My first Music Theory class last night with tutor Helen, at the Harrow Way Community School. I turned up not knowing what to expect, and as I parked in the school playground, I reflected that it had been a long time since I had been in a comp.
Making my way past boisterous gangs of kids kicking footballs around - which reminded me why - I soon found the Community Education Centre. At the reception I duly completed a lengthy form which enquired closely into my ethnic background, disabilities and requirements for income support & benefits.
In the end, there were seven of us around the table in that classroom, Helen rapidly establishing that three of us were newbies. The four veterans included a saxophonist (recently passed grade 4 music theory with merit), a singer (recently achieved grade 5 music theory with distinction) and an experienced flautist.
Helen interrogated the newbies. One, it turned out, was a student at the very college she taught at, and had passed grade 8 piano and grade 5 music theory. The other was a music student studying guitar and drums. Finally, Helen turned to me expectantly.
“Um - three months piano?” I said hesitantly.
“Go on,” she encouraged.
“Er, well, I’ve never actually written down a single musical note.”
At this confession of utter incompetence her lips curled slightly, and she seemed at a loss.
“I don’t suppose you have any manuscript paper?” (Paper with ruled ledger lines, on which you write ‘musical notes’). I shook my head.
“OK,” she said decisively, ripping off a top sheet from her pad. “Here, I want you to write on this page everything you know about music and the piano.”
It was evident that had she had a postage stamp to hand, then that’s what I would have been given. Granted her expectation that this task was unlikely to trouble me for more than a minute or so, she also handed me a copy of grade 1 music theory to study.
My humiliation was completed when she went around asking each of the students about which exam she should put them in for.
“Well, I see you did very well on your grade 5. OK to put you down for grade 6?”
“Definitely. Oh, yes, please!”
Eventually it was my turn. She looked at me sorrowfully and said gently “Well, Nigel, I don’t think we’ll be putting you in for any exams, if that’s alright?”
Blushing, I could only concur.