It is at about this time of the term that I start working with the current cohort of music exam candidates, ready for the Fateful Day at the end of the month. The lists of exam pieces for most of the instruments have stayed the same for several years now; Grade 1 flutes nearly always do “Greensleeves” and “Hot Chilli”. Grade 2 flutes have a hectic couple of minutes with “Marche Militaire” and “Liberty Bell”. Grade 1 violins do “Fanfare”, “Country Chimes” and “Toodle Pip”, and it came as no surprise that the Grade 2 saxophone candidate presented me with “Greensleeves” (in an entirely different key and arrangement to the flutes) and “Chinese Take It Away”.
Over the course of an hour and a half I went through all the usual issues; dotted-crotchet-and-quaver rhythms for the flutes in “Greensleeves”, and their tricky moment with a G# which always catches them out, the total inability of grade 1 violins to count three quavers for dotted crotchets in “Country Chimes” , and a determined battle about counting rests in “Chinese Take It Away”. I was down to the final half hour session, and discovered myself facing a young lad, his saxophone, and, horror of horrors, “The Swan”.
Early aficionados of the Music Jungle will already know my opinion of accompanying Grade 4 saxophonists careering through “The Swan” with anything between 4-and-half and 7 beats in the bar, while I am wrestling with handfuls of relentless semiquavers arranged in uncomfortable combinations. My heart sank as he handed me the music. Bitter experience has taught me that it is necessary to thoroughly check that the saxophonist can actually count to 6 before I make any attempt on the torrent of notes that await me.
“Let’s hear how you play it, before we try it together,” I suggested, hiding my dismay as best I could.
He took a deep breath and dived in.
Well, I have to say he has managed to redeem “The Swan” as a reasonable, feasible choice for Grade 4 saxophone. He played the whole thing through at a steady, respectable tempo, with 6 beats in all the bars. There was only one small rhythmic niggle which was easily sorted out. The only thing left is for me to learn the accompaniment again. Well done that lad!