In his practical, in-depth article Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing? guest author Doug Hanvey made a brilliant and thoroughly practical case for linking the two.
It’s great to now see that case amplified in a brand new publication from Faber Music – Mindfulness: The Piano Collection.
According to Faber Music:
“Mindfulness: The Piano Collection offers a way to bring mindfulness and playing the piano together by sharpening musical focus and establishing the pianist’s attention in the present moment. The carefully selected repertoire, which is aimed at intermediate level players, is presented with guidance on how to bring mindfulness into piano playing.”
So what does the book include, and how is it different to other piano anthologies?
Mindfulness: The Piano Collection
Again, according to Faber, the book…
“…is a unique compilation of well-known piano favourites and beautiful discoveries that brings a fresh approach to playing. Through carefully selected repertoire, supporting notes and bespoke artwork, established players are encouraged to take a mindful approach to playing and, through this, to achieve a truly rewarding musical experience.”
First impressions count for a lot, and I must say that I found the cover of the book (printed on high quality matt card) absolutely stunning:
The first page contains the contents list and copyright information – then it is straight into the 20 pieces, which are as follows:
- Ambre (Nils Frahm)
- Arioso (BMV 156) (J.S. Bach) – arrangement
- Der Dichter Spricht (Op.15 XIII) (Robert Schumann)
- Earnestly Yours (Keaton Henson)
- Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis (Ralph Vaughan Williams) – arrangement
- Gnossienne No. 1 (Erik Satie)
- I Giorni (Ludovico Einaudi)
- Lento (5 Preludes, No.4 in Eb) (Alexander Scriabin)
- Moonlight Sonata (no.14 in C#m, first movement) (Ludwig van Beethoven)
- Morning Prayer (Pyotr IlyichTchaikovsky)
- Pavane op.50 (Gabriel Fauré) – arrangement
- Pavane pour une Infante Defunte (Maurice Ravel) – simplified arrangement
- Prelude In E minor (Op.28 No.4) (Frédéric Chopin)
- Rêverie (Claude Debussy)
- Romanze (from Piano Concerto No. 21) (W.A. Mozart) – arrangement
- Shackleton’s Cross (Howard Goodall)
- Snowflakes (Dame Evelyn Glennie)
- Une Larme (Modest Mussorgsky)
- To A Wild Rose (Edward MacDowell)
- Winter (slow movement) (Antonio Vivaldi) – arrangement
The level of the pieces is around UK Grades 4-7. The printed notation is a little smaller than in some publications, but I found it clear and easy to read. The engraving is well-spaced, and editing appears to have been done with diligence. Minimal but sufficient fingering is given throughout, as is appropriate at this level.
While the accent is understandably on slower pieces, there is some pleasing variety here, and Faber Music have certainly delivered on their promise to include some “beautiful discoveries”.
In terms of lesser-known classics, I really enjoyed the Scriabin and Mussorgsky pieces, and among the newer pieces I especially loved Evelyn Glennie’s predominantly black-key Snowflakes with it’s gently undulating harmony and minimalist evolution. And as a fan of Nils Frahm’s music I was delighted by the inclusion of Ambre, which is surely something of a coup!
As a fabulous collection of genuinely up-to-the-minute popular and relaxing pieces, tastefully arranged and presented, Mindfulness: The Piano Collection already deserves top marks. But exactly how do the publishers relate these pieces to mindfulness practice?
In addition to the beautiful presentation, which in itself promotes relaxation, the book has two additional elements to consider.
The first of these is the inclusion of “adult colouring” pages in the vein of Johanna Basford (Secret Garden, Enchanted Forest) and Millie Marotta (Animal Kingdom, Tropical Wonderland) whose best-selling adult colouring books have taken the publishing world by storm over the last couple of years. Many have found this activity beneficial within a mindfulness context, and it is pleasing to see that Mindfulness: The Piano Collection includes 6 full page, high-quality illustrations for colouring.
Secondly, each piece is preceded by a short paragraph recommending simple mindfulness approaches that can be integrated when learning and playing the music. It’s probably best if I give you a couple of examples:
“Before playing, spend a few moments sitting at the piano; focus on the movements of the breath in your body until you feel some sense of calm. When you’re ready to play, notice the sensations of breath in your body through the musical phrases. The flow you create by doing this will help to bring a natural shape and sense of emotion to your playing.”
And how about this one:
“This gently repetitive piece has a dream-like quality and, as the title indicates, enables you to be ‘pleasantly lost in one’s thoughts’. Allow yourself to notice the feelings you experience from playing this piece. Try to do this without judgement: just being aware of your thoughts as they come and go is enough. A Buddhist concept is to think of thoughts as pages written on water.”
Of course many of these suggestions are quite generic, and as players we might go on to apply them in other music we learn and perform.
For fun, why not see if you can match the two examples I have quoted to the correct pieces of music that they accompany, from the list above – if you think you have the correct answers leave a comment below and I will let you know if you’ve got it right!
I’ve focused on all the great stuff that is included in the publication, but for the sake of balance must briefly mention what isn’t.
Firstly, the book lacks an introduction explaining the core premise, or offering additional background on mindfulness for newcomers. Given the wonderful and unique selection of pieces included here, I can certainly think of players for whom the book would hold considerable musical appeal, but who won’t have practised mindfulness before.
Readers of Pianodao can of course refer to Doug Hanvey’s article as a companion piece, but for the wider market I think it would have been helpful to include a little more information.
Secondly, although the various illustrators and cover designer are all credited, the actual author, music arrangers and editor aren’t. Plenty of technical advice (such as fingering) has been included, as are the comments offering suggestions about lifestyle and well-being. In all cases this advice seems very good, but I think knowing its source would surely lend it more authority. And of course it would be nice to know who we have to thank for the pioneering vision of the book!
Finally, there is no CD included, which is understandable considering copyright issues and the commercial status of some of the included pieces.
There have already been some great music publications this year, and Mindfulness: The Piano Collection is certainly among the best.
To start with, it offers a genuinely appealing and distinctive collection of relaxing piano pieces which players are sure to enjoy. On top of this, the emphasis on breathing and mindful focus excite me, not least because this dovetails so well with the Piano Qigong ideas shared on Pianodao.
Above all, Mindfulness: The Piano Collection comes across as wholly sincere in its intentions, and a labour of love. This is a publication that I doubt you will be able to resist once you have it in your hands, so do go straight ahead and get yourself a copy!
Available online from Musicroom here.