Sheet Music Review
Graham Lynch is a composer whose works have been performed by (among others) the BBC Symphony Orchestra, The Hilliard Ensemble, and in venues as diverse and prestigious as London’s South Bank and the Wigmore Hall, the Paris Conservatoire and the Merkin Hall New York.
One of Graham’s more recent projects was his series of progressive piano repertoire books called Sound Sketches.
When he self-published them back in 2011-12, Graham explained to me:
“Sound Sketches is an exciting and innovative series of graded piano pieces that will appeal to pianists of all ages and abilities. These pieces are varied in character, and each one opens up an imaginative world of colours and textures for players to explore. These ‘sound images’ are evoked through strong melodic ideas which hide their technical challenges within a sense of the delight that can be had from conjuring music from the keyboard.”
Obtaining a set I quickly found students – both teenagers and adults – who were enchanted by the pieces.
I was therefore delighted to hear that the books are now being published and freshly promoted by Elena Cobb via her EVC Music website. It must be hoped this will lead to these brilliant books receiving the attention they deserve!
Let me tell you why I think that these books merit a place on the already crowded shelves of piano teachers, students and players…
The three books between them offer 59 original compositions for solo piano, organised into the following levels of difficulty:
- Sound Sketches 1: Foundation (Grades 1-2)
- Sound Sketches 2: Easy (Grades 2-3)
- Sound Sketches 3: Intermediate (Grades 3-4)
The books themselves are handsomely produced, with high quality, glossy covers which are immediately inviting and distinctive, juxtaposing beautiful photographs from a wide variety of real-world contexts, and so creating an impression that the Sound Sketches within will be equally vibrant and compellingly relevant to ordinary lives in the 21st century.
The music within benefits from similarly excellent presentation, with clean, well-spaced notation, judicious fingering suggestions throughout, and the composer’s footnotes explaining something of the background of each piece.
With their adoption into the EVC Music family, recordings of all the pieces are now available on Elena’s website for your immediate listening, so that you can preview the music before buying.
Sound Sketches 1
Sound Sketches 1 offers a consistent collection of pieces which have proven popular with my students, and very useful for expanding their creative vocabulary.
In terms of level, I would say that the collection is broadly Grade 2, so not a book to introduce too soon, or before Grade 1 has been consolidated.
Although essentially tonal or modal, the language of the pieces is immediately contemporary in feel, and they explore the contrasting sounds and sonorities of the piano very effectively.
It is quickly apparent that Graham is a serious composer whose pieces eschew the vogue for catchy pop or easy jazz, instead drawing on a rich tapestry of musical impressionism and influences ranging from folk music to ambient piano.
The black-keys-only First Melody is a sure winner, as are the graphic Dangerous Mountain Ascent, beautifully melodic My Lonely Guitar, the more energetic Rollerblading and imaginative Cavern (with Dragon).
In fact, there are no weak links in this collection – every piece offers something musically worthwhile (and educationally helpful). These are easy pieces with imaginative titles to fire the enthusiasm of younger players, as well as a good number of pieces that adults will love to play.
Sound Sketches 2
The second collection proves to again offer a winning combination of imaginative pieces in a range of styles, exploring an impressive range of tone colours, while consistently demonstrating idiomatic piano writing that makes them a joy to play.
Once again, the level is at the upper end of the advertised range – the pieces here would suit players who are at Grade 3 level, and could perhaps even be introduced to consolidate before moving towards Grade 4.
To hear the range of music on offer here, you can once again visit the EVC Music site – try the impressionistic Kite Flyer or Garden with Midnight Owl, the lyrical melodicism of Tale, the nostalgia of Street Waltz and the picturesque whimsy of Ballerina.
There is plenty in this collection to stir the imagination!
Sound Sketches 3
The pieces in Sound Sketches 3 complete the series with another wonderful range of evocative titles, which themselves set the mood for the pieces. And once again, the pieces are technically, musically and emotionally accessible.
The pieces here are around Grade 4 level, and my personal favorites include the opening Moon Rising, which is built on soft chords underpinning a gentle slowly rising melody, making good use of the outer ranges of the keyboard.
Lago di Como is equally ravishing, with its lovely melody and central interlude marker ”like the stillness of a lake untroubled by the wind” … it has certainly proved popular here!
Café Music mimics the sound of the guitar with spread (strummed) chords and a particularly appealing melody. The folk-song inspired Goodbye Ullapool has also proved itself to be a favorite with my students at this level.
To summarise, let me quote again the composer’s introduction:
“In writing these pieces I have tried to capture images and ideas and present them musically, in a way that is clear and easy to grasp right from the start. Each piece has its own individual character, atmosphere and sound world. Every volume gives players the opportunity to engage with the full expressive range of the piano..
The message behind the Sound Sketches series is very simple – enjoy the music and make it your own; it’s waiting to be discovered.”
So has Graham succeeded in his aims? I would say so, absolutely!
Without using pastiche pieces or including the usual chestnuts, producing a useful set of books for players at this level is a huge challenge. With Sound Sketches, Graham Lynch succeeds by providing pieces whose emphasis is to paint a wide range of colours.
I have a soft spot for these collections, having used them successfully with a number of students since they first appeared as self-publications at the start of the decade.
While these are books that I would use as supplementary rather than core repertoire they are no less useful as a result, and would be well worth the pupil’s investment. Each book contains sufficient variety and challenge to engage pupils, and teachers looking for fresh material will likely be overwhelmed by the wealth and diversity on offer here.
These collections are also especially popular with my adult students, offering original, creative and expressive pieces for elementary-to-intermediate players that really speak to their life journey. There are plenty of publications suitable for young players at this playing level, but fewer for adults; Sound Sketches fills this gap adorably.
Most impressively, the pieces in all three books reveal the musical personality of their composer, which is a noteworthy achievement in educational piano music written at this level.
Available worldwide from EVC Music here.