A global network
With exams taking place in over 90 countries around the world, ABRSM relies on a network of dedicated International Representatives to ensure that the exam experience runs smoothly for candidates and teachers. Andrew Green spoke to a number of Reps to find out what’s involved. ‘I’m proud to represent the best music education system in the world,’ says Marie Clarke, ABRSM Representative in Jamaica. ‘There’s never a dull moment in this job! Every day is different,’ adds Rep Meg Twyford, whose remit covers a vast geographical area within South Africa, plus Swaziland and Botswana. An army of around 200 International Representatives, and National and Regional Coordinators, runs and promotes ABRSM exams from Bangladesh to Australia, Andorra to Mauritius, Shanghai to Denmark. Their work embraces both urban environments and the back of beyond. Meg Twyford knows all about that. ‘The bulk of my exam entries come from the bigger cities but we have lots of centres in very rural areas, so it’s difficult to get to see teachers and find suitable pianos and venues. ‘There are no music shops in the whole of Botswana or Swaziland that sell sheet music or instruments, so I often have to advise on how ABRSM items can best be purchased. Sending out Theory exam papers can be a challenge when there are no real street names or house numbers. Email isn’t an option for everyone. Some places don’t have electricity.’ Inefficient postal services also regularly create headaches for ABRSM Reps. ‘There’s no first class mail in Jamaica,’ says Marie, ‘and delivery times can be very slow. So it can be extremely stressful getting exam material out to centres, invigilators and so on.’ ABRSM Reps may be individuals or organisations – in Singapore, for example, the Singapore Symphony Orchestra does the job. Sometimes just one person is responsible for a whole country, elsewhere, local Reps work under an overall head of operations. Very often the Rep handles ABRSM work alongside other work. The tasks involved are legion – from advising teachers and processing entries and paperwork, to organising timetables and venues, getting pianos tuned and arranging accommodation for examiners, who travel out from the UK. Reps also have a role to play in supporting teachers by speaking at conferences and organising seminars. The ongoing training of teachers is a key part of the overall process, says Margaret Liu, ABRSM Rep for Georgia, USA. ‘During exam periods I arrange meetings for teachers conducted by the examiner. I also speak at local music teachers’ association meetings. And there’s constant emailing and phoning to answer questions from teachers to help them prepare their students.’ The effectiveness of the work of ABRSM International Reps is seen in the marked expansion of examiner tours, says Tim Arnold, ABRSM International Operations Director. ‘Ten years ago we organised 200 examiner tours... now there are 450. ‘Administration has always been a key part of an International Rep’s role, but increasingly we are now working in partnership with many musicians to develop music learning, as well as to keep it alive in countries with severe social and political problems. In Sri Lanka, for example, despite a decades-long civil war, we continued to send an examiner every year. We strongly believe in providing exams wherever there is demand, even if there are significant barriers to overcome. For ABRSM this is all about supporting music teaching and learning at all levels.’ In Poland, Rep Mateusz Slojewski has had the job of introducing ABRSM exams and publications, almost from scratch, with the first exam session taking place as recently as 2009. A major part of his task is to convince sceptics that music exams have any place at all. ‘I argue that it’s especially necessary when making music – which develops people intellectually in such a fantastic way – to offer a system for documenting achievement which stimulates further development. ‘It always astonishes people when I talk about music exams and education being enjoyable. ABRSM is changing the way teachers work here in Poland. They are moving away from the old ways, often learned during different times... in the spirit of Stalinism, I sometimes say!’ The success of the International Rep network means growth for ABRSM. Tim emphasises that this further enhances the organisation’s international work. ‘For example, we donate significant funds to assisting overseas students attending four of the UK’s Royal Schools of Music. We support a chamber music competition in New Zealand for musicians of school age. And later this year we will be introducing a new online system that will help International Reps to give teachers better support.’ The job satisfaction from being an International Rep, says Meg, comes from ‘seeing candidates grow from grade to grade’. ‘For a child to prepare for the exam, get to the venue, then play teaches them about so much more than music. It’s also satisfying to be part of a worldwide organisation where the same exams are taking place in London or Limpopo.’
This article was originally featured in the September 2011 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.