This is a letter to the Miriam of two years ago — the Miriam who was making decisions about which A-Levels she should take and inadvertently signed me up for two years of underperforming and misery. I’m writing it because I really, really need to rant about Baroque counterpoint right now. Like, I have a mighty need to do so. Here goes.
Dear 16-year-old Miriam,
You’re at a point in your life when you’re making a lot of really, really bad decisions. I know that you don’t know that. Most of them, you won’t even realise you made until you’re picking up the pieces in two years’ time, and I’m not here to tell you to stop being friends with those people or whatever but just know that you have really bad judgement. And now that you know that, you can listen to me.
This is the kind of advice that you probably wouldn’t have taken from anybody else. But I’m you, I’m from the future, and I have a very important message to give you.
Do not take Music A-Level, Miriam.
I know you think it will make a nice contrast to your other subjects, what with English and Classics being essay-based and French being really hard, but you haven’t really thought this through. You don’t want to take History, because of the coursework and because it’s all modern, and Music can’t be worse, right? You’re aware that it’s supposed to be hard, but you have no idea how hard it is.
You’ll have good teachers and some great friends in your class, but that’s not going to make it worth it. You could hang out with those people in extra-curricular music groups — you don’t need to put yourself through this for them.
Miriam, you are going to spend two years being told at every turn that Music isn’t difficult by people who have never been faced with harmonising a chorale, analysing a chord sequence, composing a sonatina, or working through a three-page Baroque counterpoint exercise. You are going to be told that you chose a soft option and you will refute that claim at every turn because Music is the hardest subject you study.
You should take Media Studies. It looks interesting. Your English teachers would have taught you, and they’re good. You’d have a pretty decent chance of getting an A, I’d imagine, though you didn’t take it so I have no idea. Yes, so some people look down on it. Guess what: people look down on Music too, but it’s really freaking hard, and all you’re gaining from that is a lower grade. So. Take Media instead.
Because you know what? You are going to suck at Music A-Level.
You’re going to suck at Baroque counterpoint in a way you have never, ever sucked at anything. You have no idea how to deal with failure because you were basically programmed for technical perfection since birth. These grades you get, they will break you, because you have never failed before. Don’t bring up the year ten drawing exam in which you got an E — you’re gonna sort things out with Art, play your strengths, and get an A, okay? And don’t even mention Additional Maths, because we both know you didn’t care about that in the slightest, so it doesn’t matter about the 1% thing.
Baroque counterpoint is going to be the bane of your existence, and the worst part is, you won’t even be able to let yourself stop caring about it. Let me paint a picture of how you will feel a week before the final controlled assessment.
When you open the exercise in Sibelius, you will start crying. As you work through it, you will be seized by the urge to hurt yourself in a way that you have managed not to do, by this point, for four and a half months. You will keep trying, knowing full well that last time with the same amount of effort and tears, you only managed to get a D. You know that your exam is in eight days and that in just over a week you will never have to do Baroque counterpoint again and you also know that this ‘compositional technique’ module is going to be the reason you have no hope of getting a B overall.
And you, sixteen-year-old innocent you, are thinking, “But there’s the performance module and the exam module!”
Miriam, the exams are hard too. They were your weakest unit in AS, and nothing’s changed except everything’s got harder. And as for the performance unit … well, I shouldn’t be telling you this, but next summer, you’re going to hurt your hands, two weeks before your grade eight violin exam, and that’ll be it for the violin and flute and piccolo. You’ll get an A in performance for AS Music, but A2 is going to be a totally different matter.
I’m writing you this from the point of view of someone who can’t play those instruments, hasn’t been able to since July, so you have to listen to me: you cannot rely on your performance skills to pull your grade up because you are not going to have them.
Our greatest character flaw is that we care too much about everything. If I could just bring myself to stop caring about Music, accept the C or D I’ll probably end up with and spend my time focusing on French instead, everything would be fine. But we’ve never been like that. So I care. And I keep trying.
That trying looks a lot like crying over Baroque counterpoint, wishing I could walk away from it in eight days’ time in the knowledge that I at least had a B or something and knowing that that will never be the case.
Miriam, if I had a time machine or some way of sending you this message, then I would. You made plenty of awful decisions on my behalf back in late 2011 and early 2012, but they were part of becoming who I am now, so I don’t entirely hate you for them. I mean, some of them, yeah, but the others — nah. It’s part of growing up. But the worst decision I ever made? Taking Music.
And if you’re not going to listen, then at least pass the message on to the Miriam of late 2013 / early 2014 who was given the opportunity to drop Music because of her health issues and didn’t take it. Because that was probably the second worst decision.
I really think you should take Media Studies instead and oh my Hamlet, I hate you for the fact that’s not the decision you’re about to make.
18-year-old Miriam, who ought to be working on Baroque counterpoint right now, but has given up after crying continuously for, like, an hour or something.
NB: I’m not saying Music A-Level is a bad decision for everyone. Just that it was a really bad decision for me personally and I deeply regret everything.