It's Me, O Lord

...standing in the need of prayer. Well it felt that way in the warm-up room of Jacques Samuel Pianos on Edgware Road. I was there last Tuesday afternoon for my ABRSM jazz trumpet grade one exam. It's been a very musical week, starting with 'Simoraine' and ending on my music teacher's recital at The Guildhall School of Music. In-between, my music exam lay in wait, like one of the crocodiles in Live and Let Die.

I felt like I'd breezed through my mock exam on the Monday and I was feeling confident the next day. I did, however, wear my lucky green fox socks and my wooden Italian 'angelo custode': I get a bit superstitious in times of stress or desire.

Although I played quite a lot of music as a child, mainly in Lockwood Junior Brass Band, I managed to dodge music exams. Having prepared well, I expected my first official exam to be reasonably straightforward, and I had only the normal and necessary nerves one needs before any kind of performance.

As I entered the piano shop, my nerves became a little keener. The tuning slide of my anxiety was slowly pulled out, making everything sharper. I imagined a world in which dentists work out of the basements of piano shops.

There's something about piano keys and teeth. In Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso, David Hemmings's character jokes about hitting his piano keys being like bashing his father's teeth out (someone's teeth are indeed bashed out later in the film).

Anyway, downstairs to the 'music dentist' I go where there is both a waiting room and a warm-up room.  The waiting room looks something like a creche, full as it is with young children and anxious parents.

After filling out a few details and the list of my three musical pieces ('It's Me, O Lord', 'Moonglow' and 'Jungle Bit') I'm shown to the warm-up room. 

My trumpet with its doppelgänger and a worryingly symbolic waste paper bin.

My trumpet with its doppelgänger and a worryingly symbolic waste paper bin.

Mirrors are a staple of horror films and music rooms (music and horror again!) and on being called in for my exam I managed to ding the bell of my trumpet against this one. No dent, though, and no seven years bad luck.

In my piece on 'Simoraine' I described how the tuba players seemed to be kept alive by their instruments, a bit like John Hurt and the face-hugger in Alien. A neat analogy perhaps but it didn't prepare for me the next 12 minutes in which I felt I was being drowned with only this coil of brass to breathe through.

I suddenly felt eight years old again and panic obliterated my memory of what on earth 'Dorian on A' and 'F major to a fifth' mean. I filleted my first scale and added some interesting new notes, but I was generously allowed to play it again (I think they allow for nerves on your first short test).  

After my scales I went for my three prepared pieces and solos with wanton gusto because by now I almost felt I'd failed the exam (in the way you always know when you've failed your driving exam: usually because the instructor has slammed on the dual brakes). Thankfully, in a music exam there's no such thing as a 'dual trumpet' into which the examiner can blow when you clam a note. 

My clapping was okay, my singing was fine, but my sight reading test was a write-off. Not only had I forgotten how to get a B-flat out of my trumpet, but my trumpet swore it had never heard of this note 'B': flat or otherwise.

Mercifully, these exams are quite short and I was soon thrown back onto the beach, still breathing, still alive, clinging to my brassy life-preserver. I felt disappointed, a little battered, and a little dented, as some of the simplest elements had turned out to be the trickiest. 

Back in the shop, putting my trumpet back in its case and gathering my bits of paper and music, I heard a man's voice ask me, "So how did it go?" I didn't look up. "Not as well as I'd hoped." "Oh. How was the teacher? Was he nice?" "He was neither nice nor unpleasant, he was kind of neutral." "Ah." 

At that point I did look up and saw a youthful father, casually dressed, smiling, and holding the hand of his daughter who was clutching an alto sax almost as tall as she was. She was wide-eyed with nerves.

I realised I should have said something more encouraging to help the girl with her nerves, but I didn't know she was there. Of course, it's unwise to expect someone who's just taken a potentially catastrophic exam to provide upbeat cues and tips for your child, but I hope that little girl had a great exam and came out invigorated and proud of herself.   

As for me, in 12 minutes I had gone from dreaming of a Distinction to praying for a Pass. You learn a lot about yourself in these exams. I heard last Friday that I got a Distinction after all. Shows how much I know. Press on with gusto.