Piano Performance Diplomas

There is a strong performance element in Dr Michael Spacie’s teaching, and for him, the sitting of seven specialist piano performance diplomas as continuing professional development over an eight year period between the years of 2011 and 2019 proved to be the perfect hook for the testing of his own musical skill (technical delivery and accomplishment, musicality and interpretation, musical knowledge and communication), 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.

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 had the added benefit of reminding a teacher of what it is like for a student to sit an exam! Performance diploma examinations of the major examining boards are digitally recorded and the results go through a very strict process before being awarded. All the diploma examiners were complete strangers and all the diploma certificates hang on walls in the teaching studio.

The Royal Schools of Music

In December 2018, Michael achieved the LRSM Piano Performance Diploma (Licentiate of The Royal Schools of Music). This is one of the most recognised and prestigious performance diplomas in the world. Taken at the Royal Schools of Music York diploma exam centre, the examiners’ comments were as follows:- The Recital: “The prelude moved along at an expressive Andante and there was a sense of forward direction through the phrases. The fugue was lively in approach……The articulation gave focus to the interpretation……Rhythmic energy was sustained in the brightly paced prelude……intricate passages had momentum and direction……Nimble fingerwork was evident in the Fugue……Cheerful in approach as a result of the sprightly articulation and crisp embellishments……The lyrical qualities became more apparent as you progressed……The articulation had much focus and you conveyed much of the momentum in the intricate passages. The natural ebb and flow was apparent in several phrases……Persuasive rubato and tempo changes, together with many balanced chords allowed you to convey the melancholy mood where colours were quite pertinent and the singing qualities were conveyed……Technical challenges were controlled in all the pieces.” The Viva Voce and Programme Notes: “The viva voce was confidently managed revealing much research and knowledge of context, form and style in the performed pieces. Plenty of information was volunteered, keen awareness and first hand experience of historical instruments informed good ideas for articulation, tone and pedalling. An enthusiasm for detail allied with confident recall of facts and dates gave an assured and knowledgeable response. Personal opinions were convincingly supported. The programme notes had plenty of information.” The Quick Study (Sight Reading): “Played with a sense of style and character and with dynamic details included throughout.” The whole exam was digitally recorded. The LRSM is a hugely challenging performance diploma even for the musically able, and success with this qualification is solid evidence of a musician’s ability.

In July 2011, Michael achieved the DipABRSM Piano Performance Diploma – a performance diploma from The Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music which is highly respected and recognised. The exam was digitally recorded. 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 exam centre. The examiners’ comments were as follows:- The Recital: “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.” The Viva Voce and Programme Notes: “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): “……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.”

Trinity College London

In March 2015, Michael achieved the LTCL Piano Recital Diploma (Licentiate of Trinity College London). This diploma is recognised internationally as well as in the UK. Taken at the Trinity College London Derby diploma exam centre, the examiners’ comments from the summary section of the report form were 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 digitally recorded.

The London College of Music at The University of West London

In December 2019, Michael achieved the LLCM Piano Recital Diploma (Licentiate of The London College of Music awarded by The University of West London). This diploma is recognised internationally as well as in the UK. Taken at the London College of Music York diploma exam centre and playing for 50 minutes as per the requirement of the Recital Diploma exam syllabus, the examiners’ comments were as follows:- Performance: “You presented a wide variety of styles and forms from the piano repertory….Had good appreciation of style in articulation and part playing….tempo and rhythmic drive were maintained….within this idiom of rhapsodic freedom there was some poise.” Programme Notes etc.: “Competent in information about biography, commentary on programme with background and analytical information presented.”

In March 2019, Michael achieved the LLCM Piano Performance Diploma (Licentiate of The London College of Music awarded by The University of West London). This diploma is recognised internationally as well as in the UK. Taken at the London College of Music York diploma exam centre, the examiners’ comments were as follows:- Performance: “There was an admirable sense of occasion evident at this Recital – Thorough preparation was also evident – Admirable translation integrity in the performances of the Bach……You maintained ambience well, – with engaged qualities.” Programme Notes: “Well presented, – informative – with invitational qualities – and generally readable qualities.” Sight Reading: “A good grasp of the primary elements. Literal detail was good.” As with all Licentiate performance diplomas, this was challenging, yet exciting and a rewarding musical experience.

Also, in December 2011, the ALCM Piano Performance Diploma (Associate of The London College of Music) was achieved.

Victoria College of Music

In July 2014, performing on a full-sized grand piano at the then VCM Sheffield diploma centre, Michael achieved the LVCM(Hons) Licentiate Piano Performance Recitalist’s Diploma of The Victoria College of Music which he passed with Honours gaining 100 marks out 100. Whilst it is somewhat unrealistic to gain 100% at Licentiate level, the perfect score somewhat reflects this particular board’s ethos which is solely ‘to encourage’. Michael writes: “The Victoria College of Music Recitalist’s Licentiate programme that I performed gave me an opportunity to play a contrapuntal four-voice fugal texture 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 of sonata form (ABCAB coda) were performed. This was followed with a piece consisting of theme and variations of seamless transition with a quasi-improvisatory section of ‘flying figurations’ and finally, ternary (ABA) march form 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 and served as a good initial introduction for study on Licentiate level before proceeding to the Licentiateship qualifications of the major examining boards of The Royal Schools of Music, Trinity College London and The London College of Music.”

General Comment

Dr 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 a constant learner – always 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 Dr Michael Spacie

I should like to thank my wonderful wife, Sandra, for her encouragement and solid support throughout all my plans, preparation and taking of my piano performance diploma exams as continuing professional development in music. Without her understanding and total patience of the amount of time involved over many years (2011 to 2019), it would have been impossible to achieve such qualifications as well as carry out my teaching. Furthermore, if you wish to achieve high-flying piano performance diplomas, you have to be determined with sustained interest and self-discipline that is structural and effortful.

My thanks to Sandra my wife for her modelling skills and hence the professionalising of images and interest within this website.