has anyone of you been in the situation where you feel that something that you want to do is beyond you, but when you are doing it, you are able to do it?? and when you have completed it, you stared at it in wonderment: how on earth did i manage to do it??
well, i have. about thirteen years ago, when i was doing my piano studies at about grade 6 level, my sister and i took an hour of music theory lesson together before doing our individual lessons in piano practical. a few months down the road, somehow the theory lessons stopped whereas the practical lessons continued. without a companion, i stopped my grade 6 theory too as theory lessons were usually done in groups so as to have discussions and i couldnt find a theory group to join despite the help of my teacher. many people were under the notion that theory is not important.
three years later, after my grade 8 practical, i tried to do some theory self studying. needless to say, with my lack of self discipine, i stopped. moreover, it was quite a big jump in materials and requirements from old grade 5 theory i did long time ago to the then-new grade 6 theory syllabus. attempting to do it without a teacher is pure stupidity. i did. and a mental block was built in my mind: that higher grade theory is difficult, that it is almost impossible for me to complete my grade 8 theory.
about three years ago, while i was teaching piano part-time in a music school, the supervisor of the school mentioned that there was going to be a theory class for grade 6 and the number of students enrolled had narrowly missed the minimum number of students required to start the class. she was asking around, sounding all the teachers without theory grade 8 (one just need a minimum of grade 5 to complete grade 8 practical) whether they are interested. i hesitated, remembering all the previous jinxed attempts to do grade 6. i feel that i could not do it. since the school offer discounts for teachers taking lessons/buying products from the school, i enrolled, deciding to give myself another chance at it.
2004. i took the grade 6 theory paper. just before the exam, i was nervous. i was never nervous at exams. in fact, there were times where i even went for concerts before the exams. but this time around, i was nervous. i studied hard for it. coming from me, this is strange coz i
never seldom study hard for exams. my mum could vouch for it. in fact, i think my parents accumulated a lot of white hairs during my o levels.
but this time around, i was nervous. one week before the exams, i ended the contractual work i was doing at that point of time prematurely, concentrating on theory exams preparation rather than earning an extra week of income (the contract still had one more week to go). i photocopied all the past year exam papers and redo(by then, we had actually did the past year papers during class) them again, working through the mistakes i had committed, learning new things when i redid them. i memorised as much foreign language performance directions and instrument names. on the theory exam day itself, i was at the exam centre early, meeting up with a classmate to do revision and basically trying to calm each other’s nerves.
the result?? i scored a distinction. that was beyond my expectation as after the exams, i compared answers with the said classmates and our answers turned out to be different. this is the first distinction i scored in a music theory exam. i was too lazy to be good in theory, a subject that requires research, note-taking and doing of exercises.
my theory teacher left the school. some of us stayed on in the school. some of us choose to go to another teacher teaching in private. 2005. we were preparing to take the grade 7. i almost freaked out once again. my recollection of previous jinxed attempts to do music theory came back to haunt me. not to mention my complacency after my grade 6 exams. i had merely go along with the flow throughout the grade 7 course. true, i did my homework and the stuff. but i feel that i wasnt putting in as much hard work as i should. and i wasnt as confident as i was about tackling question 1 of the paper, carrying a weightage of 20 marks.
same trick. i photocopied the past year papers and redo them again, familiarizing myself with the method of tackling the questions. the results?? i got a merit. this time around, with a sense of guilt. i feel that my distinction and merit were a merely lucky shot. i have this strong premonition that i would not be able to complete my grade 8.
this coming march, i would be having my grade 8 exams. my next plan is to do a AMusTCL (a post-grade 8 theory specialisation. full title: Associate (music literacy) Trinity College, London) after that. and concuurrently, i plan to do my ATCL(performance), ATCL(piano accompanying) and DipABRSM(teaching). a very ambitious and crazy plan my friend commented. yes, i agreed. but i would never know if i could do it if i dun even try. nobody knows whether they would success or not simply by standing and looking. even if i fail, i know i have passed the stage of giving up music coz of failure. i just love it too much.
i would not dare say i have achieved a lot. but coming from a background of fearing music theory, i have crossed the hurdle of being music-theory-phobic to liking music theory now. so even if i fail my grade 8 theory, i think my love affair with music theory would not end there. i would most probably try again. after all, exams is not the sole purpose in learning music. enjoyment and knowledge is.