became a little too emotionally-involved in my performance  – it’s good to have a story in your head. Obviously that story took over here – that achieved the lowest mark: 17/21. I bet with a little more rational control, I could have picked up an extra mark or two here. But the examiner did seem to appreciate my sending-up of Ivor Novello’s Waltz of my Heart, with its final top B flat,  and the unaccompanied Scarborough Fair, as she gave me almost full marks for those.

Apologies that I couldn’t link to all the tracks involved in my exam. The Dring, in an obvious sign of the patriarchal hegemony, isn’t available anywhere; I did find Les Roses D’Ispahan on Rdio but the singer was so appalling that I couldn’t bear to link to it. And everyone knows Scarborough Fair, right?

And the great news was that I PASSED my sightsinging, having failed it in Grades 6 and 7. I am terrible at sightsinging despite working very hard to try and improve it. It’s one of those things that one must do every day from childhood to be good at it. The first half of the unseen piece was correct but I dissolved a little in the second half. The examiner didn’t seem to notice that I sang the piece in A flat Major even though I realised shortly after leaving the exam room that the piece was actually in F Minor, the relative minor. That it included a lot of Fs and was Misterioso should have been a big enough clue. Ah well.

Perhaps I could have gained a Distinction if I had not been quite so cavalier with my Aural tests, where I dropped a few marks for a hasty incorrectly-named modulation and cadence chord. I’m sure nerves had a lot to do with it.

Anyway, Grade 8, my own personal Everest, is now well and truly conquered.  Considering that 5 years ago I had lost my voice and could not even speak properly, let alone sing, and that I was told I might never sing again, I am pleased that I have been able to salvage the thing I love doing most in the world. I’m going to concentrate now on my singing repertoire – I’d like to learn some operatic arias and lieder now – and put together a recital and programme notes for my basic level Diploma next I think. Having done all of this Singing study, it now becomes clear to me that I should really try and revisit piano playing again. I’d like to take some more lessons one day.

It is ironic, though, that the person who gave up playing the piano over thirty years ago because she was too scared to face the prospect of Grade 5 is now the first in a family of musicians to achieve Grade 8 status. And the next time someone asks me about my offspring, both excellent musicians, and says “I expect they got their musical talent from their father,” I can say, “Well, I’m a musician too, you know.