Needless to say, the COVID-19 pandemic was a terrible experience.

Pretty much overnight, my entire social life and hobbies shut down. My main social and creative/physical outlet was Latin Dance, and that's virtually one the riskiest things a person could do during a pandemic.

After a few months of uncertainty, I decided to take the plunge and restart piano lessons for the first time in nearly 20 years. I found a teacher who loved (and most importantly performed) the same music I aspired to play and began working with her. However, we were like oil and water - it wasn't a good match, despite being introduced to many technical concepts that I should have learned 30+ years ago.

Anyway, I wanted a sense of achievement. I swallowed my pride, and decided that taking an AMEB (Australian Music Examination Board) Exam would be a decent goal in light of all the chaos around.

I've never done a music exam. As a child, I used to play in countless recitals and local competitions, and I usually did very well, but that'd only involve presenting one or two pieces.

In Australia, I would constantly be asked, "What 'Grade' are you [as a musician]?" I honestly didn't know. I like a piece, I learn it. Some pieces take longer than others. Aside from Liszt (and works of similar difficultly), I felt confident enough to learn most anything on my own.

So, I found a new teacher, explained the situation, and said I wanted to enrol for the Certificate of Performance. It entails assembling a recital of approximately 30 minutes in length, including at least 4 complete works spanning a variety of periods loosely described as "classical music," or "Western Art Music."

I chose five works, including those of Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, and Falla - and spent between 6-9 months learning and refining them. When I began learning, none of the pieces were particularly difficult, but I quickly discovered practicing 5 pieces (8 movements) to get to "recital standards" - and keeping them there - was a new challenge all unto its own.

Also, being an American and unfamiliar with the Australian music education system, I had no practical basis to understand what "the standards" were. So, despite my new teacher's eventual blessing, it still felt like going in a bit "blind."

Anyway, last Saturday, I showed up first thing in the morning to the AMEB New South Wales HQ, given a 10 minute warmup, and then met my examiner.

Despite what felt like making numerous small mistakes, it was a solid run. The examiner seemed to break neutrality and effused a remarkable amount of positive feedback. After pointing out an unconscious "bad habit" (which he assured me would not count against me at this level), he encouraged me to continue on for the Diplomas (AMusA, LMusA).

Based on that, I'm 99.9% certain I passed.

I'm greatly relieved. I'm also happy I can put those particular pieces to rest. However, the truth is, I chose my pieces well - as I'd happily play any one of them at any time.

I also learned, without a doubt, that Rachmaninoff wasn't as scary as I assumed. I've nearly learned a second Prelude of his, and now working on a third.

While I await the official results, I'm looking forward to playing pieces that I enjoy and spending a little time working on technique over the next few months.

Then, when I'm ready, I'll assemble a programme for the AMusA Diploma and spend the next 9-12 months working towards that.