“Upright” is a piano project with a difference.
I spoke to project coordinator, Garreth Brooke to find out more…
What is Upright?
Garreth: Upright is a free book of sheet music for solo piano by twelve different contemporary composers from around the world, all of whom are actively performing and selling their own music.
Did you say ‘free’?
Yes, it’s essentially available for free, in the sense that you can pay as little or as much as you want. You can pay £0.00 and you will get the full 60 page PDF of scores.
If you do choose to pay, then all the profits go to Music for Relief – a charity that provides immediate support to people who have experienced a natural disaster or humanitarian crisis. In practise that means that roughly 83% of what anyone pays goes to Music for Relief, because Bandcamp and PayPal each take a commission.
The composers and record labels involved have all given permission to use their work for free.
Free PDFs are often low quality…
…yeah, I’ve been very conscious of that and have tried very hard to produce a high quality product.
The quality of the pieces is, for me, unquestionable – I think they’re wonderful and I’m confident that everyone who downloads it will find at least one piece they really enjoy playing.
I’ve really tried to reflect the quality of the pieces in the way I presented the notes by making careful decisions on spacing, fonts, etc.
As you know, I review new sheet music all the time on Pianodao: and I personally think you’ve done a superb job with this score!
Next, can you tell readers what it is that makes Upright different?
It’s different because the pieces are not teaching pieces and they’re not trying to be part of the classical repertoire – these pieces were written purely to be enjoyed by a predominantly young contemporary audience.
This means that teachers can use these pieces to show their students what success as a contemporary composer can look like. I think we’ve all had a bored teenage student now and then, and these pieces are a great tool for getting them engaged again.
Others are written by artists who are actively touring the world with their music – Simeon Walker’s 2018 European tour with his new album Mono and Stefano Guzzetti’s recent tour to Japan spring to mind.
One piece is taken from a fascinating project called Diary by Michael Price, the Emmy-award composer of the music for BBC’s Sherlock – the whole project is a great model for a budding composer – you can watch Michael improvise the piece live here:
Another great example is Jim Perkins, whose work has been performed in the South Bank Centre and the Turner Contemporary, who has written commercial music for various big companies and who runs his own record label.
These artists are all doing cool, interesting things and that’s what makes their pieces particularly suitable for teaching to disengaged teenagers who are wondering why they’re bothering learning the piano.
What’s the difficulty level?
I would estimate that some of the easier pieces are roughly ABRSM Grade 3 standard. Some of them are significantly harder.
Where do you recommend teachers/students start?
With sound before symbol: I’d recommend listening to the SoundCloud (below) or Spotify playlist or the samples on the Bandcamp page, picking a favourite, then flicking through the PDF and picking whichever piece appeals to you most.
The PDF contains a short biography of each composer and links to Spotify, Soundcloud and even live performance videos on YouTube when possible.
I’ve tried to include a range of styles, difficulty levels and compositional approaches. If you want something dark and moody, try Tecla (ii) by Stefano Guzzetti – it’s wonderful, and it could also be used as an excellent Etude for left hand jumps over right hand ostinai, as could Michael Price’s sparkling miniature Splintered Sun.
Ian Ring’s Temperance is a genuine delight to play, it starts off very simply before opening out into some wonderfully rich harmony.
If you want something to tug on your heartstrings, there are loads of choices: try Drift by Simeon Walker, Futari by Daigo Hanada, or …og minning þín rís hægt by Snorri Hallgrímsson, Wander by Matt Stewart-Evans, Songe (début) by Piano Novel…
I could go on. Doug Thomas’s 4×3 is a modern exploration of Satie’s sound-world, with a great melody and a perfect contrasting central section – he’s a great composer! Jim Perkins’s piece Drifting Upward is fascinating: simultaneously powerful and subtle. For something meditative, try Falling by the wonderful Yoko Komatsu – it’s exquisite.
If I had to pick my own favourite from the collection I guess it would probably be Falling, though if you ask me again in a week I will probably have changed my mind. Simeon Walker, on the other hand, told me he looked at Sergio Díaz De Rojas’s Istanbul with one of his adult students and said “they really enjoyed not just playing and working through it (the cross-rhythm section is really fun!), but also being exposed to new piano music that they hadn’t come across before”.
How did the Upright project get started?
The seed of it was my own curiosity – I heard Sergio’s piece Istanbul and I was totally intrigued by it. There’s something about Sergio’s work that I find indescribably wonderful, it speaks directly to my heart. When I first heard his latest single Untitled I just put it on repeat for about 2 hours.
Anyway, I couldn’t quite work out how to play parts of Istanbul, so I emailed him to ask him if he had a score and he generously sent it to me. It turned out to be a joy to play.
I started getting in touch with other composers I knew of, and before I knew it I had quite a big collection of contemporary scores. The quality of the engraving wasn’t always great, and as I got more confident in engraving my own scores, I started making editions of the pieces I got sent.
I’m not a professional engraver by any means, but I do know the importance of clarity, especially when I’m teaching to a student or I’m sight reading, so I’ve tried to make the scores as attractive and as clear as possible.
You’ve called it “Upright Vol. I” – presumably that means there are more to come?
Yes, I’m planning to keep producing them, as and when I can find time. It’s been a genuine delight to work on, but it’s often tricky to fit it in around my other work.
I’m not sure when Vol. II will come out but hopefully before the end of 2018.
Any final words?
I’d like to thank all the composers and record labels for getting involved and for giving their work for free.
I’d like to thank everyone who has supported Upright financially so far – it’s only been a couple of days and we’ve already raised quite a lot of money for Music for Relief!
And finally I’d like to really encourage your readers who are piano teachers to make the most of this resource to engage their students in some wonderful contemporary music.
Thank you so much for talking to me about this unique project, and good luck!
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