Editions Musica Ferrum have recently brought out two volumes of pieces in a new series called Mosaic, featuring original music by a dozen or so composers, organised by difficulty level and suitable for beginner to early intermediate players.
I have enjoyed the privilege of contributing to the project, with two of my own compositions included in each book so far, and more to come!
Karen Marshall will be writing an independent review of the first two books, which will be published here on the Pianodao site soon. In the meantime, I decided to catch up with Editions Musica Ferrum founder Nikolas Sideris and ask him more about the project…
Interview with Nikolas Sideris
Andrew: Nikolas, thanks for agreeing to talk about the Mosaic project!
But first, can you tell readers what it was that first motivated you to become a music publisher and set up Editions Musica Ferrum?
Nikolas: I’m Greek and I grew up in Greece. I wasn’t aware of the ABRSM, or Trinity, or any of these alternatives, until I moved in the UK. In fact I wasn’t aware of Hal Leonard, or Alfred, mostly. You see we are talking about a pre-Internet time, and semi-closed borders and individual currencies across Europe, which means that we only had access to local scores (of long dead and out of copyright composers), or the very very famous names: Bartók, and possibly Ligeti, his etudes only. Anything else had to be ordered over the phone from Paris, or Brussels.
Needless to say, coming to London for my post graduate studies was an eye opener, but I still couldn’t find what I was looking for (yes, I’m paraphrasing U2 here).
To come to a conclusion, I feel that the quality of music scores is lacking, and so is the adventurous side of the creators. I’m hoping that with our publications we are offering something unique, both in terms of quality (paper, binding, layout, scholarship) and aesthetics.
How does Mosaic fit into this bigger vision?
Mosaic is an answer to the current educational system of the UK, the way I see it as an outsider I guess (even though I did get all my post graduate degrees from a UK university).
As a teacher I feel the pressure that the kids are going through and I’m not sure I agree with this at all. Certainly any exam system should be in place, but the exams themselves should not be the goal of any teacher, or student, or parent. On the contrary, they should be the natural by-products of the learning process.
The current exam system of the three major boards in the UK that I know of, all consist of 3 lists of pieces to chose from, which get renewed every few years. I find that a lot of my students stick to the exam pieces more than anything else, and while the pieces themselves are great, the notation exemplary and always very clean, the lack of alternatives is striking to me.
Maybe it is my experience, but I’m wondering how many piano teachers use pieces from Lemoine, Beyer, Czerny, Bartók, Prokofiev, Kabalevsky, Oesten, Moszkowski, Bertini, etc. Of course rather outdated with the current educational tones, but there’s still some lovely music to be found there.
So this is exactly where Mosaic fits in: To cover the gap between the board’s syllabuses, but in an independent and truly international way.
What exactly can a player or teacher expect to find in the first two Mosaic books?
Each volume contains 26 pieces, generally fitting pre-grade to early grade 3. We haven’t followed exactly the syllabuses guidances, but as experienced piano teachers we do feel that this is roughly the level of difficulty in the first two volumes.
In terms of music you any piano teacher can expect a total of 52 pieces of music, all musical, all interesting, all different. Very carefully notated, planned, and proof-read, to facilitate easier reading and understanding.
And, yes, you can also expect the most beautiful valse, but also contemporary techniques, like holding the keys down silently, clusters, glissandi, whistling (!), and other.
How did you select the composers who would take part?
Listing the countries of origins you’ll find the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, the USA, Greece, Bulgaria, and Italy. Each country with their unique music tradition, but also their own unique understanding of music education.
All the composers that take part in this project are both composers and piano teachers.
And all of the composers are personal friends of mine, which means that there’s a strong connection to this team.
To what extent has it been important to encourage teamwork and interaction between the different composers, and how is this reflected in the publications?
I have a strong need to be an equal part of the team, as I’m also one of the composers and I feel the insecurities that one may have with a publisher. As such, not only my contract with the composers is as fair as it can be, but I also am involving the composers in all of the process.
There’s 13 of us, which means that there’s 13 voices of reason, about the cover art, notation, proof reading, recordings, even the level of difficulty of certain pieces. We all have different experiences, but we all strive to offer the best possible score.
What’s interesting is that things extend beyond the composers themselves in a few cases, in terms of proof reading, legal advice, graphic design and that can only be added to the joy of working in a team, such as the Mosaic one.
Relating pieces to the international grading system of ABRSM and others is a fresh departure for Editions Musica Ferrum. Do you feel that overall this has led to a stronger pedagogic foundation for the pieces?
Through the process of the first three volumes, I’ve had to change my own music quite a bit, to reflect all the specific grading system.
Additionally I’ve received advice on the level of difficulty from a few composers and also offered myself some similar feedback to other composers. The team working together in this case, has done a brilliant job.
I understand that you’ve tried our all these pieces within your own teaching practice – perhaps you could share a story or two about that?
Well, I’m very eager to try on new works, and the minute that a work comes into my mind (if we’re talking about my own music) or in my email account, I will try it – probably copy it on the spot and then print it to show to some of my students.
I teach students from pre-grade to above grade 8 and it’s a blast for them to know that as a publisher I can offer pre-publication material.
There’s been a fair amount of home printed pages coming in my student’s home and when, finally, the score is released, they get the real thing and the first thing we do is to start checking off works that we’ve already done.
One of my younger and most talented student (both parents are very musical) learned how to use the legato pedal, on his first try with Anna Blonsky’s “Over the Sea Bridge”, from Mosaic 1.
My volume 2 contains two works, both of which has been renamed a number of times, until a 12 year old told me off: “You can’t keep changing the titles like that. I’m getting confused. Here’s 2 that seem to fit what you mean”. Well… the titles stayed as offered by my student.
Where next? How many books are planned for this project?
The initial plan was to release 4 volumes, one for each 2 grades, but this changed with the addition of volume 1, which is aimed at pre-graders and grade 1. So, right now, and I have to stress that, the plan is to include 5 volumes. Each volume to contain 26 works, with the exception of volume 5, which is the volume with the works for grades 7 and 8. The reason for that is simply practical: if, on average, each work is 3 pages, then 26 works is already a hefty 78 pages, which is starting to look a little too thick.
Given the history, so far, of the true collaboration with the composers, I’d say that there’s a fair chance of changing the plan a little bit: I find that my own works for volume 5 (both completed already and so have other composers) could be seen as diploma level. And if this is true, then maybe a volume 6 might be necessary, something to which I‘d be very excited to happen!
Lastly, would you like to tell us a bit about your own pieces, included in the first two books?
Volume 1 contains two works titled “Nine Fingers” and “Lullaby for my Sweatheart”. Both feature a very limited movement of hand position, and a simple melodic line in the right hand, over a moving bass in the left hand. Inspired by my personal life, they are some of the easiest ones to be found in this volume.
Volume 2 contains two contrasting works, one titled “A song about Fairies and other Woodland Creatures” and the other “Enchanted Forest”. Apparently I was going through a fantasy-type setting in my mind (having recently read, at the time, the new book by Philip Pullman, The Book of Dust) and as such both pieces seem to populate a fantastic world of enchantment, fairies and magic.
I’ll be honest, although at first not planned, it seems to be that one could be performed after the other attaca, without any problems. The style is similar, although the tempo is completely different and the harmonic language lends itself to fit both works. Hmmm… didn’t know I had done that!
Thank you Nikolas – a pleasure talking to you as always!
My pleasure Andrew!