Thursday, 18 August 2016

Thicko's Done OK

I'm watching my twitter feed slowly fill with congratulations to all the 6th formers celebrating their well deserved A Level results this morning.  Very few are just 'lucky',  most have worked hard and indeed made some lifestyle sacrifices to achieve the results that the envelope presented them with today.

Then you go onto other forums and read the devastation of those people that equally might have put in the work, but for one reason or another, just didn't get the grades that they need. Parents talking about consoling their children, as they're seemingly left, at 18, branded a disaster.

Next week it'll be the same scenario but two years earlier. Exam results effectively dictating how people feel about themselves and their ability.

What a load of B******ks!!

Exams are such an archaic way of saying whether somebody is clever or not. What a bizarre way of deciding fate. "Here's 2 hours....prove that you've managed to cram everything that you've been taught for the last 16/18 years, then like some fairground memory test, reproduce it in a language that we can judge (so not your vernacular), within the next 120 mins". Then over the course of a couple of weeks, repeat for various subjects.

What is it proving? That you can memorise facts? Why? Where's the applied section? Where's the useful stuff that we need to learn in life? Why do we still have teenagers leaving school that can't read or write to a high enough standard? Why do we have teenagers leaving school that can't do basic maths (and I'm definitely not talking about all those strange 1a X 2b + ?c equations that we used to do all the time...which 30 years on I've still not found a use for)?

I've somehow always known that I was going to be a musician. I didn't know how that was going to happen - but it was! I understand that I was extremely lucky to have such a clear target in mind moving forward. Some people 5 years on having left HE still don't know what they're going to do with their lives. It's hard when you don't have 'a thing'.

Somehow I was in the 'top stream' at school, but interestingly have always branded myself as 'thick'. So much so in fact that my very much better half, tells me off rather regularly for using such a derogatory term to describe myself.  So why 'thick'? I guess because I never saw the value in 'classes' in school or indeed college, I always just saw the opportunities there.  So I saw school as an amazing resource where I could easily find a space, a band, and a cast - and I put on shows.  Similarly at college, of course I sat through all the various lectures, but most of my time was spent volunteering to be in everybody else's shows.  I learnt, through applying resources I guess.  None of my real learning was structured.

However I also grasped the 'system' quickly. So I knew for example, that to get to 6th form, I had to do OK in my O Levels (Yes, I'm that old...so for younger readers, basically my GCSE's). So I attempted to learn just enough.  Enough to scrape me through.  I mean, I couldn't spend hours learning everything - I had shows to play for, performances to do. And that's what I did...scraped through. The lowest pass grade possible was a C, and I got myself a load of them.

By the time I got to the next level, I had already found the perfect route for me, via what was then called a Polytechnic (or as someone actually told me...'the college for those people not clever enough to get into university'). Middlesex was a rarity. It accepted people on their ability via an audition, and then asked you for the most basic of passes to try and help scram you over the cargo net of exams.  My offer came back - two E's. That was it. I needed just 2 E's to get me to the next step.

I wanted to be a musician, but to be a musician did I really need to know dates? What difference does it make to me or indeed the world of music today, what date Beethoven wrote his last symphony? Surely what matters is that he wrote it, and what it sounded like, what was the harmonic structure of that work, how did the orchestration help...the questions are infinite...however the nature of exams meant, at that time, that I needed to know the dull stuff, as well as the interesting, useful stuff.  What's more....I needed to learn that 'stuff' about a whole load of people.  Sure the teachers tried to work out which questions would come up that year, but it was a gamble, and one that I wasn't prepared to take, so I walked out of the exam casino. I decided that the remit was so large, there was no point in dipping my toe in it.  So instead I....did shows! In my defence the shows were getting better, but they didn't facilitate me doing well in my exams.  I scraped through - I got my two E's, and off I trotted to the lesser university...the polytechnic.

Middlesex had a no exam policy (which was one of the attractions for me), and all their assessments were practical.  I mean, we literally did one exam right at the end of the course, and even that was a seen paper. Happy days.  Suddenly I was doing shows...which counted towards my degree.  I don't believe that there is a course like the old BAPA course anymore - but I was literally doing around 8 to 10 shows a term. I had never worked so hard in my life...but I was loving it.

I left college with a healthy 2:1 BA(Hons), however I still felt 'thick'

I became a professional musician, the crap jobs that I've done to facilitate that profession have ranged from cleaner right through to opening a drama college. This year I've been in the business 27 years (29 years if you count the 2 years prior to college training to be a ballet accompanist and working as an organist about the clubs and churches of Swansea).

Being a musician has literally taken me around the world, and has facilitated me having the most amazing life, providing me with a fairly good geographical knowledge of the UK thanks to touring, and more importantly a lifetime of anecdotes to facilitate small talk in awkward situations. I've managed to meet or work with with nearly every single one of the people that inspired me along the way.

Had I spent my earlier years just having my head stuck in a book, revising for the memory test of O and A Levels, I don't think that I would have made it.

For a 'thicko' I've done OK. I've realised my IQ is really high where it matters - emotional intelligence. Ironically the one area that they don't really cover in school.

Our industry will never be based on results. You will not be the next Broadway star because you got an A*....however your parents are more likely to let you give this industry a shot if you have those A*'s tucked away for a rainy day ;-)

The MTA spends a day getting to know you, working with you, in situ, to find out what you can do. Talent and hard work should be the thing that gets you into this industry not a grade.  Long may our radical approach to education empower the 'thickos' ;-)

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