We asked Jessica O’Leary, one of the Strings consultants for our new Bowed Strings syllabus 2020-2023, to give us an insight into the new syllabus.
ABRSM new Bowed Strings syllabus
As a string consultant, suggesting music for the syllabus, weighing up each newly published piece alongside old favourites is both a joy and immensely time consuming! Is it excellent writing, engaging, good teaching material, a suitable length and in the right key, enough variety to examine on the day and would my students actually want to live with this music for a whole term (or much longer in some cases!)? I needed a new and interesting folk song when I found the Japanese piece Sakura on YouTube. Played and arranged by Maria Kaneko Millar, I was spellbound and instantly knew it was perfect! ABRSM contacted her and there were many discussions about how she could edit her version so it fitted comfortably into the Grade 8 list. Details were all highly considered and the final version is truthful to her original with just minor changes. Although it is an unaccompanied piece, there are frequent left-hand pizzicato notes played at the same time as bowing the tunes and they give harmony to the haunting melodies. This extended technique, allied with stylistic slides and double-stopping project a dramatic quality that is highly engaging and a real competition winner, and make the piece a perfect fit for ABRSM’s List C.
On strings, you can play any type of music alone or with friends and choosing pieces you love has never been easier. I’m passionate about the new syllabus and can’t wait to share my favourites - there are now THIRTY pieces in each grade and the addition of an Initial Grade (pre-Grade 1) will give my first year learners a significant aim and reward just like their more experienced friends. Now everyone can get a certificate and mark sheet handed out in assembly! Who can resist old favourites like Nelson’s Fish Cakes and Apple Pie, Blackwells’ Rhythm Fever or Lumsden and Wedgwood’s Jungle Footprints (scream optional!) as excellent teaching pieces that all my students have loved. Lots of early pieces can be taught in mixed groups as they overlap on all string instruments and there is a selection of duets for student and teacher up to Grade 3. Some new additions for violin are arrangements of Pirates of the Caribbean, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, I feel pretty, Singin’ in the Rain as well as Castle on a Cloud from Les Misérables and Bartók Duos. From Grade 5 up we have a selection from Corelli’s Folia variations, Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, Bach’s Concerto in A minor and the less familiar gem - Mendelssohn’s Concerto in D minor (not the treacherous audition one in E minor) as well as Musorgsky’s Gopak. The last time I played Gopak was in the Cork Youth Orchestra when I wasn’t advanced enough to play the violin line so I was ‘invited’ to play the tambourine instead. When asked what the violin means to me, I remember thinking that very Gopak day that I really wanted to play the tune so I might actually have to learn those scales after all….
ABRSM Violin Seminars
I’m delighted to have been chosen to give Violin seminars about the new syllabus in South East Asia this summer. Dates include Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong, and the autumn will see sessions in the UK from London to Glasgow. I hope to see lots of Violin teachers at these events - find out more.For more information about the Bowed Strings syllabus and supporting materials, visit www.abrsm.org/strings.