Active Repertoire Challenge 2020

What can you play?

This is a question which for too many pianists leads to such answers as:

  • I’m working on Allegro, but it’s not yet ready to play;
  • I finished learning Andante last month, but I’ve forgotten it now;
  • I don’t have my music books with me, so …

What a pity!

The reality is that too many of us can’t sit down at the piano without notice, without notation, and without embarrassment, and simply play something!

Continue reading Active Repertoire Challenge 2020

How do we stop students quitting?

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

These days when I catch up with teaching colleagues, there is often a common theme:

“I need to recruit some new students as I’ve got X amount leaving (especially in the summer term).”

The numbers vary from just one to as many as twelve.

As most are self employed with bills to pay, adverts are out, websites are being updated, and they are doing their very best to fill those gaps – and fast!

We will always have some students leave as families move out of the area, or a student leaves for work or University. However increasingly (from anecdotal evidence) it appears that students are giving up in greater numbers. With lots of other activities going on, children heavily tested with demanding national examinations along with technology distractions, instrumental learning can suffer.

In my own teaching practice, I have tried to become much more conscious about any signs that perhaps I need to adapt a little in order to keep a student coming through the door…

Continue reading How do we stop students quitting?

The Pianist’s Air

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

“Installing air filters in classrooms can raise children’s scores in tests by the same amount as cutting class sizes by a third, research has found…
Mike Gilraine, author of the paper and assistant professor of economics at New York University, said the improved scores were equivalent to ‘roughly two-and-a-half months of extra learning’.”

So blazes a news story published in The Times on January 10th 2020. The article quotes from research suggesting,

“The results indicate that air filter installation is a highly cost-effective policy to raise student achievement “

And it goes on to point out that several London schools, having installed air filters in classrooms. have reported reductions in absence because of sickness, which teachers attributed to cleaner air.

Given my previous writing about the centrality of breathing in piano playing, regular readers will no doubt anticipate that none of this comes as a surprise to me; indeed, I believe that quality of air in my teaching studio is a paramount concern, and have encouraged players and teachers to take the issue seriously long prior to these new findings.

In this article I will offer some simple advice about air quality and the need to create a suitable environment for piano learning. But rather than focusing on the educational benefits in isolation, we need to consider the health benefits first and foremost…

Continue reading The Pianist’s Air

David Ianni: ‘Adieu'

Sheet Music Review

New from Universal Edition, Adieu is a short and highly accessible solo piano piece by Luxembourgish composer and pianist David Ianni.

Composed in homage to Grand Duke Jean of Luxembourg following his death in April 2019, the piece is suitable for players at upper intermediate to early advanced level.

Let’s have a listen to the piece and take a quick look at the UE publication…

Continue reading David Ianni: ‘Adieu'

Gershwin: Three Preludes

Sheet Music Review

Gershwin’s Three Preludes for solo piano have been a staple of the American piano repertoire since their first publication in 1927.

Like many, I have long relied upon the 1992 Boosey & Hawkes edition, so I was intrigued to receive a new edition by Brendan Fox and Richard Walters, recently published by Hal Leonard.

Interest piqued, it wasn’t long before I found myself won over…

Continue reading Gershwin: Three Preludes

Hiromi: Spectrum

Recording of the Month

New releases are usually a bit thin on the ground in January and this has proved true again in 2020, the respite providing the perfect chance to revisit the best albums of the last year.

2019 was a solid year for new jazz piano releases, many of which I have enjoyed repeatedly. Highlights have included Keith Jarrett’s superb Munich 2016 recording, Ahmad Jamal’s gorgeous Ballades, Abdullah Ibrahim’s Dream Time and Chick Corea’s double live trio CD Trilogy 2.

My personal favourite of the many good recent jazz albums has to be Hiromi Uehara’s Spectrum, however.

Following a succession of brilliant trio, ensemble and collaboration albums, Spectrum is Hiromi’s first solo piano studio album for a decade, and is a remarkable musical tour de force.

Speaking to The Japan Times, Hiromi said of the recording,

“As a pianist, making a solo album is really like, kind of being naked. There is nowhere to hide. There is no other instrument to play with in order to cover the sound. It’s really challenging, but at the same time, it’s the best way to fully enjoy this instrument…
It’s like having a conversation with myself. I can be really free, if there is nobody there to restrain me. I can go anywhere that I want in improvisation.”

Let’s find out where Hiromi’s playing led her …

Continue reading Hiromi: Spectrum

Nicola Campogrande: ‘Nudo'

Sheet Music Review

In addition to their recent new editions and reissues of the music by Brahms and Busch, Breitkopf & Härtel continue to bring us fresh and brilliant new concert works.

Nicola Campogrande (b.1969, Turin, Italy) is one of today’s most exciting classical composers; his music has been performed around the world by such luminaries as Gauthier Capuçon and Lilya Zilberstein, with glowing praise from audiences and critics alike.

Campogrande’s compositions have also been featured on more than 30 CD recordings from a variety of labels.

Since 2017, Campogrande has published exclusively with Breitkopf, and an early fruit of their partnership is the recent publication of a solo piano concert work intriguingly titled Nudo.

Let’s take a peek…

Continue reading Nicola Campogrande: ‘Nudo'

Breitkopf’s Brahms and Busch

Sheet Music Review

Celebrating their 300th Anniversary in 2019, august publishing house Breitkopf & Härtel reissued several heritage editions alongside their typically exciting new publications.

I have recently reviewed their edition of Joachim Raff’s Piano Sonatas and reissue of Clara Schumann’s celebrated edition of her late husband Robert Schumann’s complete piano works, with fingering by Wilhelm Kempff.

Now I’m looking at their reissued Complete Piano Works of Johannes Brahms, drawn from the Urtext of the Brahms Complete Edition issued by the Gesellschaft der Musikfreund, Vienna: this is the famous edition prepared by Brahms’ close personal friend Eusebius Mandyczewski (1857-1929).

And, breaking newer ground, I’ll also discuss Jakob Fichert’s new urtext edition of Adolf Busch’s (1891-1952) Piano Sonata in C minor Op.25.

Continue reading Breitkopf’s Brahms and Busch

Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

Sheet Music Review

Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last few years. Faber Music have just released the Grade 6 book, so let’s consider the series as a whole…

I’ll start with a quick reminder that while the books appear in the best-selling Improve Your Sight Reading series, they are not sight reading practice books per se. Rather they aim to support the broader development of music literacy.

In this review I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, give an overview of the actual material included in the books, and explain how they develop to offer superb material across the range of playing levels from UK Grade 1 to the new Grade 6 book.

Continue reading Paul Harris: A Piece A Week

Phillip Keveren’s ‘Piano Calm'

Sheet Music Review

Phillip Keveren’s name will be known to many readers for The Phillip Keveren Series of music books published by Hal Leonard, numbering nearly 100 volumes published in the US, with many now also available here in the UK.

Keveren, described by his publishers as “a multi-talented keyboard artist and composer”, is a superb arranger. His publications, suitable for intermediate to more advanced players, include collections of music from rock, pop, gospel, folk and jazz favourites, as well as several volumes dedicated to the music of stage, screen, worship service and Disney hits.

Those I’ve seen are uniformly excellent, combining musical authenticity with pianistic intelligence, and are rapidly becoming an indispensable resource within my teaching studio.

For his latest addition to the series, Piano Calm, Keveren has turned his hand to composing 15 original pieces, suitable for intermediate players, which he describes as ‘reflective solos. And I think they are excellent.

So let’s take a look…

Continue reading Phillip Keveren’s ‘Piano Calm'

Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism

“Advice is like the snow. The softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon and the deeper it sinks into the mind”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

One of the key roles of a piano teacher is to help their students make direct improvements in their playing. To do this we must identify the priority areas that need attention, hopefully without turning into the scolding teacher in the photo above.

In this article I will share some suggestions on how to offer helpful criticism, encouraging positive progress and enthusiastic learning.

I will cover the following points:

  • Why Accuracy Matters
  • The Piano Teacher as “Critical Friend”
  • Golden Tips for Giving Constructive Feedback

Listening to our students play and offering suggestions for improvement is certainly not the whole of a piano teacher’s work, but in many lessons it will be a central feature…

Continue reading Piano Teaching and the Art of Criticism

My First Tchaikovsky

Wilhelm Ohmen’s My First Composers collections from Schott Music are proving to be a series which keeps on giving…

It only seems yesterday that I reviewed My First Haydn, having previously taken a look at My First Schumann and My First Beethoven. The series also includes collections of music by J.S. Bach, Mozart and Chopin.

The latest collection to join the series is My First Tchaikovsky

Continue reading My First Tchaikovsky

The Pianist’s Resolution

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

The start of any new year or season is for many a time for making resolutions: a time for ambition, grit and determination.

Whether it’s a fresh commitment to healthy eating and exercise, or a renewed self-discipline in setting aside time to practise the piano, this is a month where many make a decision to turn a new leaf.

But how can we foster perseverance and ultimately success?

Continue reading The Pianist’s Resolution

Mike Cornick’s Elgar Favourites

Sheet Music Review

In addition to Mike Cornick‘s new solo piano collection Ragtime Blues and more (which I recently reviewed here), Universal Edition have just published his latest collection for one piano, four hands: Elgar Favourites arranged for Piano Duet.

Once again, it’s a collection that’s well worth a look, so let’s take one…

Continue reading Mike Cornick’s Elgar Favourites

‘Ragtime Blues’ and more…

Sheet Music Review

The arrival of a new collection from the pen of composer and arranger Mike Cornick is always likely to be greeted with enthusiasm.

Cornick’s latest two publications are Ragtime Blues and more and Elgar Favourites (arranged for piano duet). The latter will be reviewed separately, while in this post I will be having a look at ‘Ragtime Blues and more’…

Continue reading ‘Ragtime Blues’ and more…

Musical Christmas gifts from children

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

Like many other musicians (and having musical children) I walk into the next two weeks packed with rehearsals, performances and concerts.

It is so easy to become stressed, anxious and to not remember that Christmas is suppose to be about joy (as I mentioned in my last year’s Christmas blog post).  

Yet, I want to suggest that over these next two weeks we look out for the special musical gifts we can receive from children we teach over this festive period.  

Continue reading Musical Christmas gifts from children

Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: the Jonathan Del Mar edition

Sheet Music Review

As publishers prepare for the 250th Anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, several have been revisiting his Piano Sonatas, a steady flow of which have been arriving for review over recent months.

First to deliver their new version of the complete cycle are Bärenreiter, whose edition of all 35 Sonatas (including the three early Sonatas WoO 47) is now complete and available in a variety of formats.

An epic achievement, this new edition has already won the hearts and minds of some of the world’s greatest Beethoven interpreters; those giving glowing endorsements include Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Robert Levin, Leslie Howard and Igor Levit (whose recording of the cycle I recently reviewed here).

To quote Paul Badura-Skoda:

“Jonathan Del Mar’s Beethoven edition is unparalleled in terms of its precision. What I value most about it is the use of lesser-known or previously unknown sources, the commentary, which is the most extensive to date, and the discussion of problematic sections. I wholeheartedly recommend this new edition of Beethoven piano sonatas.”

So now let’s take a more in-depth look…

Continue reading Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: the Jonathan Del Mar edition

Paul Harris: Cancer and Positivity

Building a Library

One Saturday morning in March 2018, I learnt that my good friend the composer, author and educator Paul Harris had been rushed to our local hospital emergency department overnight…

Paul had for several months been battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a virulent cancer that had already seemed to take so much from him.

He was receiving excellent treatment at The Churchill Hospital in Oxford, but having taken a turn for the worse the previous night, Paul had been instructed to come straight to Milton Keynes, his nearest A&E.

Continue reading Paul Harris: Cancer and Positivity

The Melody at Night, With You

Sheet Music Review

Keith Jarrett has long been one of my piano heroes, his album The Melody at Night, With You an all-time favourite recording.

I am absolutely delighted that, 20 years after its release, Schott Music have brought out a complete sheet music transcription of the ten album tracks, by Friedrich Grossnick.

I’ll get straight to it – this music is a very special recommendation.

Let me tell you why…

Continue reading The Melody at Night, With You

Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

Recording of the Month

Following her superb recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2017, leading classical music magazine Gramophone named Beatrice Rana Young Artist of the Year, noting:

“Young musicians usually impress in one of two different ways. One is to dazzle with the exuberance of youth, the sheer joy of their own talent and personality. It’s a hard thing to resist, but one would be wise to wonder if it will still be serving them so well a decade or so down the line. The other is to show technique, yes, but also the poise and wisdom often lazily assumed to be beyond the attainment of youth, but which, if you’ve got it, will surely never go away. A few minutes with the playing of Beatrice Rana leaves you in no doubt which category she is in.”

Two years later her latest recording, a dazzling account of music by Ravel and Stravinsky, further affirms Rana as one of the most extraordinary artists of our time.

No difficulty in selecting my Recording of the Month

Continue reading Beatrice Rana: “Reflexions”

Ravel: Jeux d’eau

Sheet Music Review

“…the wellspring of all the pianistic innovations which have been thought to be found in my work.”

So said composer Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) of his breakthrough composition Jeux d’Eau, completed on November 11th, 1901 and dedicated to his teacher Gabriel Fauré.

As such, the work is surely a milestone not only in Ravel’s compositional development, but also in that of the classical piano repertoire.

In this post I will consider the genesis and significance of Jeux d’Eau before taking a look at Nicolas Southon’s brand new urtext edition of the piece, with fingering and notes on the interpretation by concert pianist Alexandre Tharaud, recently published by Bärenreiter.

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Reindeer Reading Duets

Guest Post by Alison Mathews

including Free Sheet Music and Lesson Games downloads

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Beethoven’s Variations for Piano

Sheet Music Review

As the 250th centenary of the birth of Beethoven approaches, it’s no surprise that the major publishers are issuing new and updated editions of his major piano solo works.

The monumental cycle of 35 Sonatas (the “New Testament” of the solo piano repertoire) are inevitably a centrepiece of the release schedules of several major publishers, but Beethoven’s other piano works mustn’t be overlooked.

Happy news, then: Henle Urtext have brought out an updated edition of Beethoven’s Variations for Piano in two volumes.

The first volume [HN 1267] appeared a couple of years ago, but it’s the second [HN 1269], now available, that may prove the more irresistible.

Let’s find out why …

Continue reading Beethoven’s Variations for Piano

Graham Lynch’s “Art Preludes”

Sheet Music Review

A recent review that I read elsewhere suggested that Elena Cobb’s EVC Music has “cornered the market in pedagogical, developmental publications for piano”. While this is something of an overstatement, it is certainly great to see EVC at last receiving its due recognition for a published catalogue that has continued to go from strength to strength.

EVC Music is not just about pedagogy though; the company has been steadily bringing to market a growing and glowing range of performance works by contemporary composers, the latest of which is Art Preludes, a suite of five new pieces by British composer Graham Lynch.

Interested in finding our more? Then read on…

Continue reading Graham Lynch’s “Art Preludes”

The Faber Music “Soundtracks Piano Anthology”

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music have in recent years welcomed the onset of the Christmas shopping season with the publication of lavish anthologies, making perfect gifts for the pianist in your life (or indeed for yourself!).

First (in 2016) came the Faber Music Piano Anthology, a stunning hardback collection including 76 popular intermediate and advanced classics, which I reviewed here.

In 2018 they followed this with the lush Faber Music Christmas Piano Anthology, an essential seasonal purchase which I reviewed in more detail here.

New for 2019, the Faber Music Soundtracks Piano Anthology is a collection of 58 pieces which have appeared in movies or TV shows, including popular classics alongside recent film scores.

Let’s take a closer look….

Continue reading The Faber Music “Soundtracks Piano Anthology”

Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

Iyad Sughayer has been quietly establishing a reputation as one of our brightest upcoming pianists, appearing as soloist with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, European Union Chamber Orchestra and the Cairo and Amman Symphony Orchestras, as well as giving solo performances in such prestigious venues as London’s Wigmore Hall and King’s Place, Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall and the Steinway-Haus in Hamburg.

Now he has released his debut recording on the BIS label. A brilliantly conceived and executed disc of solo piano works by Aram Khachaturian (1903-78), the recording is certainly a stunning showcase for the brilliant talents of this young player, who delivers performances of the utmost musical conviction and power.

Sughayer wrote a short piece touching on the nature of musical engagement for Pianodao a couple of years ago, and I was delighted to more recently catch up with him at the Chetham’s Summer School for Pianists, since which I have now had a chance to interview him in more depth for the site…

Continue reading Iyad Sughayer in Conversation

Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

Guest post by Doug Hanvey

Have you ever had (or been) a piano student who struggles to learn good technique, or to retrain poor technique previously learned?

I certainly have! As a piano teacher specializing in adult learners, many of whom have studied in the past, it’s not uncommon that I must help a student improve or even completely overhaul their technique…

For example, there’s Monique, my 60-year-old student who last studied as a child. Try as she might, Monique has continued to struggle with flying pinkies and collapsing wrists.

Even students with relatively good technique may need improvements. For example, I’ve studied and teach the fundamentals of the Taubman technique. Bringing awareness to the many subtle movements involved such as forearm rotation, in-and-out movements and “shaping” can be challenging for any student.

How might teachers and self-learning students facilitate the learning or retraining of technique?

Perhaps it’s first worth asking: are there any prerequisites for learning or retraining technique?

Continue reading Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

ABRSM Goes Digital for 2020

Usually around this time of year I write a report from the annual ABRSM Teacher Conference (for more info you can follow these links to the reports from 2016, 2017, 2018, and my 2018 interview with chief executive Michael Elliott).

This year I wasn’t a media guest at the conference, but in any case ABRSM chose to make their biggest announcements online. And two of those announcements are pretty significant…

This article offers a quick update on ABRSM’s new online booking service for exams, including some details teachers may have missed, as well as taking a look at their new online learning platform, Journeys: Guitar.

Continue reading ABRSM Goes Digital for 2020

Winter Repertoire Challenge

The Winter Repertoire Challenge is ideal for players of all ages, and offers a great opportunity for developing your Active Repertoire at the piano. Are you up for it?

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Playing like the Winter Sun

Those looking to “catch some rays” may head for an exotic tropical beach, but as I drove an early morning errand a few days ago I was struck by the purity of the winter sun blazing brightly, but low, on the horizon.

The fact that in winter months the sun is lower in the sky doesn’t change its essential nature or dim its brightness, even though cloud cover might. On a clear morning, the low angle of the sun only makes it seem brighter.

Blinding, even.

The low winter sun is just as virtuosic as the blazing beast of the equator. The difference of course, is the angle of view, the more modest apex, the changed attitude towards altitude.

Piano Journey

Observing this puts me in mind of how our attitude similarly determines our view of the piano repertoire.

Some devote their piano journey to the pursuit of altitude, learning ever-harder pieces in their ascent to virtuoso prowess.

Others are more content to play “for pleasure”, perhaps neither striving for the same heights, nor ignoring them. They simply enjoy a different viewpoint.

Those who devote their lives to playing the most difficult repertoire may end up doing so with great difficulty.

Better, I believe, to devote ourselves to playing the most beautiful music, and playing it with great beauty.

As the great writer Albert Camus once wrote,

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Albert Camus

Continue reading Playing like the Winter Sun