The Madness of Clarinetists

The construction of a clarinet. Edited from th...

Tomorrow I will be doing my Grade 8 Clarinet exam.  But this is not a post about nervousness or preparation or any of those good exam-like things.  It is a post about the madness of musicians, and of music teachers in particular.

You see, exams are things that we traditionally associate with school.  As things that you have to do while you are at school, while you are of school-going age.  We also make the assumption that no one chooses to do exams, that normal people would avoid them like the plague.  Enter the first sign of a music teacher’s madness.  I chose to do this exam.  I chose to put my mouth, my fingers and my ears through this, so I have no one to blame but myself.  Except for my teacher.

We have known each other now for 20 years.  She was my primary school teacher when I was in Standard 4, then she became my clarinet teacher, then my teaching mentor, then my colleague and now my partner in crime.  We coach orchestras and choirs together.  We transformed a music department together.  And now she wants me to do this exam.  Don’t get me wrong – of all the people that have influenced my life, she is one of the greatest.  She is an incredible musician, an incredible teacher and an even more incredible friend.  But she is even madder than I am, which is saying something, considering that we are both music teachers.  And clarinetists.

My reasons for doing the exam are all very admirable, I think.  Firstly, Grade 8 is the highest one, and I went off to university and things before I could finish it off.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.  I did my Grade 8 Ballet when I was 23, far too old to be dancing like that, in that clothing that makes curvy women look like elephants, even when they’re not fat (wish I still looked like that though!).  I did my Grade 7 Clarinet when I was 26.  So it’s taken me two years to work up to finishing it off.  I also think that somehow, it sets a good example to all my students, that you are never too old to learn, and that you should never stop learning and developing as a musician, or as anything else.  I also know myself quite well, and I wasn’t going to get any better as a musician just by picking something to play and working at it. I needed a tangible goal, preferably one that was a little scary, to make me do it.  However, now that my fingers are falling off and I can’t sleep because I have the Mozart Clarinet Concerto (I’m playing the 3rd movement tomorrow) in my head, I’m wondering about the wisdom of it all.  Already the butterflies have begun to flutter, and I still have a day of teaching to get through.  At least I am doing mine tomorrow, and all my students are doing theirs on Friday.  I might have a peaceful night and be prepared to make all kinds of mistakes in the accompaniment for my children.  Oh well.  Such is the life of a music teacher.

The madness continues.  My teacher and I are already planning the next exam.  Maybe finish off the piano, or another violin exam?  Or maybe I should now focus on preparing the children I teach for their exams.  One thing I do know, though.  They will all end up as mad as I am.

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