There is a strong performance element in Michael Spacie’s teaching, as that is what music tuition is all about; and for him, the sitting of piano performance diplomas as continuing professional development proved to be the perfect hook for the testing of his own musical skill, and in turn, the expertise of which can be passed on to students of all levels of musical development – not least absolute beginners where it is so necessary to build a firm and secure foundation in order to enjoy rewarding and developing musical skill let alone establishing a firm platform for advanced musical skills – thus encouraging promotion and optimisation of music education on all levels of demand. Continuing professional development also reinvigorates the tutor’s own musicianship and develops their professional life.

All the piano performance diploma examiners were complete strangers to Michael and all the performance diplomas were passed at the first time of sitting. For the major examining boards, there are always two examiners present at diploma level examinations and sometimes three if there is a trainee diploma examiner in the examination room as well. All the piano performance diplomas were an enjoyable and positive experience which also had the added benefit of reminding a teacher of what it is like for a student to sit an exam!

The piano performance diplomas are as follows:

  • In March 2015, Michael sat the highly regarded Licentiate Recital Performance Diploma of Trinity College London at the Derby diploma centre and was successful in gaining the LTCL Licentiate Recital Diploma in Piano Performance from Trinity College London whose diploma qualifications are fully recognised in the UK and the world over. The recital diploma was achieved at the first time of sitting. The comments of the examiners from the summary section of the LTCL Recital Piano Performance report form for Michael Spacie read as follows: “Stylistic intentions were high here and there were many musical insights. There was a high level of technical security. Good dress and an engaging manner at the instrument. A well balanced programme, within the time limits. Well informed [programme] notes. [Further comments included] ….the whole was expressively played, with an awareness of appropriate style….a deeply emotional presentation of the material….a stylish account….there was an impressive range of tone colours and much mature rubato and phrase shaping….the energy was maintained throughout.” The whole exam was also digitally recorded by the exam board.
  • In July 2014, performing on a full-sized grand piano at the Sheffield diploma centre, Michael sat a Licentiate Piano Performance Recitalist’s Diploma which he passed with Honours. The LVCM(Hons) (Recitalist’s Diploma) report form was written by a senior diploma examiner who is a highly respected professional performing concert musician from London and a complete stranger to Michael.

Comments written about the performance were as follows:-

Bach: Prelude and Fugue No. 24 in B minor from ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’ Book 1 BWV 869
There was a constant ebb and flow to this in the prelude that appeared effortless. The fugue with all its counterpoint was played expertly and musically well understood. Each line had a cantabile feel. An outstanding performance.

Ravel: Sonatine (Complete)
The atmospheric mood you created was quite magical with trickles of colours that floated high into the ceiling. This was a masterful performance. I felt transported to a chamber room in Paris, early 20th century, most impressive playing.

Granados: Goyescas No. 4 Qujas o la Maja y el Ruisenor
There is rarely a bar that goes by in this piece that does not have some type of performance instruction – typical of the period but also this can leave the pianist feeling unable to make their own and unique perception. You did indeed create your own rendition which was superbly executed and you demonstrated a powerful and expressive playing of this piece.

Schubert: Military March (Marche Militaire) in D Op. 51, No. 1
Just like an encore, this acted as a great finale with all the aspects and nuances you would expect. Whizzing fingers and a real show case for your talents. A superb performance.

Sight Reading
A fabulous reading, full of character!

Viva Voce Questions
Very knowledgeable and informative discussion on how you put this programme together.

Overall Comments
The most impressive playing I have ever heard! Congratulations, you clearly enjoy performing and I hope to hear more of you!

Michael Spacie writes: “the Licentiate programme that I performed allowed me to play a contrapuntal four-voice fugal texture (Bach) with all the usual dissonant features of the era such as episodic chains of suspensions as well as other interesting features such as the dynamic and articulation of the whole subject contrasted with fragmentary allusions to it etc. Also in the programme, three movements (Ravel) of sonata form (ABCAB coda) were performed. This was followed with a piece (Granados) consisting of theme and variations of seamless transition with a quasi-improvisatory section of ‘flying figurations’ and finally ternary (ABA) march form (Schubert) with central trio in contrasting but related keys. As a whole the programme gave rise to a comprehensive inclusion of some of the main forms and structures of musical composition without any duplication. 100 marks out of 100 were achieved for the diploma which is quite rare on this Licentiate recital level. My individual musicianship and well-rounded ideas in music performance clearly, in this instance, went down extremely well with the examiner writing the report form. I was quite fortunate in this performance that my musical language, distinct musical ‘fingerprint’ and musical personality were perceived and understood – and furthermore – quite obviously enjoyed!”

  • In July 2011, Michael achieved the DipABRSM in piano performance – a recital diploma from The Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music which is respected and recognised the world over. All the components of the DipABRSM performance diploma were passed the first time. The exam was digitally recorded by the exam board.
  • Also, in December 2011, the ALCM (Recital) piano performance diploma was achieved, again passing first time. This diploma is recognised internationally as well as in the UK.

Michael’s DipABRSM piano performance diploma (Performance Diploma of The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) was taken at the ABRSM York diploma centre. The senior examiner that wrote on the report form made some excellent comments regarding his piano performance: “Articulation used throughout was stylistically valid……Fingerwork was precise and clear……This was played with confidence with awareness of the character……Rubato was quite effective……There was fluency and colour here, together with moments of real sensitivity……Something of the required mood was conveyed……It moved with appropriate fluency and urgency and there were passages of promising musical insight……These were played with assurance and panache, and again there were attractive moments……The playing showed distinct facility and musical eloquence.” For the viva voce and programme notes the examiners wrote: “The programme notes were well produced and quite informative……Some of the statements might be considered somewhat controversial, though an ability to defend these quite plausibly was evident in the viva itself. This proved to be an interesting discussion in which a good deal of relevant ancillary information was offered, revealing a well-informed musical mind……showing a degree of thought about the various topics that was quite commendable.” The quick study (sight reading) attracted such comments as: “……the overall character of the piece was well perceived and it moved fluently and with general technical security……interpretative aspects were carefully observed and the performance as a whole was quite persuasive.”

  • In addition, Michael has also achieved the FVCM and FNCM diplomas in Piano Performance (Fellow of Victoria College of Music and Fellow of The National College of Music and Arts respectively). For the former, the examiner wrote: “Buoyant rhythm at a lively tempo with some stylish phrasing, articulation and ornamentation….some pleasing dynamics gave character….a good sense of line with generally balanced texture….a good sense of forward momentum with some colour and character in the playing….good tempo with some warmth in the RH cantabile.” And for the latter, the examiner wrote: “The movements were played exhibiting the style of the baroque with accuracy and an ability to interpret the mood by careful employment of phrasing and varied touch (approach to the cadences was excellent)….A good performance – 1st movement. The second movement was played with a superb cantabile touch – a most musical performance. Your excellent technique was obvious in the last movement….Your affinity to the French School was shown in this performance. A sensitive approach was always evident. Again your technique was more than enough to perform all the intricacies that this work possesses….The ‘folk song’ element of this piece, together with the touches of humour was well interpreted. Your ability to vary the touch added subtlety to the interpretation….Mood caught well: again this was highly sensitive playing, accurate in every detail….Your technique is perfectly developed to enable you to express the sensitivities and emotional content of music. You are perfectly able to interpret Baroque, Romantic and Impressionist music. An excellent and pleasurable Recital.”

Michael Spacie believes that in a nutshell, piano performance diploma exams must convey intensity, coherence, complexity and with achievement in assuredness, novelty and endeavour. Performances are best when they feel confident, complete, and with effort and inspiration, along with musical integrity and a thorough understanding of the music performed. Moreover, music is a constant discovery and an excellent teacher is also an eternal learner – constantly refreshing, growing, refining, increasing skill and moving forward by engaging further and deeper with music – both for themselves, their students and for life and humanity itself. Thus, for a performer, professional development is achieving an ever clearer and closer musical understanding, which must be allowed to evolve over a lifetime as a musician learns more of their own humanness. Performance then becomes a natural outcome of practising with a natural interest and ability to tap into on-the-spot quality and get into the moment which narrows any gap between practise and performance. Performances, whether for exams or otherwise, are not solely about measurement or some kind of perfection, but essentially about wanting to share yourself with others through music and thus to give something, hence transforming a performance from a self-conscious perspective to the generosity of giving to others.

Acknowledgement by Michael Spacie

Finally, I should like to thank my wonderful wife, Sandra, for her encouragement and solid support throughout all my plans, preparation and the taking of my piano performance diploma exams as continuing professional development in music. Without her understanding, it would have been impossible to achieve such qualifications and to run my teaching practice.