Bum notes in jazz set text

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
'Miffed' Sussex teenager discovers mistakes in score used to teach Edexcel's A-level music. Adi Bloom reports

An A-level music student has spotted serious errors in the musical scores used as set texts by a leading exam board.

Olivia Hawes, a Year 13 pupil at pound;4,055-a-term St Bede's, in Upper Dicker, East Sussex, discovered that a Duke Ellington piano solo, used as an exam text for AS and A-level, included entire passages with incorrect or missing chords.

She made her discovery when she played the Edexcel score for the "Black and Tan Fantasy", and compared it with a Duke Ellington recording.

"I played it a few times, just to check, but I couldn't match it to the CD," Olivia said. "I'm a bit miffed. I'm 18, and I am spotting mistakes examiners have made. It's my A-level. But it looks like Edexcel couldn't be bothered to check properly for mistakes."

No original scores exist for many jazz pieces so any written text will be a transcription from a recording.

Paul Clay, Olivia's music teacher, said: "You can understand the odd wrong note but whole passages of wrong chords are not acceptable.

"It's not as life-changing as saying two plus two equals five, but it's a similar sort of mistake.

"It's a sad state of affairs, when I'm teaching them the wrong thing so they can get marks."

Hilary Meyer, of the National Association of Music Educators, agrees that the score contains substantial errors. "It's a bit frustrating for students," she said. "But it's jazz, and jazz is not a perfect science.

Though I would have thought Edexcel could have tried harder, and either left more out, to make it more of a sketch, or transcribed it a bit better."

Jeremy Jackman, a freelance conductor, also examined the score. He said:

"These mistakes don't render the whole thing useless. If this were a Haydn or Mozart symphony, one would be entitled to go ballistic. Jazz music is freer. Professional jazz pianists see only the melody and a few chords, if they're lucky.

"But it's annoying that it's wrong. There are plenty of talented people around who only have to put their eyes on this to know it's wrong. If Edexcel doesn't use those people, it should."

But other teachers dispute the significance of the errors. Mark Gooding, who teaches the Edexcel course at Harrow college, in north London, said:

"Jazz is defined by constant change. You interpret it in your own way. The question of an accurate transcription isn't relevant. You'd have no intention of playing it note-for-note."

Debbie Bailey, at Hemel Hempstead school, in Hertfordshire, agrees. "It's an improvised solo," she said. "You wouldn't expect to be able to transcribe that bang-on. There are still elements in there that pupils can analyse." Edexcel also defended the scores. A spokeswoman said that students should understand that improvisation can lead to discrepancies.

She said: "No transcription, especially of improvised performances, can ever be totally accurate. Subtle variations in performance, especially in pitch and rhythm, may prove extremely difficult, if not impossible, to notate.

"Questions are set on the basis of the music as it appears in the anthology."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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