Best of brass
In July we published revised syllabuses for Horn, Eb Horn, Baritone/Euphonium and Tuba. Rhian Morgan takes a look at what’s new. I’m sure brass players must occasionally feel neglected when it comes to exams. There are the pianists, violinists, flautists and clarinettists spoilt for choice and able to take their pick from lists containing a huge variety of pieces. But the poor brass players. Sometimes just half a dozen pieces to choose from – and a single list to work from, if you happen to be taking Grade 8 Eb Horn. But no more... a new and exciting ABRSM Brass syllabus, which comes into effect in January 2013, offers players more variety and choice. For the first time since 2004, the lists for Horn, Eb Horn, Baritone/Euphonium and Tuba have all been thoroughly refreshed and expanded, bringing them into line with the size of ABRSM’s syllabuses for other brass, as well as woodwind, instruments. There were extensive consultations with teachers before decisions were made on the new syllabuses. ‘We’ve really listened to what brass teachers want from us,’ says syllabus consultant Nicky Daw. ‘We’ve taken in feedback, looked at statistics and extended the repertoire to include more choice as well as developing publications which can be used over several grades.’ There’s a broadening of the syllabus too, with movement into the world of brass band music. ‘There are a lot of brass learners who, if they perform outside the classroom environment, tend to play in brass bands,’ explains Robert Sargant, Syllabus Manager at ABRSM. ‘For example, on our syllabus for Trumpet, Cornet and Flugelhorn, nearly a quarter of candidates enter on the Cornet, a popular brass band instrument, so when we revised the Trumpet syllabus, along with Trombone and Bass Trombone in 2010, we ensured there were plenty of cornet-specific pieces, as well as some flugelhorn ones.’ And so, for these latest syllabuses it was equally important to include solo repertoire from the brass band – rather than exclusively Western classical – tradition, to broaden the lists of pieces. But it’s not entirely out with the old and in with the new. Plenty on the old syllabus was deemed worth keeping. ‘A very popular current piece is Lionel Bart’s Where is Love? from Oliver!,’ says Robert. ‘It’s set at Grade 2 for Eb Horn and Tuba, and the candidate takeup is around 45%. It’s a popular choice from an excellent album that gets used widely, so we felt this piece should be retained.’ Nicky Daw is a French horn player. She chooses Richard Bissill’s My Lady Fair (Grade 6) and John Frith’s The Pearl (Grade 8) as her top favourites on the new syllabus, while Reinecke’s Notturno (Grade 7), Gliere’s Concerto (Grade 8), and the York Bowen and Trygve Madsen sonatas (Grade 8) are also tipped to be popular. In selecting for the syllabuses, great care has been taken to ensure that listed publications can be used in a way that is helpful to candidates and teachers. Many books, especially for beginners, cover at least two or three grades, and very often two or three lists in a grade. Attention is given to cost, keeping most titles under £12. The syllabus also aims to aid those teaching cross-brass, in groups, with certain publications set on all four syllabuses, particularly in the early grades. ‘We’re also pleased that more instrument-specific music will be featured,’ says Nicky, ‘so fewer trombone titles appear on the Baritone/Euphonium syllabus, and French horn music has been avoided on the Eb Horn syllabus.’ These are big changes which will bring variety and vigour not only to exams but also to lessons, performances and the way students think about their music. ‘Above all, our aim was to compile repertoire lists that would offer as wide and varied a choice of material as possible,’ concludes Robert. ‘We want to allow the students’ developing abilities to be tested and showcased, while offering accessible, attractive and motivational repertoire choices.’
- Shining Brass is a cross-brass series from ABRSM covering Grades 1 to 5.
- Principal Horn is an ABRSM book of pieces and studies for horn, to support the new syllabus at Grades 6 to 8.
- Other important cross-brass publications on the new syllabus are by eminent brass composers, including Philip Sparke, Peter Graham and Jock McKenzie, as well as those associated with Robert and David Childs, Gordon Higginbottom and Steven Mead.
- Titles from Salvationist Publishing are used on the syllabus for the first time.
Rhian Morgan is a music education journalist and runs a media training company.
This article was originally featured in the September 2012 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.