How I chose my ARSM repertoire by James McQueen

Whilst preparing for the ARSM exam, I found myself spoiled for choice when it came to selecting the pieces of music that I actually wanted to play, leading to some very tough decisions in order to create a programme just thirty minutes long.

Upon completing Grade 8 Trumpet, I began learning and playing several pieces with little direction or specific goal in mind, other than the fact that I knew I wanted to, at some point, take the ARSM. After becoming familiar with various trumpet concertos, sonatas and etudes, I had built up a reasonable repertoire of music that I could select for my programme, however I was hesitant to commit to a final choice. I believe this was largely due to being overwhelmed by what felt like a significant balancing act of creating a programme of varied pieces that I enjoyed playing, while also keeping to the required length.

I spent quite some time going back and forth between different pieces, eventually settling on a concerto and etude that I knew I wanted to perform in the exam and much of my focus was shifted towards preparing these pieces. However, this still left me with about seven minutes of performance time which I left to deal with later as I was unsure about what I would fill it with.

Eventually I realised that my main concern was about finding something that fitted all the criteria I had, like style and particularly duration. The solution therefore was to simply note down the running time of all the pieces I had worked on, as well as those featured on ABRSM’s ARSM repertoire list, and choose one which both resonated with me enough that I actually wanted to play it, and also completed the programme. Had I done this earlier, I could have spent more time preparing, playing and enjoying the music for my exam, rather than worrying about what it was that I would actually play.

Ultimately, I found that my final choice of repertoire came down to what felt right. During my initial search for music there were some pieces that, despite appearing to tick all the boxes at first, I just didn't feel particularly inspired by. It was only once I had looked elsewhere and found something that really struck a chord with me that I felt truly motivated to explore the music and bring the best out of it that I could. The rest fell into place from there.

Once I was settled on the music, I chose the order of the programme by deciding to arrange the pieces chronologically. This made the decision nice and straightforward, while also helping me to feel a sense of coherence and direction throughout the planning of the performance.

After going through the whole process, I found that all I needed was some careful planning in order to have a nice and smooth experience, with the earlier it being sorted the better!

James W. McQueen, Previous ARSM Candidate

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