Wednesday 7 October 2009

Bach broke lots of rules

was all I needed to hear to know that the A Level Board has lost the plot.

That and the other half dozen morsels of nonsense and the florid lunchtime text from younger colleague to out boss.

Younger colleague was on the how to teach techniques and composition course, I'm doing the Set Works Listening/Performing today.

The fact that they seem uncomfortable with teachers wanting to know how to teach pupils so they get 100% is a problem because to get the new A* at A level you have to get 90% in the A2 modules. Oxford expect you to predict at least A*AA. So it matters quite a bit, because the boys actually have to get the grades too. I've written two UCAS References for boys in my form in the last few weeks.

On the plus side our three best AS candidates on a written paper with a maximum mark of 90 got 90, 90, 89.

The immediate question is, do I do as younger colleague and go for the Examiner, or shall I let someone else take that role? Apparently, there was lots of eye rolling yesterday. Something about the woman not identifying a note as a leading-note and then not following the 'leading-notes may fall at a cadence in an inner part to the fifth of chord I rule.' Why bother, maybe just slap some notes down that you feel sound nice.... Unless you are an organist of a certain disposition, you should not be the Chief Examiner dealing with Bach Chorales. It's just wrong.

Maybe it'll be a different woman....One can hope.

Update. Actually, it was good. The Performing guy was like Jools Holland and as an musician should be - strange shirt with clashy worn out tweed jacket and a wealth of useful and amusing anecdotes. Written Paper bloke Dumbledore, in a suit and a bit taller. We even got scripts and comments as to why candidates got vrious marks. Performing is always good because either it's excellent and well worth hearing or so bad that it's just funny. I shoudl say that I never laugh whilst pupils are doing their thing because that would be cruel, but remaining impassive in the face of somethings I have to listen to is challenging to say the least. Not becoming deeply depressed when listening to a string of indifferent Grade V Violinists playing to you in a freezing room in Jan during the Scholarship auditions is also a challenge. You can see they don't much like the instrument often, which just makes it worse. Sigh.

Must just be what passes for composition that no-one seems to know how to mark.

Also, their technique of asking random people to give a mark or comment on a piece of work, kept everyone awake. So definitely one of the better courses I've been on recently. Lunch was good, just a pity it was chucking it down on the way home and that Boro' Tube is on the City Branch of the N Line. Mustn't grumble.

Read some well written essays. Good to know someone knows something somewhere. Amazed that there is no dictation on the A2 Listening. Really amazed given what you had to do til last year. Random modulations and wacky chords in all sorts of inversions.... Frowny expressions from boys.... no longer.


Athanasius said...

A-level music seems to have been in a terrible state for a number of years. I remember when I was doing A-levels (about 10 years ago now) practising on old O-level papers and being amazed how much harder the former equivalent to GCSE was in comparison to current A-levels. The music history syllabus was a complete joke!

As for Bach chorales - my old teacher used to try to get us to memorise all these rules, can do this with such-and-such a leading note etc. I found it a more profitable approach just to submerge myself in Riemenschneider (spelling?!) to try to develop an instinct for these things, as ultimately they are really observations about Bach's usual practices rather than rules as such. That's why comments like 'Bach broke lots of rules' is really a bit silly, if that's what the exam board is coming out with these days.

Just my two-penn'orth. You're doing a noble job, I don't envy you!

leutgeb said...

What I wrote on my O Level Set Works is far more detailed than what you could write and get an A Level A now, though it would be unfair to suggest that there are no excellent candidates out there writing very cogent essays. Read one just this afternoon.

The reason musicians study Bach is because of his extremely consistent use of tonality and part-writing. You need to know the theory and develop your innate musical sense of what is right by, as you did, playing your way through the magic blue book.