In the Beginning
Published: 1993 Author: Richard Wright
OF ALL the interesting sessions and seminars that took place at the first EGTA UK conference at Girton College in 1990, the most memorable was the one in which Jean Harvey, the Chief Examiner of the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, and Keith Stent, her opposite number at Trinity College of Music, talked about the grade examinations for guitar. It was memorable because in the discussion period that followed, the contributions from the floor were more numerous and more passionate than at any other session I can remember before or since, and all were highly critical of the guitar syllabuses as they stand. Here was something quite remarkable: an aspect of guitar teaching on which the teachers could actually agree!
None of the criticisms voiced surprised me as such; they just reinforced my own long held views. It was more the manner of their expression, the frustration bordering on anger, that made me realise for the first time the extent to which guitar teachers’ working lives are affected by these grade exams. Having never been involved in institutional teaching (except for a short period at the Centre for Young Musicians in London) I have always been in a position to ignore the exams. On the rare occasions when one of my few private pupils asked about doing an exam I could simply tell them I didn’t think the pieces were very suitable, or that I ‘didn’t approve of exams’ (which isn’t strictly true). But most of our members work in schools or Local Authority Music Centres alongside teachers of instruments which are generally better served by the grade system than is the guitar. For them, entering children for exams is a logical, sensible, thing to do. For us it is often an aggravating compromise, something that in the circumstances we’d rather not do at all, but feel we must because it’s expected of us by pupils, parents and employers alike. If only we could get along with our syllabuses as happily as our orchestral colleagues seem to...
Of course this heated discussion only took place at all because of the existence of EGTA UK. At last there was a properly constituted, democratic, representative body for professional guitar teachers that could organise a national conference and invite people like Jean Harvey and Keith Stent to address it. Surely this same organisation would ipso facto have the necessary authority to make responsible recommendations to the Examination Boards about the contents of their guitar syllabuses. It would be able to call on the experience of a membership which covers the whole spectrum of guitar teaching from Colleges of Music to Primary Schools, and discuss and develop the different ideas that would emerge. Above all it would be accountable to the profession: people with an axe to grind could join EGTA and come along and grind it. Suffering in silence would be a thing of the past.
This Utopian scheme hasn’t quite come about yet, but as a direct result of that fateful session at Cambridge three years ago a working party was formed ‘...according to guidelines put forward by the Executive Committee with the aim of making recommendations to the various examination boards (subject to the agreement of the full membership of EGTA) on how the guitar grade exams might be modernised and improved’. The working party made its initial report exactly a year ago, and its contents were discussed—and approved—at last year’s conference. On that occasion I suggested that the report should be seen not as a final statement of anything but as an initial (and, inevitably at that stage, theoretical) look at the issues involved, the beginning of a long but hopefully rewarding process of rationalisation. Since March of this year we have been meeting again in order to try and assemble a model syllabus based on the criteria in the report up to and including Grade Five. This will be presented and discussed at this year’s conference at Girton College. Meanwhile, the original report is reproduced here in its entirety.
Copyright © 1993 by Richard Wright