After seeing a large increase in Chinese students taking the grading test, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) has decided to offer another option to China’s scholars of music.
The illustrious London-based institute initially set up the school in 1889, as an exam center to grade musicians. The company opened its first office in Shanghai in 2009, and has subsequently introduced centers in 23 cities across the country since then.
So far, 30,000 students have taken the organization’s music test in the east China region, including Suzhou, Wuxi and Nantong in Jiangsu Province, Hangzhou, Wenzhou and Ningbo in Zhejiang Province, Hefei in Anhui Province and Shanghai. And participation is growing by about 30 percent year on year.
Michael John Elliott, CEO of ABRSM, was recently in Shanghai, checking on the company’s progress in China, as well as figuring out possible ways to improve musical courses. He also discussed with the Chinese authorities about possibilities of the organization getting registered in China.
It was his second visit to Shanghai since 1984 and, apart from the great changes of the city, Elliott was impressed by the passion of the young Chinese people.
“I felt it our mission to provide them with as much resources as possible to support their growth in music just as we did in many other countries,” said Elliott.
ABRSM is currently giving graded exams and diploma qualifications in 35 subjects, including different instrument playing, vocal music and music theory. And Elliott said ABRSM is to expand its exam categories with new subjects, like singing for music theaters, pop music instruments and electric guitar in the next 18 months.
More than 650,000 candidates take ABRSM exams each year in over 93 countries, in front of 700 professional judges. ABRSM also provides a publishing house for music, producing syllabus booklets, sheet music, exam papers and runs professional development courses and seminars for teachers.
Though most of the ABRSM test participants in Shanghai were students of international schools in 2009, about 70-80 percent of the participants nowadays are locals, according to Zhao Peiwen, chief delegate in the British organization’s east China office, with piano graded tests always the most popular.
The ABRSM certification carries weight, and its owners get additional bonus points when applying for an overseas music school, especially in the British Commonwealth nations. This is why there has been a growing number of participants in China.
Even though it won’t help gain more points in the Chinese education system, some non-overseas-school applicants still choose to take the test, as they believe that having two certificates of achievement is better than one, said Su Zhen, a counselor at the British group, who encourages students to enjoy music in the process rather than just targeting an academic qualification.
The ABRSM has totally been aware of the profound music grading test system in China, and that is why officials are going to offer another option.
“We do not mean to compete, but rather to complement other available grading exams,” said Zhao, the chief delegate.
Considering the growing number of Chinese participants in recent years, ABRSM collected more musical works by Chinese composers, like Tan Dun and He Luding, than any other foreign musicians to its exam repertoire.
“I am sure that having familiar pieces in the repertoire will give the Chinese young people additional confidence in the test. It may also help them sense their identity as well as the pride of sharing cultures with other people in the world, which I also consider very important for inspiring their achievement in music,” said Elliott.
It takes time to select more Chinese pieces for the exam repertoire. Consideration has to be made between the difficulty levels and balance in different musical genres. Quite a number of Chinese works are already covered in the piano graded exams, with its syllabus renewed every two years, while it may take longer for such pieces to enter other ABRSM exams.