Piano accompanying duties (always a pleasure, never a duty actually) for ABRSM exams this morning took me to Maidenhead in Berkshire. Lovely, musical Maidenhead, with its Norden Farm Centre for the Arts within easy reach of the A404(M) and the location ABRSM regularly chooses for exams in that area.
A pleasure, also, to see the regular steward on duty, and for the cafe bar to be open again after my many trips there during the pandemic.
But rather bemusing – perhaps concerning – to see that lovely steward insist that I surrender my phone to him before each exam. “Taking a phone into an ABRSM exam is not allowed,” he says. “The Board say it’s to stop candidates and accompanists recording the exam,” he said with a shrug. The previously laidback teenage trumpet player was reluctant to be parted with his phone, but did so with a grimace.
So, why this peculiar new policy? And especially at a time when the ABRSM has recently launched its Performance grade exams – which, er, are recorded on phones? And when rival companies (let’s call them companies, not boards, perhaps) like MTB and Trinity are also offering recordable, play-into-your-phone exams?
Perhaps it is down to the cost of admin. Despite the ever-rising price of ABRSM exams (out of reach of some of my students, parents have confessed in the past), dealing with queries, re-marks and complaints have been turned by an earnest accountant into a number on a balance sheet, and the Board is keen to avoid any spend it cannot control (or, perhaps, to have to deal with these at all).
Whatever ABRSM’s concern, it is an over-zealous step that can bewilder and unsettle all but the most prepared and laid-back candidate. Especially as most of them are older children and teenagers, for whom losing a phone is a mortal blow, particularly when about to take an exam.