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.