(Because of the Walmart shooting in El Paso, Texas, today’s story suddenly has been rendered “insensitive”. It shall appear later. I’ve replaced it with a little bit of drivel about myself… )
Many years ago I was in charge of the biggest music department of any high school in New Zealand. We had 17 instrumental music teachers instructing over 300 individual instrumentalists. There were three orchestras, five choirs, every student sang like it was going out of fashion, and… well goodness me! (I might add that the school was renowned for its rugby teams of which I was also a coach – so there!…)
I had decided in my enthusiastic relative youth to sit the highest piano-playing exam available and so I learnt a Schubert Sonata and I can’t remember what else because it was a jolly long time ago. My teacher, Mrs Oliver, was wonderful and taught me for free – which is something I’ve since tried to emulate (occasionally).
The music examiner arrived (from England) to test the students at the high school from beginners to very good. He was at the school for a week. I provided lunches and we got on well enough. I suspected he was a bit lonely travelling the country week after week on his own. I lent him books to read. We discussed all sorts of musical things. At the end of the week he invited me to dinner at a rather swish restaurant by way of thanks for my hospitality. By now I was in a horrible mess; I had never told him that in a week’s time in a neighbouring city he was to examine me for piano playing in the highest exam possible. I didn’t do it intentionally; I was simply caught up in trying to organised instrument exams for lots and lots of students other than me. To put it politely, I was shitting myself.
Exam time came. I entered the room.
“Well hello,” said the examiner. “Why didn’t you tell me you were a candidate for this exam?”
“I got all caught up and now I’m a mess,” I said.
“Well,” said he, “if you’d told me I could have brought the books with me that I borrowed.”
I passed! I never know to this day if I was good enough.