Some thoughts about the Performance Portfolio (May & Nov 2021 exams)
After more than 20 years of teaching different versions of the "old" curriculum, it almost feels bizarre that this will be my last round of submitting the specific portfolios of my students.
Over the years, I have analysed our results, had conversations with examiners, studied and re-studied the mark schemes and requested the official feedback comments.
Here are a few tips which seem to work for my students.
Start the recording work in the first few weeks of the course. Some students need quite some time to getting used to having their live performances recorded. Some of them see a microphone and get quite scared. I always offer (wherever possible!) a variety of settings from intimate mini performances at lunchtime with a selected (benevolent) audience, to participating in the big Autumn and Winter Concerts. This year, where everything is different, I try to squeeze in as many performances as possible while we are still on campus (even with many limitations). During lockdown, we also recorded the students at home while the class was the "live audience" via google meet. We also always record many more performances than the needed minutes to have
Plan the portfolio carefully. The more contrast the portfolio shows, the more it displays the different facets of the student. Contrast in key, tempo, articulation, technical focus, ornamentation, time periods, playing techniques, style, genre and concert setting has always been very positively received by the examiners. I always try to make good use of the cultural background of my students and include songs, pieces and styles from their home countries. I encourage my singers to make use of their many languages they master. In the past years, I was lucky enough to have my students also perform with a variety of ensembles - from Croatian accordion students to Scottish dance players. Unfortunately, this will not be possible this year.
Here are some questions for this aspect.
Keep an overview of the process: In order to keep an eye on the balance and contrast, my students keep a file where they keep track of their recordings.
Stay away from pieces which are clearly too hard for the student. This one was really difficult for me as many students come from a background where only "really hard pieces" count as "real" pieces. However, when you consider the assessment criteria, it is better to choose pieces where students can develop and improve, but the technical challenges should never be in the way of performing the pieces with ease. If students are too worried about technical challenges, it can be heard in the performance and will impact negatively both in the technical and the musical communication criteria. We practice really hard pieces to grow in their performance technique, but these pieces are not part of the final portfolio.
Here are some questions I ask my students:
NB: The questions about the "correct" tempo is designed to trigger a vivid discussion.
Review the different stylistic features:
And a final set of questions:
With the reduced length of the performance portfolio, it will be even more important to focus on the contrast and display all aspects of our student's performances.