In person: Elizabeth Bottone, ABRSM examiner
Elizabeth Bottone has been an ABRSM examiner for two years. When not examining, she looks after her two young children, teaches singing, performs when possible and does the weeding in her garden.
What first inspired you musically?
My mum was a primary school music teacher and there was always music in our house, from my parents playing in a wind quartet on a Wednesday evening to my mum giving piano lessons on a Saturday morning. My sister, brother and I were also taken to Suzuki violin lessons from a young age and I remember watching and taking part in concerts run by the Suzuki school and being amazed by the older students. My violin teacher used to put Hula Hoop crisps on the end of my bow to encourage the bow not to travel down the fingerboard, but to come back in the direction of my mouth. It definitely worked and I treasure these memories of my first steps. My love of singing grew from playing in orchestras for local operatic societies and watching their performances, as well as being a member of my local junior choir and church music group.
How did ABRSM exams affect your development as a musician?
They provided me with the opportunity to achieve and progress in the many kinds of music making which I was lucky enough to have access to as a child. As a violinist and oboist in my local youth orchestra and concert band, working towards exams gave me the skill levels I needed to keep up with, appreciate and understand the music that we played. Later, my musical skills and experience were built on and developed in my training as an opera singer and in my professional music career. I will always be grateful for the rounded start that ABRSM exams gave me.
Can you tell us about a special music teacher?
I have been very lucky and have had many great teachers, but I would especially like to mention my childhood piano teacher, Diana Marris. She always believed in me and rather than let me go to my singing audition at the Royal Academy of Music by myself, insisted that she would take me and that we would go shopping afterwards. I was very nervous but she talked positively to me for the couple of hours’ train journey and before I knew it I had finished the audition and felt as though I could have done no more. She was able to teach technique and musicality while encouraging me personally. I hope that I can pass that on in the same way to the students I work with.
Do you have any musical heroines or heroes?
I have learnt a lot over the years from listening to many great artists, but my true musical hero is my husband who is head of music in a local school and conductor of our local orchestra. He encourages his students to develop their interests in all genres of music. Many successful students go on to take their musical studies further and to develop careers in different areas of the music industry. I love to watch his passion for music education and for community performance.
Is there a piece of music which has particular meaning for you?
I have had many fantastic musical experiences and this is a hard choice, but I think it has to be Bizet’s Carmen, for two reasons. The first because Michaela was my first professional role as a young opera singer, and the second because quite a few of my advanced students have studied scenes from it with much success in exams and performances.
What musical projects or activities are you involved in now?
I currently teach over 50 pupils a week, excluding my two toddlers who like to clap rhythms and play middle C over and over on the piano. I lead and assist with some of my school choirs and act as vocal coach on school musicals. Also, as a trained singer, I sing professionally when I can, and I love to play violin in my local orchestra.
What do you enjoy about being an ABRSM examiner?
I get to listen to a wide variety of music all day, meet new people, travel to some great places and help others to achieve. What’s not to like?!
Can you tell us about a particularly memorable exam experience?
I recently had a candidate in his 70s who took Grade 8 Flute and passed with Merit. This candidate was so passionate about his choice of pieces and told me briefly what he had learnt from them. He said that he was not nervous as he had nothing to lose and he went on to play with real musical understanding. He also told me that he had started his music exams many years ago and that this would be his last. What a privilege to be part of this candidate’s musical journey!
This article was originally featured in the September 2015 edition of Libretto, ABRSM's magazine.