Reaction to Leaving Certificate 2023 Music- Listening & Composing papers (Higher Level) by Ciara Coleman, Music teacher at The Institute of Education.
- A fair and balanced paper which played to students’ strengths, especially students who had studied their set works in depth.
- Most students will have been happy to see Bohemian Rhapsody feature as Q1.
- The composition elective contained some challenges while also designed to play to students’ strengths.
The Music exam requires students to sit a core listening exam and complete additional electives from Performance, Composition, and Listening. The majority of students choose to do the Performance elective earlier in the year and so would have entered the exam hall with marks already banked.
Most students will have been happy to see Bohemian Rhapsody feature as the 25-mark question on the Listening Paper (Core), which has not been examined in depth since 2012. As per recent years, this first question was broken down into shorter sections and excerpts which makes for a more manageable listening exam experience. Students who had studied the recording and instrumental techniques featured in the Queen were rewarded with questions on both.
Each of the set work listening questions asked students to identify some general features of the music heard and then some more specific questions relating to the respective works, be it Tchaikovsky’s programmatic writing in Question 2 or features of 20th century music in the Gerald Barry in Question 3.
Due to allowances arising from the Covid period, students only had to study Movements 1 and 7 of the Bach, but both were examined on the final question, and this was nicely balanced question overall. Many students find the dictation question challenging on the listening paper but students who had studied their Bach chorale in depth should have found this dictation more manageable than those in previous years. This is because the bar in question featured step movement and a straight crotchet rhythm.
The English-language instrumentally accompanied sean nós excerpt was a slightly unusual choice and may have caused some initial confusion, but the questions asked were very much in line with what students will be used to answering on the Irish music section. There was a good choice of essay titles in Section B of the Irish music question, again with more choice allowed due to the special allowances made this year.
The appearance of the well-known ‘It Must be Love’ by Madness will have brought a lighter note to proceedings but there were some challenges here and even students who knew the song well will have had to listen particularly hard.
The vast majority of students will have attempted Question 1 for the melody section and Question 5 for the harmony section, and both of these, while containing some challenges, were also designed to play to students’ strengths.
Question 1 was a minor melody in E minor which students sometimes find challenging and added to this challenge was the fact that it was in compound time. However, there was no upbeat in the given opening, the rhythm was mainly in quavers, and the shape of the melody was mainly based on step movement and triadic movement, which students will have appreciated. There was plenty of scope here to develop the given opening and create a beautiful and flowing melody.
Question 5 was in the more straightforward key of A major but the first challenge to overcome was the fact that the melody line was often syncopated, so students would need to think carefully about which notes to harmonise here, especially around bars 5 and 6. However the rhythm in the bass line was on the beat, and the musical line was triadic in nature, so both of these will have calmed the nerves. As long as students followed their well-learnt rules on what makes a strong chord progression, they will hopefully have found this to be a reasonable and fair question.