9th March 2021
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RSL Launches New Inclusive Classical Piano Syllabi

RSL Launches New Inclusive Classical Piano Syllabi
By Michelle Sciarrotta

RSL is perhaps best known for its Rockschool Graded Music Exams, and is usually thought of as the furthest thing from traditional classical music tuition. In a welcome and unexpected announcement made in late November, RSL shared the good news that they will be launching a new syllabus for classical piano that will more accurately reflect the diversity and rich cultures of “the people who make it, love it and want to perform it”.

The announcement

RSL Chairman and Founder, Norton York explained that the new syllabus’ aim “is to establish a new and different way to understand classical repertoire, to enjoy and respect its tradition while embracing its diversity and global future.”

There is a real emphasis on bringing classical music into the 21st century in a broader way that is quite refreshing to see. York stated:

“Today there are composers of all genders, nationalities and ethnicities producing music for the concert hall, in the media and online. We welcome the opportunity to present and champion this diversity here in our syllabus with pieces by many historic and living female composers from the UK and around the world.

We also want pupils to see themselves reflected in the diversity of composers we present. To achieve this just under half (48%) of all the syllabus pieces are composed by people who not male or are of Black, Asian, and Mixed Ethnicity heritage. Specifically, just under a quarter (23%) of the syllabus pieces are composed by Black, Asian, and Mixed Ethnicity heritage composers and 30% by women. We are particularly pleased to publish a number of pieces by the long-overlooked British composer Ignatius Sancho for the first time in book form, we believe, since the 18th century.

RSL Awards is committed to encouraging inclusivity in all we do and this first classical piano syllabus sets a new standard for us achieving this. We are also committed to training more ethnically diverse examiners in partnership with the Musicians’ Union as a further aim for 2021. In addition, we are setting ourselves the new task of ensuring that all of our future instrumental syllabi will have a similar gender and ethnicity profile to what we have achieved in our classical piano syllabus within the composers or performers of the pieces we include for examination.

Our Classical Piano series is the first stage in bringing innovation to classical music examinations. In the coming years we will launch other instruments to broaden our offer and serve around 90% of the pupils currently taking classical music exams worldwide. We hope teachers, parents and pupils will welcome this new approach and join us in re-defining what is possible and acceptable in classical music education.

RSL is all about musicians making music that they love – pop musicians have benefitted from that for 3 decades. Now we are doing the same for classical music and I hope you will join us on this exciting journey.”

The syllabus

The format of the syllabus will be quite traditional and what you would expect to see in terms of covering the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th and 21st century eras, as well as standard scales, arpeggios and technical studies.

The real ‘gold’ is to be found in the composer list: while many exam boards, universities and educational bodies have paid lip service to opening up the floor and studying more diverse classical works in recent years, it’s quite remarkable that it’s ‘Rockschool’ who have been the first to send actual music to the printing press and deliver on this promise.

The repertoire features the following Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity heritage from the world of classical music:

Valerie Capers; Samuel Coleridge-Taylor; Tan Dun; Alexis Ffrench; Scott Joplin; Zenobia Perry; Oscar Peterson; Florence Price; Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges; Ignatius Sancho; Yiruma.

And includes the notable female composers:

Kristin Anderson-Lopez; Glenda Austin; Christine Donkin; Anne Gaudet; Agathe Grondahl; Nikki Iles; Helen Madden; Janet Mason; Elvina Pearce; Lola Perrin; Simone Ple; Mona Rejino; Teresa Richert; Clara Schumann

The significance of RSL launching the classical piano syllabus cannot be underestimated – it has taken 400 years for our overlooked Baroque composers to have their music played in this way. The potential for RSL to create further classical syllabi for more instruments looks promising, and with any luck, this will inspire other institutions to follow suit, and do better.


Full statement from Norton York






Buy books from the Classical Piano syllabus

About RSL Awards

In 1991, under the direction of founder Norton York, Rockschool created a unique set of products for a brand-new marketplace: recognised, graded qualifications for contemporary musicians. The traditional instruments performing in a rock band were included in the original graded examinations, Electric guitar, Bass guitar and Drums. After the initial success with these instruments, the company has developed syllabi in Acoustic Guitar, Vocals, Piano and Keyboards, Ukulele, Contemporary Music Theory and the world’s first Music Production syllabus.
Also by Michelle Sciarrotta:

Cahoots NI: Interview With An Innovative Children’s Theatre Company

Accessibility At The Smith Center Series: Part One

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