“Where’s my Walkman?”

Today, one of my pupils posed an interesting, and somewhat unexpected question:

What music did you listen to when you were my age?

I was stumped.

The awful thing is, I genuinely don’t remember listening to music when I was growing up. Much of the music I listened to was the music I made playing my own instruments. I was also exposed to a good deal of music throughout my schooling, but again, mainly that created live. Besides the odd favourite cassette, mainly of music recorded from the radio, that was about it.

That said, what struck me most about this exchange, was the huge change  in the availability and accessibly of music. When I was her age, if I wanted to listen to music outside of the house, I’d have to have taken my Walkman (ensuring it had functioning batteries), headphones, and a selection of cassette tapes.

Nowadays, so long as we have a functioning internet connection, we can literally call up any song, any piece of music at the flick of a switch. Everything is available on-demand wherever in the world we are. Even without a functioning internet connection, we can store thousands of tracks on our mobile devices, all easily accessed at any time.

But, despite this change, we can’t help but see, and often feel, a longing for something more authentic. Something tangible which we can hold. Perhaps this, in part, explains the increase in the sale of vinyl LPs. In 2017, 3.2 million LPs were sold, a rise of 53% on the previous year and the highest number since 1991.

I see this in my own teaching too. Just as you can access any music you want at the touch of a button, so too can you learn an instrument, any time, any place, just by calling up a video on YouTube. Yet, I see no shortage of people wanting to learn an instrument. I see no decrease in pupils, if anything, quite the opposite is true.

I believe that deep down, as much as we savour the connectivity of our world, we all crave for something more authentic. The deeply emotional connections you make learning an instrument with a teacher, and indeed, playing with others for that matter, cannot be replicated by sitting alone in front of a computer screen.

I truly believe that in all walks of life, the appetite for something more authentic, is a desire which is already gathering pace.


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June 2018 New Discoveries

The More The Merrier! 13 duets for 4-hand piano & everybody else… (Barbara Arens)

Perhaps the most effective publications on the educational market, are those written in response to the specific needs expressed by teachers. In the case of these duets, they came about through a discussion on the Piano Network UK Facebook group in which a number of teachers expressed a desire for more duets where, amongst other things, the primo part was not in unison. Out of those discussions came these 13 pieces for piano duet. There’s a good mixture of styles here, but as was requested, avoiding the tricky jazz rhythms which often trip pupils up. My own pupils have enjoyed trying these out over the past few weeks; ‘Tonight at Eight’ was a favourite, as was ‘Popcorn Addict’.

There are additional suggestions for the material to be adapted, including adding body percussion. A number of parts can also be adapted for melody instruments, of which a number of transposed parts are available from the publisher’s website (I couldn’t find them on the publisher’s website, so maybe they are to come soon…).

My only real gripe is that the print is very small. Pupils have also commented on this, and it does make for tricky reading in some places. It’s also meant that some of text directions are hard to read at speed. Although the publisher has indicated that some of the tricky page turns can be photocopied, with a slightly larger staff size, I suspect some of these could have been avoided. Unusually for duet books, the primo part is written directly above the secondo one. I have to be honest and say this isn’t my personal preference, but if doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the music.

Overall, the book is a useful addition to the duet repertoire. It needs a little unpicking, but staff size and page turns aside, the music itself is both appealing and accessible. At £10.95, it’s pretty good value too. Copies can be ordered direct from the publisher, Spartan Press, or from Musicroom.

Waterscape: for flute, oboe or violin and piano (Tim Knight)

This month, maestro Tim Knight released this new piece as a follow on from his Winterscape which was published last year. Waterscape is an evocative piece divided into three sections which run seamlessly into one another.

As always with Tim’s music, it’s both appealing to learn and appealing to play, and that goes for the piano part too. The instrumental part combines with the piano to produce an effective ensemble piece which would sit well in concerts and recitals…maybe even as an own-choice exam piece! I can’t speak for the other instruments, but the piece would well suit a Grade 5 flautist. It’s not yet on Musicroom, but you can order directly from the publisher, Spartan Press, here.

Mosaic, Vol. 2: 26 Easy Educational Works for Solo Piano 

If the sign of a good book is you can easily get lost in it while the clock goes round, this is a good book! I’ve just spent half an hour playing through this, and I can honestly say I played every single piece and liked it. Usually, when books are sent to me, I play a few, skip a few, and play a few more, but not with this one. Perhaps one of the strengths of this volume, as was the case with volume 1, is that by including works by 13 different composers, you really do get huge variety of styles and characters in the music, something often absent in one-composer volumes. Particular favourites were Simon Hester’s ‘A Simpler Life’, Andrew Eales’s ‘Frisbee’, Paul Poston’s ‘Promenade’ and Ben Crosland’s ‘Silver Lining’.

I’d suggest that the majority of pieces in this volume will suit pianists of around Grades 1-2 standard. As ever, it’s a beautifully presented and laid out book and excellent value (about 38p a piece!) The book can be ordered direct from the publisher, Editions Musica Ferrum here, and you can also buy volumes 1 and 2 in a bundle here. You can find my review of volume 1 here.

Hear a selection of the pieces here:

You can also hear more by subscribing to the Editions Musica Ferrum YouTube channel.


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Embracing Foundations

I know that many of us have found both confidence and solace in yoga, me especially over the past six months. Each Sunday, I wait in anticipation of the arrival of Yoga with Adriene‘s weekly update: a beautifully written message and a new video. A few weeks ago, this was part of the message which arrived:

‘Today, I invite you to take stress energy and root it back down in your foundation.

Trust the foundation and know that each time we come to the mat we are adding to and working with that foundation.

Foundation is important because it allows you to feel where you’re coming from and where you are going without having to worry about either one.

Ground, be present, and recharge your batteries.’

I think that as musicians and learners of music, we have a huge amount to learn from yoga, and I believe this message applies to both equally.

The general expectation for anyone learning an instrument is that the longer they learn, the more advanced they become. Indeed, the more advanced one becomes, the harder pieces one is able to play (all unwritten expectations of course!). ‘Harder’ often equates to more notes, more complex rhythms and faster tempi.

I think that in our quest to play harder pieces, it’s easy to forget our foundations. I believe this happens in two ways.

Firstly, it’s easy when struggling with harder pieces to forget how far we’ve come. We often mark the ‘big’ milestones (exam results etc.), but it’s not as easy to recognise the tiny incremental steps forward we make on a daily basis. Sometimes it does us good to revisit our foundations, to see how far we’ve come and to feel grounded on the journey we’re on.

Secondly, there are also practical reasons for revisiting our foundations, for it’s upon these foundations that everything else on the journey is built.  None of us should feel ashamed at revisiting the basics. The tone exercises we might give a beginner pupil still have much to teach us. As much as we might long to challenge ourselves (OK…humour me…) with G# melodic minor in contrary motion, let’s not forget how we first got our fingers and heads around C major, one octave, hands separately.

So, be grounded in your foundations. Enjoy the journey, but just occasionally take a moment to look behind you to see all that’s contributed to the place you’re at now.


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ABRSM Piano Syllabus 2019/20: an overview

I shall preface this overview by saying that I wholeheartedly believe that learning an instrument is not solely about taking exams, and indeed only a small number of my pupils opt to sit them. An exam syllabus, contrary to what some teachers seem to believe, is not a curriculum; yet, even for those of us who use the exams fairly lightly, it does offer a range of repertoire suggestions, and is often a good way to expand our repertoire knowledge. In that sense, a refreshed exam syllabus is a good thing.

I’m grateful to ABRSM for providing me with a set of the new books: rather than review them (others have done that extensively already, especially Andrew Eales and Karen Marshall, whose excellent review can be found here), I shall provide an overview of my highlights from each of the eight grades. I’ve also tried, where possible, to offer some highlights from those pieces not found in the ABRSM books themselves.

Syllabus

The new piano syllabus covers the period 2019/20, and candidates can opt to use the new pieces from the A Period 2019. There are no changes to the scales, sight-reading or aural requirements for the next two years, although I continue to hear rumours of expected scale changes from 2021. Overall, the syllabus contains 158 pieces, of which 75 are included in ABRSM’s own books of selected pieces.

Grade 1

On List A, it’s nice to see William Duncombe’s Minuet in C which also features on the new LCM piano syllabus (although there, it’s called Trumpet Tune), but also Heather Hammond’s arrangement of the 15th-century Agincourt Song which I mentioned in my May 2018 New Discoveries blog post. As ever, List B feels like the poor relation, and I was surprised to see Oesten’s The Echo appear again as in syllabus terms, it appeared in the 2005/6 syllabus (where I note it was titled Das Echo…).

In List C, Ian King’s Happy Day will surely be a hit with pupils, although my personal favourite is Kevin Wooding’s The Egyptian Level which will well serve those pupils who like character pieces. Of the alternatives, Andrew Eales’s Head in the Clouds is well worth a look on List B. Overall, the selection is much more appropriate for the level, so ABRSM have clearly listened here to teacher feedback.

My picks:

  • A3 – English, arr. Hammond: Agincourt Song
  • B5 – Eales: Head in the Clouds
  • C3 – Wooding: The Egyptian Level

Grade 2

The selection of List A pieces at Grade 2 is, in my view, especially worthy of commendation, as all three pieces offer useful introductions to styles and genres which will feature at later grades. The ornaments in Diabelli’s Lesson in C, whilst optional, are quite fun and fairly manageable. The inclusion in List A of the anonymous Musette in D and in List B, Burgmüller’s Arabesque are what we might call ‘old favourites’, but in the latter list, Neugasimov’s Lazy Bear really stands out: another great character piece.

In comparison to some of the other pieces, Dusty Blue in List C, a solid blues number, seems on the easier-side, and Brian Chapple’s Petite valse is technically more challenging. That said, I think Grade 2 is triumph. There is something for everyone, and on all three lists, I think we’re spoilt for choice.

My picks:

  • A1 – Diabelli: Lesson in C
  • B3 – Neugasimov: Lazy Bear
  • C3 – Chapple: Petite valse

Grade 3

It’s good to see the inclusion in List A of a pre-baroque work in Pell’s arrangement of Praetorius’s Bransle de la torche: this is one which I think pupils will really enjoy. What’s perhaps lacking in List C at all three of the lower grades is something in terms of contemporary works which aren’t blues or jazz. Richard Rodney Bennett’s Diversion comes close, but I think ABRSM could perhaps have made more use of the Spectrum series of books to fill this gap. Overall, I felt a little underwhelmed at Grade 3.

My picks:

  • A3 – Praetorius, arr. Pell: Bransle de la torche
  • B1 – Carroll: Shadows
  • C2 – Bennett: Diversion

Grade 4

I’ve often found Grade 4 to be the poor relation when it comes to exam syllabuses; however, I think that on this occasion, a good mixture of pieces is offered. Pupils who like a challenge will enjoy the crossing over of hands in Benda’s Sonatina in A minor on List A, whilst on List B, David Blackwell’s arrangement of Elgar’s Chanson de matin is, in my opinion, one of the highlights of the syllabus: it’s also serves as a useful reminder that we shouldn’t judge the difficulty of a piece by speed and number of semiquavers alone!

Another syllabus highlight must surely be William Gillock’s Holiday in Paris on List C. Remember that pupil who likes crossing over hands? They will also enjoy Sluka’s Rytmická on List C. I have to say that personally, I found the other List C piece, Richard Michael’s A Kwela for Caitlinone of the weaker pieces on the syllabus which is a shame: perhaps a cliché too far? Also worth a look on the alternative list is Ben Crosland’s Sleepytown Blues, and if you have a pupil who likes jazz and blues, I think this is a better option than the Michael.

My picks:

  • A2 – Benda: Sonatina in A minor
  • B3 – Elgar, arr. Blackwell: Chanson de matin
  • C1 – Gillock: Holiday in Paris

Grade 5

I felt on this occasion, that compared to previous years, and indeed, other grades on this syllabus, Grade 5 felt weak. Loeillet’s Minuetto on List A is pretty, and the ornaments are manageable. On List B, Kirchner’s Plauderei is tricky, but good for a pupil who can confidently balance the hands. On List C, I’m tempted to say thank goodness for Mike Cornick’s Film Noir as otherwise, I can see pupils struggling to choose. Of course, do look at the alternatives, especially as William Gillock’s New Orleans Nightfall, also on the 2005/6 syllabus has reappeared: this must surely be one of the favourite pieces of all time!

My picks:

  • A3 – Loeillet: Minuetto
  • B1 – Kirchner: Plauderei
  • C3 – Cornick: Film Noir

Grade 6

I’m always particularly interest in the Grade 6 lists because of my work mentoring teachers for teaching diplomas. I’m a big Arne fan, so it’s great to see another of his pieces appear on List A (another appeared on List A at Grade 7 several years ago and I’d highly recommend all the sonatas). On List B, I think Bruch’s Moderato and Chopin’s Prelude in B minor will both be popular (the latter perhaps on the easier side for Grade 6). ABRSM have found three really lovely pieces for List C: Darius Brubeck’s Tugela Rail, Jacques Ibert’s Sérénade sur l’eau and Fredrico Ruiz’s Un amanecer en Santa Mata. Add to those Richard Rodney Bennett’s Eight Maids a-Milking on the alternative list, candidates and teachers are spoilt for choice here.

My picks:

  • A1 – Arne: Andante
  • B1 – Bruch: Moderato
  • C1 – Brubeck: Tugela Rail

Grade 7

Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge Haydn fan, but I was quite taken with his Tempo di Minuetto on List A. It was good to see some Mendelssohn on List B, but also Hubert Parry’s Elizabeth which was new to me (it would also be an excellent opportunity for me to produce for pupils my letters signed by Parry!) Another Richard Rodney Bennett number, Rosemary’s Waltz appears on List C, and could offer pupils a really lovely contrast to their List A and B pieces. Also worth a look on the alternative list is Christopher Norton’s Mambo also on List C.

My picks:

  • A2 – Haydn: Tempo di Minuetto
  • B3 – Parry: Elizabeth
  • C1 – Bennett: Rosemary’s Waltz

Grade 8

So, we come to Grade 8, where unlike the previous grades, there are a total of 32 pieces to choose from. It is good to see the inclusion on List A of two movements from Bach’s English Suite No. 2 in A minor as an alternative to the traditional prelude and fugue (don’t worry, there’s one on the alternative list). I have to say, that nothing especially grabbed me on List B, either in the book or on the alternative list: this list, probably more than all the others at the other grades felt the safest.

In List C, Chopin’s Nocturne in G minor will be popular, I’m sure, whilst Debussy’s Voiles is, in my opinion, at the harder end of the Grade 8 repertoire. Nikolay Kapustin’s jazzy Sonatina which was previously on the alternative list at Grade 8 is a great addition. The Martinu is hard, but short, whilst Rachmaninov’s Elégie is hard and long! The piece which really grabbed me was Raymond Yiu’s Lullaby and it’s really good to see something contemporary by a living composer at Grade 8. Of the alternatives, Lili Boulanger’s Cortège is well worth a look.

My picks:

  • A1 – Bach: Sarabande and Gigue
  • B1 – C.P.E. Bach: Un poco allegro
  • C6 – Yui: Lullaby

Conclusion

Overall, I think this is a fairly ‘safe’ syllabus. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with safe, but ABRSM perhaps haven’t taken some the risks they have with previous syllabuses (I’m thinking particularly of the Alwyn and Bridge on the 2015/16 Grade 8 syllabus). I think ABRSM have listened to teacher feedback, and the pieces included at the lower grades now seem, in the main, to be more accessible. Personally, I’m pleased to see a move away from arrangements, especially when there is such a vast repertoire of original pieces. I’d say that Grades 2, 4 and 6 are my favourites this time round.


As a little aside, I did take the opportunity to look at the balance between the gender of composers and arrangers included at each grade:

This is not a piece of scientific research by any means, and is based on only a very quick look through and adding-up of the information easily available. Even so, taking my errors into account, there is a still a huge bias towards male composers.

Now, I’m not one for suggesting ABRSM should be including female composers’ works just because they’re female, and I’m fairly sure that most female composers would rather their works were included on merit; however, it’s perhaps a salutary reminder to us all, that the exam syllabus, and indeed, the music we play, doesn’t reflect the diverse nature of our society, and I think that extends beyond gender alone. We need, not just in terms of an exam syllabus, but as teachers and players, to explore more widely. It’s easy to level criticism at ABRSM for their choices, but we have to look at ourselves: the pieces they choose, in the main, reflect the pieces we play.


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May 2018 New Discoveries

My apologies that with one thing and another, I never quite got round to writing a New Discoveries post for April, but nevertheless, here’s a bumper edition for May!

Graded Pieces for Piano (Ludovico Einaudi)

Two brand new releases here from Chester Music of pieces by Italian composer, Ludovico Einaudi. Published in two volumes (Preparatory to Grade 2 and Grades 3-5), each book contains 20 pieces that have been specially arranged with these grades in mind. Clearly, some pieces have been simplified and in other cases, keys have been altered to make them more accessible to the lower grade pianist; however, none have lost the essence of the music itself.

Each book contains 20 pieces including familiar favourites such as I GiorniLe Onde and Primavera. Although both books contain mainly the same pieces, there is some variation between both volumes. Each piece is preceded by a page of exercises and practice notes designed to prepare pupils before playing the pieces themselves. These exercises, which focus primarily on rhythm and technique, are well thought through and complement the presentation of the pieces themselves. Also included with these books is access to the SoundCheck app which allows for interactive practice.

Both books are very well-presented and designed with a wide range of learners in mind. They offer an excellent introduction to Einaudi’s music at the lower grade levels and would suit children and adults in equal measure. My only criticism is that as with so many books these days, it is almost impossible to get them to lie flat without breaking the spine! Nevertheless, they are good value retailing at just £14.99 each from Musicroom.

Rendezvous with Midnight (Barbara Arens)

If you’re pupils are fans of Einaudi’s music, then Barbara Arens’s bookRendezvous with Midnight, containing 13 ‘Nocturnes for Teens’ may offer a them more pieces in a not dissimilar genre. Aimed at pianists of Grade 4 and above, this book contains a lovely selection of tuneful, heartfelt pieces, all based on snippets of text from poems. To my mind, ‘Looking Back’, based on a poem by W.E. Henley is particularly lovely.

I think that overall, these pieces are inherently satisfying to play and will appeal children and adults alike (it’s a shame they’ve been billed as being ‘for teens’). As will all publications from Editions Musica Ferrum, they are beautifully presented, and excellent value at just £12.00. You can hear the pieces and see the scores in the video below:

Piano Star: Five-Finger Tunes (David Blackwell)

An addition to the Piano Star series is this book of pieces by David Blackwell, all of which are successfully played without changes of hand position. You may be put off by the idea of ‘five-finger position’, and it conjures up nightmares of those pupils who believe that thumbs live only on middle C, but don’t be alarmed. Although the pieces are written in five-finger position, these positions are all over the piano, and even include accidentals.

There’s a nice selection of pieces here including original works and arrangements. I’m not sure where ABRSM see this book fitting in alongside the others in the Piano Star series; I’d personally suggest it could be used before Piano Star 1, although some of the later pieces are harder than those found in that volume, so there is some overlap. Some of the later pieces are around LCM Step 1, and possibly even Step 2 level.

Piano Star: Grade 1 (Compiled and Edited by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall)

Another addition to the Piano Star series is this book of pieces aimed at pupils of around Grade 1 level. It offers a useful follow-on volume from Piano Star 3, and contains 25 original pieces and arrangements by some of today’s leading composers of educational piano works. Of particular note are Nikki Iles’s ‘Just Chillin”, Heather Hammond’s arrangement of the 15th-century ‘Agincourt Song’, and Karen Marshall’s ‘Moon Walk’. As with other books in the Piano Star series, it’s a shame that by presenting them in the way they have with fonts and illustrations, ABRSM have somewhat narrowed the market. I think this is a great shame, and ABRSM would do well to consider publishing them in editions suitable for teenagers and adults. The material is, however, of much use.

Watch below as Karen and David introduce both these new two books:


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Setting the tempo: working with accompanists when there is no rehearsal time

David Barton Music student, Ruth Carlyle, has taken part in two local festivals and has also worked with many other accompanists on fairly limited rehearsal time. Thank you to Ruth for sharing her experiences of and tips for working with an accompanist. I’m sure they’ll be useful to you all.


As a singer or instrumentalist there will be occasions when you need to perform with an accompanist without the opportunity for a rehearsal, such as if you are performing in a competitive music festival. These are my personal reflections as a singer on working with accompanists in such circumstances; I would welcome thoughts from others, including pianists or others who accompany.

Preparing the music…

Providing a copy of the music is your first interaction with the accompanist, even if you do not know who will be the accompanist for the event. It is your opportunity to make the accompanist’s role as easy as possible, and to help them to promote your performance. These are my tips:

  1. Provide a clear copy: a basic factor, but if the music is difficult to read, it makes the accompanist’s life much harder.
  2. Label the copy: write your name, the date of the event and any relevant information (such as a time or a festival class number) that may help the accompanist to identify when the performance is taking place.
  3. Number the pages: you want the accompanist to be able to play the music in the correct order. I tend to follow the format 1 of 5, 2 of 5 etc. where 5 is the total number of pages.
  4. Remove any instructions that you are not using: if there are any printed instructions that you are not using in the performance (such as repeats) cross these out clearly and make a note at the top of the music to indicate that you have removed an instruction.
  5. Add any changes: if you are changing the dynamics (particularly if a forte passage is now piano) mark this on the copy.

Before you perform…

Arrange to arrive at the venue before you are due to perform, so that you have an opportunity to meet the accompanist. Introducing yourself before the performance means that the accompanist can identify you. It is also more than a simple courtesy, as it is your first interaction in person and establishes a working relationship. Introducing yourself gives you the opportunity to:

  1. Check that the music copy reached them safely and whether they have any questions.
  2. Let them know whether you will be introducing the piece before you start to perform.
  3. Let them know the speed at which you take the piece and any changes of tempo during it.

During the performance…

Once you come to the performance, it is a collaboration between you and the accompanist. It is important to stand where they can see and hear you. You should consider whether you need to be able to make eye contact with the accompanist, particularly if the accompaniment and the voice/instrument both come in together at the start of the piece.

At the end of the performance…

Do acknowledge and thank your accompanist. They have shared their skills to support you, and you may want to work with them again.


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March 2018 New Discoveries

Here’s my monthly round-up of new music, pieces and resources I discovered in March.

Three Pieces for flute, oboe or clarinet and piano (Tim Knight)

Published in 2000, I’ve only recently discovered these lovely pieces by Tim Knight. Like my own Three Holiday Sketches and Three Country Pictures, they are published by Phylloscopus Publications (distributed by Spartan Press). The first thing to say is that these pieces are flexibly scored, the melody line being playable on either flute, oboe or clarinet (all three parts are included as separate sheets).

The set opens with a lilting ‘Allegretto Pastorale’, but for me, the two other movements, both ‘Celtic Tunes’, are the stars of the show. Both these are movements in which the melody instrument can really sing out. I can’t speak for the oboe or clarinet parts, but the flute parts would suit a player of around Grade 4 level, and the three pieces would make a nice set to learn. The pieces are available to purchase from Spartan Press (PP332), and you can find more information here.

Ten Short Pieces for solo piano (Alex Nikiporenko)

It is true, that in my own teaching, finding music to suit adult learners of piano has not always been easy. As Alex himself says:

‘I have been teaching piano for many years now, and have been made aware of the shortage of easier pieces targeted towards adults. In an attempt to fill this gap I have composed and published my first book – Ten short pieces for solo piano. My goal was to write musically rewarding pieces in a contemporary, minimal style that would be relatively easy for an amateur. They are all quite short – the longest one is four pages, and there are three pieces that are only a page long.’

Alex has included a variety of pieces in this book in a range of styles. These range from the lilting 6/8 ‘epping’ soundscape, to the driving and relentless ‘remind them’. Overall, these pieces would suit adults keen to begin exploring the contemporary repertoire. Whilst, in general the format of the pieces will be familiar to them, there are a few more challenging features, notably ‘a few steps behind’ which has no time signature. Similarly the irregular 7/8 time signature of ‘your place’, and the quintuplets and septuplets of ‘what has this got to do with me and you’. The book is billed as being for ‘easy to intermediate level’. For me personally, I’d say most fall into the Grades 3-5 bracket, perhaps some of them, for their complexities extending to Grade 6. You can hear Alex play the pieces in this video, and they can be ordered via Alex’s website here.

Mosaic, Volume 1 (Editions Musica Ferrum)

Another new release from Editions Musica Ferrum who really are showing themselves to be at the forefront of music, especially piano music publishing at the moment. Mosaic is the the first volume in a new series, and contains 26 easy educational piano works. 13 composers are represented in this volume, including Musical Ferrum regulars, Barbara Arens, Alison Matthews and Ben Crosland.

Overall, the pieces challenge the player to put their own stamp and character into their performances. For example, Sarah Konecsni’s ‘Inside the Pharoah’s Tomb’ requires the player to ‘tiptoe cautiously’, before concluding ‘bravely’. There are technical challenges too, particularly the crossing over of hands in Barbara Arens’ ‘On Tiptoe through the Haunted House’ and Anna Blonsky’s ‘Cross Over the Sea Bridge’. Similarly, Borislava Taneva’s ‘Funny car horns’ requires the player to both knock the wood of the piano, and stomp over the pedal with the foot!

Overall, a lovely characterful mixture of pieces, presented, as always with Editions Musical Ferrum, clearly and with precision. One huge benefit is that unlike some other publishers, they have not fallen into the trap of cramming the pages full of childish pictures which severely restricts their usage. In terms of level, I’d say Grades 1-3, and they’d suit both adults and children alike. At just £8.99, the book is also extremely good value. I understand that volume 2 is already in production, but in the meantime, you can order volume 1 direct from the publisher here.

Find out more in this video:


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The Exam-Life Balance

I’m aware that a number of students across the UK are now fast-approaching their GCSE, AS and A-Level summer exams. I know how important these exams are and how stressful they can be. The pressure to succeed in them is immense. As I wrote in a blog post last year, I am, however, a firm believer that music can be a fantastic way to relieve some of that stress and provide a welcome break from both exams and revision.

Each music teacher will approach this differently, but with the above in mind, here are some guidelines  which I’ve offered my own students affected by these exams this summer:

  1. Personally, and I’m sure this will apply to other teachers, my 48-hour cancellation policy still applies: lessons cancelled with less than 48 hours’ notice will be charged for;
  2. We understand that with the stress of the school exams, practice will inevitably be limited (or non-existent). Please don’t let this put you off coming to your lessons though because there’s still lots we can do and enjoy;
  3. If you feel you have an especially busy week of exams coming up, or a heavy revision period, you might want to cancel the lesson that week. Remember though, it’s much better if you can shift the lesson to a different day or time, or maybe double the lesson length the following or previous week rather than missing the lesson entirely. The lesson could be that welcome break and breather you need;
  4. If you’re not in school during the normal school day, why not change your lesson time to a free daytime slot? There are always a variety of free slots available each week. My pupils can see these, book and switch easily just by logging on to MyMusicStaff;
  5. Above all, don’t let school exams eclipse everything you enjoy doing, especially music. There’s so much research extolling the benefits of music in terms of health and wellbeing. This is all the more important in times of stress;
  6. In the past, pupils have asked if they can take a complete break from lessons during the school exam period. I know that other teachers have been approached with similar requests, and sometimes, this ‘break’ can last up to eight weeks. Whilst we understand the pressure to do this, I don’t encourage it as I believe that there are always ways to work around the exams to keep music part of your life. Personally, with quite a long waiting list, I am not able to keep lesson slots open for pupils who wish to take such an extended break over this period.

I wish you all good luck with your exams, and I, like other music teachers, look forward to working with you to achieve a good exam-life balance in such stressful times.


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Conflicting Wavelengths

I’ve always been slightly alarmed by the attitudes which prevail when it comes to listening to classical music on the radio, especially when it comes to the two big national stations in the UK: BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM. Over the years, I’ve heard such assertions as “Proper musicians listen to Radio 3”, “You can’t know very much about classical music if you only listen to Classic FM”, and “Someone of your musical calibre should be listening to Radio 3!”.

It might surprise you to hear, that I predominantly listen to Classic FM. As I type that, I can hear the gasps of surprise ring out around the country. On the basis of much of what I read online, I must not be a proper musician (whatever that is). I must somehow be suffering from limited intelligence to have lowered myself to such depths. Quite frankly, I don’t really care what other people think, but it’s clear from the frequent bouts of Classic FM-bashing which appear online, I would be looked down upon.

Don’t get me wrong, I listen to Radio 3 too. But I tend to tune into particular programmes: I still listen to Choral Evensong each Wednesday afternoon, mum still listens to Private Passions. Perhaps Radio 3 comes into its own during the Proms season, with an almost constant stream of live performances across all styles and genres of music. Radio 3 isn’t immune from this ‘online bashing’; from what I read, many people have reservations about it too, though more often about the format and presenters than the music itself.

Thing is, the way we consume music these days has changed dramatically. We can call up and play virtually any piece from anywhere, anytime, at the touch of a button. Above all though, music is music. The idea that there is ‘Radio 3 music’ and ‘Classic FM music’ is fairly ridiculous. Music is about so much more than that.

That said, it’s worth noting that last year, the under-25 listenership for Classic FM increased by 30%. Read more here.

I think we need to be careful about the way we talk about radio stations such as these, and especially the language we use. If people of any age are tuning in to the radio to listen to classical music, I consider that a good thing. If I might quote Andrew Eales, who writes:

‘The two channels have different target audiences, and both have much to commend them in that context. That said, it delights me that in the age of instant streaming so many still enjoy radio, and the educational aspect it brings to listening. Bravo to both stations for their ongoing success in the current digital age!’

I would hate for anyone to feel looked down on, or belittled because of the radio station they choose to listen to. That’s not what music is about. I for one will continue to enjoy listening to bits and pieces from both, plus an almost exhaustive range of material online.

So, let’s enjoy music however it comes. None of us has a monopoly on dictating how good, musical or intelligent a person is based on the radio station they choose to listen to. There’s enough hurt, conflict and division in the world already. Time to move on.

Remember

Catalogue Number: TKM822
ISMN: 9790708140344
SAB & Piano
Publisher: Tim Knight Music
Difficulty Level: E
Year of Publication: 2018
Duration: 3 minutes
Availability: In Stock

Printed Copy: £1.60
Order from Publisher

 

From the publisher’s website:

‘A beautiful piece setting a poem by Rossetti and written in memory of the Yorkshire farming legend Hannah Hauxwell, could also be used for memorial and remembrance services in churches.’

Potential Uses

Choir, Festival, Concert, Workshop, Remembrance