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Reflections on the ARSM diploma

1 year ago

Gordon Giles

The Rev’d Dr Gordon Giles is Vicar of St Mary Magdalene’s Church in Enfield, North London.

Rev’d Gordon Giles, ABRSM’s Honorary Local Representative for Enfield, London

Having been an ABRSM HLR for over a decade, when the new ARSM performance diploma was launched I decided to have a go at it, as a sort of 50th birthday challenge! I didn’t need the qualification, nor was I returning to playing – I have kept up my flute playing since university and play in the local symphony orchestra and give recitals annually. But I thought to myself, perhaps I should do this, not only for my own personal development but so that I can remind myself what it is really like to stand in that exam room and do the business in front of a complete stranger whose judgments and opinions matter so much. I wanted to put myself in that situation again after a gap of 36 years since doing my Grade 8. In fact that gap proved interesting for ABRSM as they had to delve into their archives to prove that I was actually eligible!

Another quietly influencing factor was the BBC Radio 4 programme – Making the Grade – that we helped out with at our centre, which was about older people taking music exams. The varied bunch of people who were taking up music at a late stage in life was inspiring in its own right, so there was a little dimension of solidarity with them that encouraged me to do this.

The point is, taking music exams isn’t about passing, although everyone tries and wants to. Every exam is a challenge in its own right, a little mountain to climb from the top of which one can see the next one. Life is a bit like this as we move from one challenge to another, and these challenges keep us fresh and alive. However old you are, or whether this is something you ‘need’ to do educationally or not, it’s definitely worth doing and the fact that the pleasure it yields is hard-earned, makes it a truly valuable experience. I was fortunate to pass, but even a below par mark is not a personal failing, but rather a stimulus to renewed effort, greater things and deeper satisfaction.

About ARSM

The ARSM is our new performance-only diploma. Anyone with a Grade 8 can take the diploma, which provides an accessible yet rewarding challenge for performers of any age.


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