November 2018 New Discoveries

Welcome to November’s edition of this popular monthly post which reviews new music, books and resources, many of which will be of use to both teachers and players alike. If you have music you wish to submit for review or wish to find out more about my approach to reviewing, please see my Reviews Policy.

In case you missed it, this month, I also reviewed the ABRSM Teacher Conference, and the new ABRSM Theory Works app. Do check out those posts too.

CAPTURING THE JOY OF WINTER: 16 Pieces for Solo Piano (Barbara Arens and Alison Matthews)
Editions Musica Ferrum, ISMN 9790708147435, £12.00 (Available from Editions Musica Ferrum)

Once again, Barbara and Alison have created a beautiful book of piano pieces and arrangements, and one which offers an excellent companion volume to Capturing the Spirit of Christmas which I reviewed as part of my Seasonal New Discoveries last month. The pieces are aimed at pianists around Grades 4-6 standard and offer the player a range of styles from which to choose. I particularly enjoyed Alison’s take on the carol ‘Green Grow’th the Holly’. Whilst the Faber book featured below will provide you with all the well-known Christmas favourites, this book, and its companion volume, offer a welcome relief. The pieces included in this book are hugely evocative of winter, and thus, it will endure long after the Christmas books have been put away. Just as with Capturing the Spirit of Christmas, this would provide a lovely present for any pianists known to you. In true Editions Musica Ferrum style, the presentation, layout and printing are exemplary.

WINTER DUETS TO KEEP YOU WARM AT NIGHT for all combinations of C and G flutes (Christine Potter)
ISBN 9781724006271, £15.17 (Available from Amazon)

As a pupil pointed out yesterday, I already own three books of Christmas flute duets; however, this volume is a great addition, as it offers flexibility for low flutes too. I for one will enjoy playing alto flute parts whilst pupils play the C flute parts (we might swap if they can be trusted not to drop my alto!). Christine Potter has taken a number of seasonal pieces to create this volume which offers a huge range of possibilities to both flautists and teachers. As with Journeys and Piano Tracks below, this book is print-on-demand from Amazon. It is, once again, an unusual size for sheet music, but overall, it is well-presented and clearly laid out. I think it is pricey for what it is, but it does offer a whole range of options, and I’m sure it’s a book I’ll come back to year on year.

THE FABER ANTHOLOGY OF CHRISTMAS MUSIC: Best-loved Christmas music for solo piano
Faber Music, ISBN 9780571535644, £19.99 (Available from Musicroom)

If Get Set! Piano: Christmas Crackers was my pick for the early grades, this volume is an essential book for everyone else. Included are over 60 pieces arranged specifically for piano solo. These include favourite carols, well-known Christmas songs, seasonal instrumental music, and some lesser-known pieces. I was initially concerned that the thickness of the volume would prevent it lying flat on the music stand, but with some surreptitious breaking of the spine (sorry) this hasn’t caused any problems. The arrangements are in a variety of styles from jazz to folk, and everything in between. Anyone who enjoyed Nikki Iles’s two volumes, Jazz on a Winter’s Night, will certainly enjoy many of the jazz arrangements in this book. Overall, it is very well-presented, and the music clearly laid out and typeset. I would suggest that the majority of the pieces in this volume will suit pianists at Grade 4 and above, and with such a wealth of material included, this book will last pianists for many years to come. Faber are quite right to describe it as ‘timeless’. It is excellent value for money, and a must-have for pianists this Christmas.

JOURNEYS: Piano Album, Volumes 4-6 (William Minter)
KOA Music, $11.99/$8.99 (Available from KOA Music)

You may remember that I reviewed the first three volumes of Journeys in my September 2018 New Discoveries. These three volumes continue the theme, and are aimed at pianists around intermediate level. As with the other volumes, there is a mixture of arrangements and original pieces which present the pianist with a good deal of variety. They are clearly presented, and many of the pieces are of a good length. As with the book of flute duets above, and Piano Tracks below, they are print-on-demand from Amazon. This means that the size of the books is unusual and not like any of the other sheet music books I own. Whilst this doesn’t necessarily detract from the content, I do wonder how well books such as these will endure longer term.

PIANO TRACKS: Pieces with a jazzy feel for the intermediate pianist and beyond (Jenny Walker)
Jaynote Music, ISBN 9781719981057 (vol. 1) 9781719986908 (vol. 2), £7.49/£4.99 (Available from Amazon)

Some of you may remember that I reviewed Jenny’s other book, Piano Borealis, in my September 2018 New Discoveries. There are some imaginative ideas in these two volumes, aimed primarily at intermediate to advanced pianists, although they perhaps lack the imagery which was captured so well in the other volume. All these pieces are in a contemporary style with some jazz influence. Any pianists who’ve enjoyed Christopher Norton’s work may also enjoy these, as would those who enjoy a rhythmic challenge. As with the other volume, there is some slightly unwieldy typesetting of the music which has led to some clashes in the presentation, for example, between accidentals and barlines. At this price-point, they are good value for money, and also available as Kindle downloads.

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Seasonal New Discoveries 2018

Welcome to this special post of my monthly New Discoveries series in which I share a selection of music suitable for the upcoming Christmas period. It might only be mid-October, but some pupils are already preparing early! If you have music you wish to submit for review, please see my Reviews Policy.

There will be a normal October New Discoveries post at the end of the month. Make sure you subscribe below to have this delivered straight to your inbox.

CAPTURING THE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS: 12 Carols arranged for solo piano (Barbara Arens & Alison Matthews)
Editions Musica Ferrum, ISMN 9790708147381, £12.00 (Available direct from Editions Musica Ferrum)

If Nikki Iles’ Jazz on a Winter’s Night 2 was my pick of 2017, this new book of beautiful carol arrangements from Barbara and Alison is, by far, my pick of 2018. I talk a lot in these blogs about music for teaching purposes, but the thing which struck me most about this book was that it would make a wonderful Christmas gift for any pianists you know!

12 carols are included, a mixture of well-known ones, and some completely unknown to me. I think that to me, the appeal of this book, is the way in which the arrangers have been so sensitive to the original texts and tunes. My particular favourites were Infant Holy and the Coventry Carol, but they are all lovely. Again, these pieces will appeal to young and young at heart alike, and I know for one, I shall enjoy playing these purely for my own pleasure over the Christmas period.

This book should be top of your shopping list this Christmas.

THE CHRISTMAS BELLS: SATB & piano (Thomas Hewitt Jones)
Banks Music Publications, GCL011, £1.95 (Available direct from Banks Music Publications)

OK, so in some ways, this isn’t a new discovery, because I know many of you will have seen me tweet the original single release in December 2015 (and I can’t help but retweet it each Christmas too). In case you missed it, here it is:

If you haven’t done so already, you should definitely hop over to iTunes and download it!

Even more exciting though, you can now buy the sheet music, arranged for SATB voices and piano. With plenty of pizazz, this could be the ideal encore for your Christmas concert. I defy anyone not to be cheered along by this gem. You’ll be humming it to yourself for weeks!

GET SET! PIANO: Christmas Crackers (David Blackwell & Karen Marshall)
Collins Music, ISBN 9780008306144, £7.99 (Available from Musicroom)

This bumper book of carol arrangements by David Blackwell and Karen Marshall contains over 30 well-known (and less well-known) carols suitable for pianists from beginner (only five fingers needed) up to Grade 2 level, and aligns with the two Get Set! Piano books already in print. Each carol is preceded by suggestions for learning activities associated with the piece, and there are plentiful quizzes, tips, games, facts and other suggestions too. The early pieces have effective duet accompaniments making the book accessible to players in the very early stages of learning. Another cracker (excuse the pun) from David and Karen. Don’t forget, there are additional resources to download via the Pianodao website.

ME AND YOU: Jazzy Christmas Duets (Rachael Forsyth)
Roo Records Music, £7.50 (Available from Roo Records Music)

With so many teachers now teaching more than one instrument (e.g. woodwind, strings etc.) this book is a must. Eight jazzed-up carols are included with parts for both C and B flat instruments. This means that they can be used effectively with a whole range of woodwind, brass and string instruments, as well as two instruments the same. They are beautifully crafted arrangements which will appeal to both children and adults alike, and with such a range of potential instrument combinations, an excellent value and durable book.

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September 2018 New Discoveries

Welcome to September’s edition of this popular monthly post which reviews new music, books and resources, many of which will be of use to both teachers and players alike. If you have music you wish to submit for review, please see my Reviews Policy.

Quick heads up…there will be a special seasonal edition of New Discoveries out in mid-October reviewing a range of Christmas music. Don’t forget to sign-up below to get this post delivered straight to your inbox when it’s published.

PIANO BOREALIS: Chilled Pieces for the Early-Advanced Pianist inspired by the Far North (Jenny Walker)
Jaynote Music, ISBN 171998798X, £7.49/£4.99 (Available from Amazon)

Jenny is a piano teacher, performer and composed based in Lincolnshire. These pieces were written following a trip to the far north, namely Iceland, Greenland and parts of Norway, and each piece echoes a different aspect of that awe-inspiring scenery. My particular favourite was ‘Big Sky’ and you can hear me play this below (sorry, yes, the piano needs tuning):

These pieces are aimed at pianists at the ‘early-advanced’ level, I’d suggest at least Grade 5 and above. They are nicely presented with a short introduction as to how each piece might be approached by the learner. There is some effective use of repeating octave movement and some fairly sizeable chords; these may need to be adapted for players with smaller hands. Overall, despite the occasional irregular spacing of the music, this volume is good value and adds some interesting and effective pieces to the higher level repertoire. Listen to the first piece in the volume, ‘Islands of Ice’ below:

Find out more about Jenny on her website, and look out in next month’s New Discoveries for my review of her two other books, Piano Tracks.

THE FOUNDATION PIANIST: A technical and musical curriculum for pianists at post-Grade 1 and 2 level, Books 1 & 2 (Karen Marshall & David Blackwell)
Faber Music, ISBN 0571540651 (Book 1), £7.99 (Available from Musicroom)

It is great to see another couple of excellent, and eagerly-awaited books added to Faber Music’s Piano Trainer series. You can read my review of The Intermediate Pianist in my September 2017 New Discoveries. These two volumes are aimed at those pianists who’ve passed Grade 1 and Grade 2 standard respectively (though, of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean they need to have taken the exam).

These books could equally have been titled ‘The Foundation Musician’, for they contain more than just the development of pianistic skills. Exercises, sight-reading, repertoire, musicianship, theory, improvisation and the history of music are all covered. They are, as expected, thoroughly well-planned and executed, and just like The Intermediate Pianist they are also well-suited to adult learners.

Karen and David have selected a range of repertoire pieces to include which support the aforementioned development of a wide musical skillset, and David in particular, has written a number of pieces and arrangements especially for these books. Here is me playing David’s arrangement of Holst’s ‘Mars’ from The Planets (yes, out of tune piano, sorry):

I really cannot praise these books enough. They provide a consistent follow-on to Karen and Heather’s Get Set Piano! series, and an excellent precursor to The Intermediate Pianist. Faber Music, have, once again, done a superb job.

Look out in my special seasonal edition New Discoveries for a review of Karen and David’s Christmas edition of Get Set Piano!

JOURNEYS: Piano Album, Volumes 1-3 (William Minter)
KOA Music, $14.99/$9.99 (Available from KOA Music)

Born in the UK, but now living in America, Will has produced six volumes of Journeys covering 97 pieces in total. I would suggest that the volumes broadly align to the grades, so Volume 1 = Grade 1 etc., but this is by no means set in stone.

Each volume contains a wide variety of pieces in diverse styles, including arrangements of well-known classical works and folk-songs. They are nicely produced and each volume contains an introduction to each piece which both teachers and learners may find useful. Hear me play ‘To Bach’ from Journeys 3:

Overall, these books offer pupils a good value means to acquire a volume which covers virtually all conceivable styles and genres. As the books go on, the length of the pieces increases, and some management of page turns may be necessary by Volume 3.

Look out for my review of Volumes 4-6 in next month’s New Discoveries. 

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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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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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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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February 2018 New Discoveries

Welcome to my selection of new music, resources and discoveries for February!

Play: A psychological toolkit for optimal music performance (Ally and Greg Daubney)

Written by Ally and Greg Daubney, and published by the ISM Trust, Play is subtitled ‘A psychological toolkit for optimal music performance’. The primary aim of the ‘toolkit’ is to:

‘…arm you with practical and well-grounded psychological strategies so that you can recognise and effectively handle performance anxiety, and maximise your musical performances’.

The three main sections of the booklet focus on ‘You as performer’, ‘Your musical self’, and ‘Your environment’. In each section, different strategies are presented to help with different areas of your musical preparation and performance. For example, ways to cope with ‘social comparison’ which will have plagued many of us, both as teachers and performers. The really fantastic thing about this book, is that the strategies are provided clearly, with recommendations for when and how long you should practise them.

I’d recommend this book for anyone involved in playing, making or teaching music, at any level. Whilst it’s primarily geared towards performers, much will be useful to teachers, and in many cases, adult learners too. The book is available from the ISM Trust to download for £4 (non-members £5) or to buy for £8 (£10 for non-members).

Doodles (Alison Matthews)

Doodles is a collection of 128 short piano pieces by Alison Matthews, divided into four levels, and published by Editions Musica Ferrum. Described as ‘easy reading pieces’, one’s initial reaction might be that they are to be used in the same way we might use the books of specimen sight-reading pieces. But, this book is about much more than just sight-reading.

Taking a pupil up to around Grade 4 level, each short piece encourages pupils to above all, convey the character of the music. Emoticons are used for each piece rather than titles, for example, an angry face, sad face, dizzy face etc. Whilst directions and ideas are given, pupils are encouraged to make each piece their own. For example, the first piece in the book (prefaced by a happy face) suggests that pupils could play it again at a different dynamic. It’s marked to be played forte anyway, so I expected pupils to play it piano the second time; however, both pupils insisted it could be played fortissimo the second time as that made it sound happier. With some creativity on the part of the teacher, the pieces could be expanded into much longer improvisations.

As with all their publications, the book is beautifully presented and very good value. Although the pieces are very short, at £8.99, 7p a piece is pretty excellent value! The book is available to order direct from the publisher.

Watch Alison here explaining more about the book:

Choral and Vocal Warm-Ups for Pianists (Nancy Litten)

One of the good things about the Music & Drama Education Expo is not just discovering newly-published music, but also finding things which you’ve simply not come across before. I was therefore very pleased to come across this book published in 2015. As Nancy quite rightly points out:

‘The pianist has to be the most versatile of instrumentalists…they will often be called upon to accompany, especially for choirs…so often the accompanist is expected to improvise something right there and then, in every key! Many can do this effortlessly, but even then it can be difficult to remember what you played from week to week.’

When I looked at this book, I looked at it not through the eyes of an accompanist, but rather from that of a singing teacher. But overall, I think this book has many different uses. There are some excellent, basic vocal warm-ups which any singing teacher should be equipped with. I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of exercises using the French ‘u’ (as in ‘Tu’) sound for focussing of tone. Just as Nancy says though, this book will be especially useful to pianists, choir leaders and accompanists. Published by Alfred UK (20143UK) it’s excellent value at just £8.95!

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January 2018 New Discoveries

Here are my three new discoveries from last month: a book, a CD and some music!

The Piano Practice Physician’s Handbook (Nicola Cantan)

Many of you will know Nicola from her teaching at Colourful Keys, and from the excellent resources she provides via the Vibrant Music Teaching site. Published last year, this great little book offers ‘cures’ and ‘treatments’ for some of the most common ‘ailments’ suffered by piano pupils. To give an example, I have already made use of Nicola’s remedy for ‘Line Limp’, or ‘The belief that barlines are signs for one to stop or yield’. Also covered in the book are bad practice habits; tempo issues; beat and rhythm inconsistencies; symbol and marking oversight; musical insensitivity; and technique and movement problems. The book is clearly presented with a very useful index. I shall also be recommending it to my teaching diploma candidates, and adding it to my recommended reading list. Although this is a book for piano teachers, much could be applied to other instruments and the voice.

Equinox (Voces8)

This new CD release from the choir, Voces8, is just stunning. There are some well-known items, notably Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin and Fauré’s Pie Jesu, but the real gems here are the new works included. Of particular note is Graham Lack‘s This Ember Night and Philip Stopford‘s Ave Maris Stella in addition to their composer-in-residence, Jonathan Dove‘s cycle The Passing of the Year. Of that cycle, ‘Ring out, wild bells’ is just magificent – the CD is worth it for that alone! I think this tweet from former Voces8 member, Emily Dickens, sums up this release:

‘Years in the making & SO much dedication to creating the Voces8 sound in hours of sessions.’

Teen Pop Broadway Collection (Hal Leonard)

This book fills quite a sizeable hole in the market for material suitable for younger voices and teenagers. Not only are the majority of these songs vocally suitable, they are also of generally acceptable subject matters. 28 songs are included in this volume, representing 20 different musicals including Zombie PromBilly Elliot and Bare. This will be a really useful book for singing teachers everywhere! A particular favourite of mine was this song, ‘The Secret of Happiness’ from Daddy Long Legs:

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December 2017 New Discoveries

First of all, my I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy New Year. There was no ‘New Discoveries’ post in November (sorry!), but here’s some of the books, music and resources I discovered in December.

How to be Free (Tom Hodgkinson)

OK, this isn’t a music book. In fact, it is in no way directly related to music or music teaching at all (other than that the author suggests we should all learn the Ukulele); however, I think Tom’s book How to be Free has so much to offer us ‘creative types’. Yes, he’s a bit of a maverick, but the essence of the book is that there is so much more out there waiting to be discovered, if we seek a simpler and freer way of living. I think this is particularly true for many of us who don’t have ‘conventional’ careers, and for whom the idea of separating ‘work’ and ‘life’ is somewhat alien. Above all, those of us involved in the world of music seek to offer a way, whether it’s by playing or listening, for people to experience the joy and fulfilment that such creative pursuits can bring to life. As the author says:

‘We have a duty to look into our hearts and discover our vocation, find our gift. Once we have done this, we will find the other parts of our life follow quite naturally.’

Seems a pretty good way to start 2018!

Tunes You’ve Always Wanted to Play (arr. Barratt)

Not so much of a new discovery, but rather a rediscovery. These two volumes of piano arrangements of popular classics, Tunes You’ve Always Wanted to Play and More Tunes You’ve Always Wanted to Play were published by Chester Music quite a while back (1990 and 1991 I believe). Indeed, I was playing from them over 25 years ago, and they were probably one of my first introductions to classical music.

If you’ve used Pauline Hall’s Piano Time Classics or More Piano Time Classics (both of which I also highly recommend), these books might be considered a step up; indeed, I’d suggest that most of the arrangements are loosely in the Grades 2-5 area. What I like about these books is that these are quality arrangements. Yes, there are lots of books of ‘easy classics’, but here, Carol Barratt has kept the essence of the music whilst making the pieces accessible to early-stage players. They are also comb-bound which makes for a much easier layout overall.

If you buy them new, then they’re not cheap, though even at around £17 each, they’re pretty good value for nearly 150 pieces. That said, you can buy secondhand copies for just a few pounds so well worth a look.

(There are other books in the series too including Film Tunes You’ve Always Wanted to Play and Jazz Tunes You’ve Always Wanted to Play. I’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s used these.)

Jazz on a Winter’s Night, Book 2 (Nikki Iles)

This is probably a bit late now, so consider it my recommendation for Christmas 2018. Many of you will be familiar with Nikki Iles’ other books, but I think that Book 2 of Jazz on a Winter’s Night is probably my favourite of the set so far. One of Nikki Iles’ greatest assets, is the ability to create jazz arrangements which not only sound like spontaneous improvisations, but also which have something new to say about the pieces themselves. I think this is especially true of her arrangement of Peter Warlock’s ‘Adam lay ybounden’ and Hopkins’ ‘We three kings of Orient are’. Iles offers great advice in her introduction too, saying:

‘As always in these collections of mine, please feel free to use these arrangements as a starting point: interpret them in your own way and enjoy the ride.’

The more I play, and the more I teach, the more I realise how incredibly wedded to the score we are in the Western classical tradition. I think Bach himself would have wholeheartedly agreed with this advice too.

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October 2017 New Discoveries

The Novello Guide to Sight-Singing (Ralph Allowed and Timothy Teague)

I was initially a bit reluctant to purchase this book because to me, £20 for a relatively small book seems a lot. I was, however, pleasantly surprised. Firstly, let’s be clear, for the money, you’re not only getting the book, but also access to the eBook version, video demonstrations and the SoundCheck app. The purchase is, therefore, extremely good value.

I’ve seen so many sight-singing books over the years, but this really is, in my view, a game-changer. Not only is it very clearly laid out, but it also applies the skills and knowledge acquired to real life musical situations. It’s fair to say that the book is primarily aimed at choral singers, and the music choices reflect this, but it would be equally useful for solo singers too. It covers everything from singing very basic intervals right through to  chromaticism and tritones. I think that this advanced material really sets this book apart. Using the app allows you to try the exercises and get immediate feedback from your performance. Yes, it’s a machine, so the feedback is never going to be as accurate as a real-life practice situation, but especially for singers working alone (or practising between lessons) it’s ideal. The progression through the book is very clear, and a good amount of theoretical knowledge is also included.

The Secret Piano (Alexis Ffrench)

Classical pianist, Alexis French, was a name new to me, but I was very pleased to be introduced by a very good friend to his music. Making his concert debut in 1992, he has several albums to his name, and indeed, with a new single, Bluebird, recently released, Classic FM have been playing his music recently. This book, The Secret Piano contains 12 pieces for solo piano from his 2011 album of the same name. I’d suggest that these pieces are likely to suit pianists in the Grade 4-6 bracket. This is favourite of mine, ‘I’ll Fly Away’:

Piano Tracks (Barbara Kennedy)

Barbara Kennedy, a piano teacher, composer and organist based in Didcot, Oxfordshire, has been developing an exciting new resource for piano teachers and students. The piano TRACKS programme is a collection of materials designed to help piano teachers assess their students, without necessarily using the traditional graded exams.

Barbara has developed a broad piano curriculum, which is supported by resources, checklists, quizzes, lesson ideas and worksheets. She’s currently aligning these with repertoire suggestions to underpin the overall progression. This is an excellent resource, not just for piano teachers, and much can be adapted for other instruments. The materials are presented professionally and attractively, and are currently available free. Do sign up to Barbara’s piano TRACKS mailing list as the resource continues to grow.