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After Grade 8..


Davidb

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Hi guys, your advice has always been invaluble in the past so i've got another poser for you:

 

'What do you think would be the best move after Grade 8: ARCO, ABRSM(dip) or other?' (and why!)

 

 

All i know at the minute is that I will work towards one of these exams (im presently 17) but am unsure as to which.

 

Any help greatly appreciated

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I think it depends on two things:

 

i. What you want to achieve with your organ playing

ii. What you prefer doing for exams

 

by (i) I mean.. do you want to be an organ scholar or do you play for a hobby/fun and your academic career is in a different direction?

 

by (ii) I mean.. do you just prefer playing, or are you happy to undergo all manner of written and aural shennanigans?

 

ARCO is obviously the route for organ scholarship but the actual playing element is woefully small, lost as it is amongst a plethora of technical and aural tests and written papers...

 

the ABRSM dips offer a broad repertoire but you need to write programme notes, suffer a viva and their brand of sight reading (the Quick Study)

 

the Trinity dips are mostly all playing and again the repertoire can be very rewarding.. programme notes and 'stagecraft' are required, but no other elements

 

there's also the choice of the LCM dips, but they are probably much less well known and ALCM requires you to sit a 3hr written paper - might be good practice for ARCO tho

 

as someone who plays as a hobby/for fun (thankfully I have a career elsewhere) I have done most of the dips from all of these boards and I've just found it rewarding from the point of learning new repertoire - when could I ever be bothered to learn Hindemith 1 or Whitlock's second Fantasie Chorale otherwise?

 

Good luck!

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Thanks mr bouffant,

 

My 'aim' in life is to have a career that involves playing the organ in some way, be this in a cathedral (the 'ideal' scenario) or in a school which has a well established musical department, if that makes it any clearer.

 

From the point of view of 'too learn new repertoire' - I am fortunate to be able to do 6-10 hours of practice a week, (hopefully going up next year at uni) so have never found it a problem.

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Guest Cynic
Thanks mr bouffant,

 

My 'aim' in life is to have a career that involves playing the organ in some way, be this in a cathedral (the 'ideal' scenario) or in a school which has a well established musical department, if that makes it any clearer.

 

From the point of view of 'too learn new repertoire' - I am fortunate to be able to do 6-10 hours of practice a week, (hopefully going up next year at uni) so have never found it a problem.

 

 

Being honest, I am not currently much in favour of the RCO, [no fault of the present administration who are trying to rectify things in a difficult situation] but having said that 'up front', you will then know I speak in an unbaised way: I think that they have really got their act together for people of your sort of age and inclination.

 

I don't know if you have been on an Oundle course, but there and/or the RCO, you will find things throughly geared towards the serious student. You will get expert tuition and opportunities for master classes with some of the greatest names (and talents) of the day.

 

The ARCO, assuming you attend courses etc. and take advice ought to be your next target. Some of those 6-10 hours per week ought to be dedicated to the organ tests which are always the way to get good marks at the RCO. Transposition, sightreading and improvising are essential skills and score reading (if they still ask for this) is tricky but worth the mental effort.

 

As regards a playing diet, you should be learning half a dozen serious pieces, not too many of them at a technical stretch and reading through plenty more. Don't just stick to things you have heard, or (worse still) things a teacher has given you. Go out and really explore!

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Hi guys, your advice has always been invaluble in the past so i've got another poser for you:

 

'What do you think would be the best move after Grade 8: ARCO, ABRSM(dip) or other?' (and why!)

All i know at the minute is that I will work towards one of these exams (im presently 17) but am unsure as to which.

If you have no expert guidance at this stage, I would heartily suggest going for a consultation lesson with a respected teacher who will give you an honest and unbiased reading of your strengths and abilities, hopefully pointing you in the right direction for whatever might come next. I learned that lesson rather later than I would have wished, looking back...

 

With best wishes,

 

Adrian Lucas

Worcester Cathedral

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Excellent advice there from Cynic and Adrian Lucas.

 

From what you have said I would aim straight for ARCO.

 

I did not at your stage in life, and developed a mental block about these exams, which I did not conquer until much later.

 

Get stuck into them whilst you have the time and even, as I did, if you need to take parts of them more than once, get them under your belt at this stage in your life.

 

For all of the criticism levelled against the RCO exams, all of the tests require discipline, high standards and musicianship. I know I will never need to score read in SATB clefs, but the assurance and confidence I have gained from completing this test satisfactorily has fed into my music making at the deepest level.

 

Whilst trying to make up for my lack of RCO qualifications, I took the ARCM and FTCL performance diplomas. It is nice to have them, but to be honest, they do not give me anything like the satisfaction of my FRCO and I am not sure that anyone really takes much notice of them.

 

Whatever you do, good luck !

 

M

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I echo this advice. Whether you love the RCO of loathe them is neither here nor there: their exams are still the ones with cachet. at least the ARCO, FRCO and CHM are - not sure whether the newer qualifications are yet treated very seriously by the organ world at large.

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I echo this advice. Whether you love the RCO of loathe them is neither here nor there: their exams are still the ones with cachet. At least the ARCO, FRCO and CHM are - not sure whether the newer qualifications are yet treated very seriously by the organ world at large.

 

Not sure why the 'newer qualifications' should be treated less seriously; I can't imagine the assessment criteria are less rigorously applied. As Adrian Lucas has said, Davidb, a respected teacher is essential, and why not download the details of the RCO's examination requirements and see for yourself what is assessed in the College's five diplomas/certificate, as well as the objectives of each examination. The descriptors for the mark bands of all the examinations are also available for you and everyone else to see. Remember, as well, that the CertRCO, ARCO and FRCO are now modular, and the sections of these examinations can be entered *separately*.

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Not sure why the 'newer qualifications' should be treated less seriously; I can't imagine the assessment criteria are less rigorously applied.
I didn't mean for a minute to suggest that they are, nor am I suggesting that they are not worth having (the LTCRO should be particularly valuable for those so minded), but it's all about reception isn't it? David is aiming high (good for him) and with that sort of aspiration the best way to make people to sit up and take notice of you as an organist is to get yourself an ARCO, or, if you really want to impress them, an FRCO, preferably with a CHM as well.
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Of course, the challenge for the RCO is that they could be accused of being rather insular. Those who claim cachet for the diplomas are largely a product of the "system" themselves, and hence have a vested interest (be it consciously or subconsciously expressed) to promote the RCO dips. To dismiss the RCO and their dips would be to dismiss their own achievements in these examinations would it not?

 

I must admit to being wary of "organists judging organists" in a rather closed and esoteric manner. The law of ever decreasing circles can come into play as each new generation, a product of the previous generation goes on to promote the same system to the next generation. Some may argue this is process of refinement which ensures the gold standard, but others may see it as each generation amplifying the earlier's mistakes and ideological defects.

 

The "newer" diplomas from ABRSM, Trinity et al may offer less cachet in the eyes of some but perhaps they offer a broader appeal, founded as they are in organisations who have a much wider remit. For some, this may equate to a more rigorous process of syllabus development and quality control - and not one borne of vested interest.

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That's a fair comment, Mr B, but the world is how it is and it's a brave soul who can forge his way to the top of anything bucking the trend all the way. I admit I've not looked at the ABRSM diplomas. Do they require the same breadth of all-round musicianship as the RCO exams?

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That's a fair comment, Mr B, but the world is how it is and it's a brave soul who can forge his way to the top of anything bucking the trend all the way. I admit I've not looked at the ABRSM diplomas. Do they require the same breadth of all-round musicianship as the RCO exams?

I would not seek to equate them, simply because the syllabuses are designed from different ideological positions and this is the point I made initially to the instigator of this thread. His choice should be made based on what he wants to achieve. If he wants a cathedral job, yes he will have to jump through the RCO hoops because that is what is largely expected in the cathedral world.

 

I would say that FRCO is not a guarantee of all-round musicianship, it's a guarantee that on the day the successful candidate satisfied the syllabus. You may think I'm splitting hairs but, as mrbouffant, I feel I am allowed to do so.

 

Other boards focus on other things.. for the ABRSM fellowship for example (FRSM) one has to do a 50 minute recital (contrast that with the c20 mins for FRCO), submit a 5000 word dissertation on some aspect which illuminates the recital programme (e.g. historical performance practice in French classical repertoire), suffer a twenty minute viva and withstand their brand of sight reading. Clearly the emphasis here is different, and since that qualification has only been in existence since 2000, I doubt its relative weight and currency has been established.

 

I like recital dips because I get to learn repertoire. Others like the RCO dips more because they enjoy writing fugal expositions and other academic exercises, or because they feel it will get them ahead in the world of cathedral or greater church musicking. Horses for courses!

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I would say that FRCO is not a guarantee of all-round musicianship, it's a guarantee that on the day the successful candidate satisfied the syllabus.

If you take the first sentence and replace FRCO with FRSM (or any other qualification) it would be equally true (or false) - your prejudices are showing a little here!

 

Other boards focus on other things.. for the ABRSM fellowship for example (FRSM) one has to do a 50 minute recital (contrast that with the 15-20 mins for FRCO),

As you say its a matter of 'horses for courses' but lets get the facts about the 'runners and riders' straight!

 

The FRCO recital requirement is 25-30 mins and the lists force the candidate to play major works from the key schools back-to-back. I note FRSM allows up to two-thirds of the programme to be works chosen by the candidate outside the set list and allows (possibly encourages) the candidate to design a programme around one idea or composer. It would be very easy to design an 'all Bach' or 'French symphonic' or whatever programme that complied - hardly a 'rounded' test.

 

The 4 keyboard skills test competences that are seriously useful to the majority of organists who don't live on recitals alone. FR also requires two serious essays, a wide ranging aural, historic performance skills. and continuo/orchestral transcription. Analysis and Fugue are approx 1/3 of the total paperwork requirement. I believe that this requirement was drawn up by an external (non-organist) consultant.

 

I'm unsure of the value of a 'recitalist' diploma, I've never gone to a recital or concert because the performers are (or are not) qualified

 

So to go back to where this thread started, I'd encourage Davidb to look seriously at the options and discuss them with his teacher in the light of where he wants to end up. 'Just' learning a wide range of repertoire might be the best plan. Good luck either way

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If you take the first sentence and replace FRCO with FRSM (or any other qualification) it would be equally true (or false) - your prejudices are showing a little here!

Not really, I have diplomas from four different boards so I'm equally disposed to all of them. What I am not disposed towards is any sentiment which says "oh if you have FRCO it must mean you are a well rounded musician". That is logic at its laziest.

 

 

The FRCO recital requirement is 25-30 mins and the lists force the candidate to play major works from the key schools back-to-back.

I would hardly call all of the repertoire on the set list "major works".. St Bride Assisted By Angels? Toccata alla Rumba? Interesting works to add colour and variety to the recital element yes, but "major"? Hardly.

 

The FRCO recital requirement is actually "... three contrasting pieces to be presented as a short, balanced recital." The maximum total length is 30 minutes, but I fail to see how you arrived at the 25 minute figure you mention, indeed, if I chose to play the following programme which I might considered "balanced" : Bach BWV550, Vierne Larghetto from Sym 5, Planyavsky Toccata all Rumba my programme would last about 21 minutes. Would I get failed for coming up short? Doubtful.

 

I note FRSM allows up to two-thirds of the programme to be works chosen by the candidate outside the set list and allows (possibly encourages) the candidate to design a programme around one idea or composer. It would be very easy to design an 'all Bach' or 'French symphonic' or whatever programme that complied - hardly a 'rounded' test.

Indeed, but that's the point of FRSM, specialise if you wish. Indeed, that's a hallmark of postgraduate study in general. I'm sure you've equally looked at the requirements for LRSM and DipABRSM and see that these undergraduate-level diplomas require more generalist programmes with less scope for own choice repertoire.

 

The 4 keyboard skills test competences that are seriously useful to the majority of organists who don't live on recitals alone.

Can you explain why being able to score read in obsolete clefs and transpose three-stave organ music at sight is "seriously useful to the majority of organists" , rather than just being awkward for the sake of the exam?

 

FR also requires two serious essays, a wide ranging aural, historic performance skills. and continuo/orchestral transcription. Analysis and Fugue are approx 1/3 of the total paperwork requirement. I believe that this requirement was drawn up by an external (non-organist) consultant.

I have no quarrell with their right to posit such questions in their written papers, I just question the relevance..

 

I'm unsure of the value of a 'recitalist' diploma, I've never gone to a recital or concert because the performers are (or are not) qualified

Indeed, and as we've already said, passing any given diploma just means one was good enough on the day to pass the diploma.

 

So to go back to where this thread started, I'd encourage Davidb to look seriously at the options and discuss them with his teacher in the light of where he wants to end up. 'Just' learning a wide range of repertoire might be the best plan. Good luck either way

Absolutely, I agree 100% with this sentiment!

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... Can you explain why being able to score read in obsolete clefs and transpose three-stave organ music at sight is "seriously useful to the majority of organists" , rather than just being awkward for the sake of the exam? ...

 

This question has arisen previously. As far as I can recall, opinions were divided fairly evenly. Personally, I have not yet been required to transpose three-stave organ music, although I do transpose various things at almost every service for which I play - including normally playing Dyson's Evening Canticles in C minor, up a tone.

 

Again, although I am occasionally required to score-read during choir practices, I have never been required to score-read music written using C-clefs.

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Not really, I have diplomas from four different boards so I'm equally disposed to all of them. What I am not disposed towards is any sentiment which says "oh if you have FRCO it must mean you are a well rounded musician". That is logic at its laziest.

My point (which you neatly avoided!) was that you targetted one diploma for your assertion. I'm glad to see you've backed off this position later down.

 

I haven't claimed, and don't claim, that any diploma (obtained lord knows when) is proof of very much in terms of current capability - unless there's an element of re-validation at regular intervals. Of course it does say that you could do it once upon a time!

I would hardly call all of the repertoire on the set list "major works".. St Bride Assisted By Angels? Toccata alla Rumba? Interesting works to add colour and variety to the recital element yes, but "major"? Hardly.

You're avoiding the point again. They're both on list D - so you can have one of them and neither is that easy to 'bring off'. I'm not sure I see the Schumann BACH fugues and BWV 669, 670 & 671 (all on FRSM and in my repertoire) as that tough either - cherrypicking's easy when you set out to do it. Presumably it would be in order to play all six BACH fugues and some related Mendelssohn and JSB along with a learned paper on Schumann's researches into polyphony in the 1840's. Where's the value in that - beyond ticking the ABRSM's 'academic' box?

The FRCO recital requirement is actually "... three contrasting pieces to be presented as a short, balanced recital." The maximum total length is 30 minutes, but I fail to see how you arrived at the 25 minute figure you mention, indeed, if I chose to play the following programme which I might considered "balanced" : Bach BWV550, Vierne Larghetto from Sym 5, Planyavsky Toccata all Rumba my programme would last about 21 minutes. Would I get failed for coming up short? Doubtful.

True, in fact play them well and the examiners would cheer. I'm glad to see you've made a 40% increase on the original 15 mins you quoted, which was my point. I also think your 21 mins implies playing the Vierne rather faster than marked (or having very short gaps between the pieces).

Indeed, but that's the point of FRSM, specialise if you wish. Indeed, that's a hallmark of postgraduate study in general. I'm sure you've equally looked at the requirements for LRSM and DipABRSM and see that these undergraduate-level diplomas require more generalist programmes with less scope for own choice repertoire.

Yes I've had the requirements for quite a while and still am unconvinced of their practical value as opposed to a nice income stream for the ABRSM - at least at FRSM level.

Can you explain why being able to score read in obsolete clefs and transpose three-stave organ music at sight is "seriously useful to the majority of organists" , rather than just being awkward for the sake of the exam?

Depends on whether it is something that people expect you to do. My customers do.

I have no quarrell with their right to posit such questions in their written papers, I just question the relevance..

These are skills that get used daily in my work - obviously not in yours!

Indeed, and as we've already said, passing any given diploma just means one was good enough on the day to pass the diploma.

Exactly why I think davidb might benefit from learning repertoire rather than worrying about collecting 'trophies' except where they, rightly or wrongly, are seen as 'essential prerequsites'.

 

In my old job we used to put huge numbers of CVs of very capable people straight onto the 'no' pile. Not through prejudice, but through time/cost pressures (there was a 'day job' to do as well. We could only afford so much time to draw up a short list. if we had lots of applicants we raised the 'bar' to make our job doable in the allotted time. Fair? No. Pragmatic? Yes. So davidb (if you haven't fallen asleep) make sure you know what people who affect your goals and targets value and do that.

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This question has arisen previously. As far as I can recall, opinions were divided fairly evenly.

Here onwards if you want to look it up.

 

Again, although I am occasionally required to score-read during choir practices, I have never been required to score-read music written using C-clefs.
As far as the soprano clef is concerned, there is never any necessity to sight-read it. Even if your choir library has music with three C clefs (as apparently some do), surely asking your choir to sing from these copies is uncecessarily récherché? This music is bound to be out of copyright, so do your choir a favour and make a decent copy in modern clefs! That said, I have sometimes found it useful to be able to sight-read alto and tenor clefs (my wife is a viola player, my son used to play the cello, but there have also been many other istnaces over the years). Also, any organist who may be called upon to conduct an orchestra needs fluency in these clefs. But I'm going over old ground.
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I have never been required to score-read music written using C-clefs.

 

If you might ever aspire to be DoM anywhere that expects the ability to conduct an orchestra, the knack - which is one of the easier ones to acquire - could be worth having documented. Bassoon and tenor trombone players in particular are adept at sensing out any uncertainty about which notes the blobs on the score really mean.

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If you might ever aspire to be DoM anywhere that expects the ability to conduct an orchestra, the knack - which is one of the easier ones to acquire - could be worth having documented. Bassoon and tenor trombone players in particular are adept at sensing out any uncertainty about which notes the blobs on the score really mean.

 

This is quite possibly sensible advice for davidb.

 

For myself, I prefer to stay as Sub Organist and do most of the playing. With due regard to those here who do enjoy this aspect of their jobs, conducting an orchestra has never held any appeal for me.

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If you might ever aspire to be DoM anywhere that expects the ability to conduct an orchestra, the knack - which is one of the easier ones to acquire - could be worth having documented. Bassoon and tenor trombone players in particular are adept at sensing out any uncertainty about which notes the blobs on the score really mean.

 

I don't think that's especially true. There's a fairly large difference between score-reading to play it on the organ, and score-reading to conduct an orchestra - with the organ playing, you have to read many lines simultaneously. Conducting, you're looking at a picture ; if you're really following each individual line and transposing each part as required, then I would suggest you're not paying enough attention to guiding the music and the orchestra. Being able to play a score and being able to say to the bassoons, in your own time, "that F in bar 147 is an F# " are quite different skills.

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I'm not sure I see the Schumann BACH fugues .......as that tough either

 

 

============================

 

 

Really?

 

No.2?

 

Played "Lebhaft?"

 

If you want to hear utterly violent virtuosity and what I would describe as "advanced finger-substitution technique," seek out a copy of the CD of Francesco Finotti performing this on the Metzler at Geneva. (It was on the Edelweisse label).

 

I was so blown away by what I heard, I decided to learn the work and play it this way.

 

It took me SIX MONTHS of hard work to get the speed, accuracy and finger-control up to scratch. It is incredibly difficult to play quickly and cleanly.

 

MM

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Thank you for the opinions expressed, they have certainly raised good points to me, and equally put a lot more (positive) questions in my head)

 

As ?pcnd? said, i think a lot of this has a lot to with where i want to 'end up'. In an ideal world (which we don't live in) i would be very content with my lot if i ended up as an assistant organist at a Cathedral (more so than as a DOM perhaps) - To this end i think that going for an ARCO might be the best move.

 

I plan on discussing this with my teacher when i next see him (Saturday) and if he thinks it is apropriate for me.

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============================

Really?

 

No.2?

 

Played "Lebhaft?"

 

If you want to hear utterly violent virtuosity and what I would describe as "advanced finger-substitution technique," seek out a copy of the CD of Francesco Finotti performing this on the Metzler at Geneva. (It was on the Edelweisse label).

 

I was so blown away by what I heard, I decided to learn the work and play it this way.

 

It took me SIX MONTHS of hard work to get the speed, accuracy and finger-control up to scratch. It is incredibly difficult to play quickly and cleanly.

 

MM

I agree they're not easy and there are some real distribution challenges (eg bar 12, bar 20 etc) but I don't see them as being in the same league as Widor, Reubke, Demessieux etc for sustained technical and musical challenges.

 

I must say I found no 5 more demanding to learn - probably depends on how fast one makes 'lively' (and how quickly your pedal dept speaks or doesn't in my case!). I'll certainly try and hear Finotti - roughly what metronome mark does he set no 2 at? My score times me at 5' ie about crotchet 104 - rather faster than the three recordings I have (Judd 6' 10"; Bowyer 5' 57"; Innig 5' 14").

 

Do you play them all? I learnt the lot for a recital last year and have only really kept 2,3 & 5 alive.

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Does anyone agree that the art of accompanying is somewhat ignored in all the diploma exams?

 

I should have thought that whilst all organists get to play their cherished works from time to time, many spend a lot more of their time accompanying hymns, psalms, canticles and anthems, and often play their voluntaries only to the backs of the departing congregation.

 

I appreciate that it would be much harder to teach and examine choral accompaniment, but that doesn't seem to me to be quite sufficient an excuse to examine accompanists on their ability as recitalists (if you see what I mean).

 

J

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Does anyone agree that the art of accompanying is somewhat ignored in all the diploma exams?

 

I should have thought that whilst all organists get to play their cherished works from time to time, many spend a lot more of their time accompanying hymns, psalms, canticles and anthems, and often play their voluntaries only to the backs of the departing congregation.

 

I appreciate that it would be much harder to teach and examine choral accompaniment, but that doesn't seem to me to be quite sufficient an excuse to examine accompanists on their ability as recitalists (if you see what I mean).

 

J

 

I would agree with this. There are many aspects in which the RCO syllabus (and those of other institutions) could be altered, to include accompanimental skills - perhaps even sending examiners to churches to hear candidates in a 'live' situation. This would be more expensive, I grant; however, the AB sends examiners out for each session and these examiners will visit churches, if nencessary, for organ candidates. The Guildhall used to send specialist examiners, although since their amalgamation with TCM, I do not know if this is still the case.

 

There are a number of facets which I would like to see included, a number of which would be more relevant to the type of skills which a church organist is likely to need.

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