Why I chose to take the ARSM Performance only diploma

by 2020 ARSM Candidate

I first heard about the ARSM from the examiner at an exam I was taking. I wanted to improve my playing, and become more comfortable with performing, but I felt that tackling a Dip ABRSM be a too big a step for me.

I hoped that working for the ARSM would introduce me to exciting new repertoire and stretch my skills. Part of my plan was to arrange to perform for family and friends, something I was often too shy to do.

I spent some time exploring what to choose from the syllabus. I had one piece I knew I wanted to include (Scriabin’s Impromptu in Bb minor Op12. No. 2) and I built the programme around this, following it with another, very different, Romantic piece (Brahms Romance in F, Op.118 No. 5). This left me with twenty minutes plus to programme. I chose music by Mozart (Adagio in B minor, K.540) and Haydn (Sonata in A major Hob XVI:26, first movement): two contrasting moods, to open the programme. I placed the Scriabin, the most demanding piece, next, and followed this dramatic piece with the more tranquil Brahms. Twentieth century music ended the programme (Berkeley Prelude No. 5 in Bb, from ‘Six Preludes’, and four of the ‘Six Dances in Bulgarian Rhythm’ by Bartok). I wanted to have a vigorous and dynamic closing section in my performance, and this change of style and rhythm also helped me to maintain momentum and concentration. Choosing a selection from the six Bartok dances also gave me some flexibility: as my playing improved, some speeds increased, and my original choice of two dances could grow to four, to fulfil the time requirement of the ARSM. I selected music that I would be happy to practise for an extended period, and also that my partner would be happy to listen to over that period. Several of my early choices were vetoed as unacceptable to listen to repeatedly!

My friends and family, (and, of course, my teacher!) helped me a lot with practising, and I enjoyed the discipline of having a performance to work towards. My friends listened to the music, timed each piece for me, and gave helpful comments. They also, as the exam approached, arranged two ‘soirées’, at which I performed my whole programme for a dozen or so people, followed (of course) by tea and cake. I was then ready for the exam, (in which I was successful).

Here are the things I valued most in undertaking the ARSM:

  • Taking time to explore the syllabus, and involving others in the process of choosing suitable repertoire. Being prepared to change my mind about some of my original choices.
  • Friends and family, far from finding it a chore to listen, were only too pleased to help in this way: to help time the pieces, to encourage me, and to be my audience for performances.
  • My confidence in performing has really increased. I’m still nervous, but now it seems much more possible!

2020 ARSM Candidate

Find out more about the ARSM: https://gb.abrsm.org/enour-exams/diplomas/music-performance/arsm-associate-of-the-royal-schools-of-music/

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