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Music teachers take on Performance Grade challenge to raise money for local food bank

2 years ago

Jon Deakin and Chris Dunn, Senior and Junior Directors of Music at Shrewsbury High School, have taken on a challenge to learn a new instrument and pass their ABRSM Grade 5 Performance Grade exams within a year. They are progressing through the grades and have both recently submitted their Grade 4 Performance Grade exams - Jon on Violin and Chris on Clarinet. To date they have raised almost £800 for a local food bank.

We spoke to Jon Deakin, Senior Director of Music, to find out more about the challenge, why he decided to take it on and his experience of taking a Performance Grade…

Why did you decide to do this challenge?

We first came up with the idea of the Grade5athon during a long day of rehearsing and recording performances for our Carol Service in December 2020. After far too many cups of coffee that day, it started as the idea of doing a Grade 1 challenge on various instruments, but then we decided it would be a far more impressive challenge to focus on one instrument and try and get as far as possible by the end of 2021, with Grade 5 being our minimum expectation. We both got very excited by the idea of learning a new skill, inspiring our pupils, and raising money for a very worthy cause at the same time. Then in January 2021, when the Government announced that schools would need to close again until March, we really decided to throw ourselves into the challenge. We thought it would be a fantastic way to show our pupils the power of music during times of loneliness and isolation, and encourage them to use this unprecedented time to try and learn a new skill; an opportunity they would not normally have time to pursue. We also thought it would be an excellent way to boost morale by uploading entertaining vlogs of our scratching, scraping, squeaking and squawking on our Music Department Instagram account (@shrewsburyhighschoolmusic)!

What was it like taking a Performance Grade?

Performance Grades have been a fantastic option for us during this challenge, as it has given us total flexibility to do each exam as and when we feel ready. We have both really enjoyed creating our programmes from the pieces in each syllabus. Our advice to anyone taking a Performance Grade is to pick a programme that provides a good variety of contrast in your four pieces – for example, in areas such as tempo, tonality, style and period. We always prefer to start and end our programmes with bold, exciting pieces and contrast this in the middle with something more lyrical and romantic in style.

Performing to a camera is quite a different experience from performing to a live audience. My top tip for anyone taking a Performance Grade is to exaggerate areas such as dynamics and other tonal contrasts; quite often the camera does not portray these as much as you think it does, so it is important to really make these contrasts stand out even more. I also advise imagining that your camera is an actual person or a small audience and engage with it in the same way. Communication is such an important part of what we do as performers and this will help candidates in the ‘Performance as a whole’ category in the mark scheme, which is worth 20% of the overall exam.

How much have you fundraised to date?

So far, at the time of writing, we have raised £765 and our target is to hit at least £1000. We would be so grateful for any donations – big or small – we could receive and they will all go towards helping those most in need in our little community of Shrewsbury. The charity we are raising money for is a local foodbank called Barnabas Church Centre and our JustGiving fundraising page can be found via the Shrewsbury High School Music Instagram account (@shrewsburyhighschoolmusic).

We have thoroughly enjoyed our Grade5athon so far. We have both completed our Grade 4 exams and are now working towards the final grade in our challenge. This has been such a refreshing experience to go back to basics and learn a brand-new instrument; it has been like discovering music all over again. It has been a challenge in every sense of the word; it has been difficult, rewarding, fulfilling, stimulating (particularly during times of lockdown) and it has really shown us once again the true power of music and the joy of exploring our passion through different lenses. We are looking forward to finishing the final grade in our challenge over the next few months!

Best of luck to Jon and Chris – what an inspiring and rewarding challenge! Follow their progress @shrewsburyhighschoolmusic.

More than 100,000 musicians globally have now taken a Performance Grade exam – interested to find out more?

A Performance Grade is a remotely-assessed exam that is all about performance. It is a regulated qualification and is available at Grades 1 to 8. It carries the same value as traditional Practical Grades and musicians can switch between Practical and Performance Grades as they progress. Performance Grades are assessed entirely from recordings, so they can take place at home, at school or in a community setting, offering great flexibility and accessibility to candidates of all ages. Find out more.

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