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In this section

Candidate C

The candidate was awarded 13 marks for this broadly creative piece of writing.

Summary

This is a personal/reflective essay about the experience of piano lessons, focusing on one particular occasion. It is a sensitive and witty account, conveying how the lessons are perceived as something to be dreaded, with the piano taking on the characteristics of a monster lying in wait.

Content

There is strong attention to purpose and audience from the start, with the dramatic opening paragraph demonstrating strong creative qualities. The piano teacher’s living room is ‘the lair of a black dragon’, the piano itself ‘an uncontrollable beast that humiliated all in its path’. The metaphor of the piano as dragon develops in this paragraph, the open piano becoming a ‘gaping mouth’, the keys ‘daunting…teeth’ – and recurs throughout the piece.

A humorous tone and strong sense of the writer’s personality are established from the start and sustained throughout. The candidate’s experience of Friday is described with a clear sense of involvement, comparing the stress-free Friday nights enjoyed by other young people with the ‘detested… Piano Day’. Strong descriptive language is used to convey the candidate’s sense of impending calamity in anticipation of the lesson, for example, ‘Every second… took me closer to the doom I knew awaited me’, ‘dragged myself’, ‘dreaded creak of her footsteps’ and ‘her dark shadow looming up’.

The initial description of the teacher is slightly less nuanced – clear rather than strong – for example, ‘her wizened body perfectly matched her stern, traditional personality’. There follows a more successful evocation of her personality and the depressing atmosphere in her living room. The skilful use of observational details creates a strong sense of the candidate’s perspective: ‘she bared her yellow teeth in what I assumed to be a smile’ and the ‘half-completed crosswords and a box of dried out felt-tip pens’.

Description of the lesson continues, from the candidate’s delaying tactics and attempts at playing, punctuated with the teacher’s usually critical responses – ‘her beady eyes glared’, ‘her jaw clenching and unclenching’ and ‘making me repeat the same agonising passage until I got it just right’. A strong sense of self-awareness is sustained as the candidate conveys frustration, embarrassment and acknowledgement of the teacher’s superior skill, for example, ‘This was how the melody was supposed to sound, yet I couldn’t perfect it’ and ‘I sat down, ashamed’.

There is relief as the lesson ends with the ‘melancholy bell…indicating the next poor pupil to endure their thirty minutes of suffering.’ However, at the last minute, the teacher ‘announced’ another ordeal, the Grade 4 exam. The candidate’s feelings are explored with a strong degree of insight, revealed through the contrast between inner turmoil and outward response: ‘Wanting to scream “NO!”; I politely nodded’.

The piece ends with the candidate moving from the literal and metaphorical cold into the warm car and Mum’s ‘welcoming smile’. However, the prospect of pizza provides only temporary comfort due to thoughts ‘already lurking…of next week’s piano lesson in the lair of the black dragon’, an effective return to the image introduced in the title and opening.

Style

The skilful use of descriptive language is a strength of this piece, creating tension, a tone of despair and wry humour. Examples include the extended metaphor of the piano as dragon, description of the room and the teacher. The use of specific details creates a vivid picture of the teacher, an intimidating presence, for whom the candidate expresses dread, occasional physical revulsion, for example when she ‘would dab the end of her nose with a scrunched up tissue’ – and yet genuine admiration: ‘I watched in awe.’ Contrast is used effectively, for example when both pupil and teacher tackle the challenging passage: ‘I threw my fingers wildly at the keys’, whereas ‘Her curled old fingers glided effortlessly across the keys’.

Expression is mostly confident and varied, for example the use of questions to convey the candidate’s anxiety before the lesson. At times, the description is clear rather than strong, but the overall effect is of a candidate in control of the genre’s linguistic features. Structure is linear and, on the whole, effective, building up from the anticipation of the lesson, to the experience itself, to the escape at the end. The closing paragraph perhaps seems a little rushed.

Overall

The piece is placed in the 15-13 mark range. There is a strong sense of the writer’s personality and experience, with skilful use of language. Due to the occasional movement into clear rather than strong, it was awarded 13 marks.