Mike Cornick’s Piano Duets & Ensembles

Sheet Music Review

Teachers often ask me to recommend duet and ensemble pieces suitable for older players who are at intermediate level.

One context where this has added importance is the preparation of pieces for assessment as GCSE “ensemble” performances. Here there is a particular need for music at around ABRSM Grade 3 level, with suitably easy duet part for the classroom music teacher to play at sight, or for two or more students to perform together.

But equally, for those who teach siblings or paired/group lessons, intermediate music for more than one player can be an important – indeed essential – resource.

Happily, popular educational composer Mike Cornick has been on the case, writing brilliant arrangements for various combinations of players, and publishing several collections through Universal Edition over the years.

There are two particular sets of books well worth looking at. Firstly, there are several neat duet books, and secondly – more unusually – a series of books for larger combinations sharing a single piano.

In this review I will take a look at two of Mike’s latest publications:

  • Movie Music Favourites: Eight arrangements for piano duet
  • 4 Afro-Caribbean pieces for 6 hands at 1 piano


Movie Music Favourites

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Perhaps the most well-known of Mike’s previous duet collections is Tea for Two, which established a house style of including 5 duet arrangements of well-known pieces in each book, together with a CD recording.

That series included the following, which are all worth exploring:

  • Tea for Two  UE 21 299
  • Charleston for Two  UE 21 368
  • Love Songs for Two  UE 21 485
  • Sleigh Ride for Two (a christmas collection)  UE 21 454
  • Pink Panther for Two  UE 21 579
  • Encores for Two  UE 21 614

The new collection – Movie Music Favourites – breaks from that pattern, but retains the many strengths of the former publications, including the CD, about which Mike explains:

“Primo and Secondo ‘play-along’ tracks are provided on the accompanying CD for the purposes of rehearsal as well as complete sequenced performances. These are offered as a guide and are not intended as definitive performances.”

The CD is extremely useful, and will prove an indispensable practice tool to those who make use of it. It would be nice to see the recordings also made available digitally on the UE website for those who don’t own a CD player.

The book, meanwhile, has an eye-catching and very tasteful cover which whets the appetite for the music within. This is well-spaced and clearly engraved on high quality white paper. Fingering is sparse but helpful.

Regarding the music selection, the headline point here is that the pieces included are mostly classical in origin, rather than the usual John Williams and Hans Zimmer fare. Here’s the complete list:

  1. E. Satie: Gymnopédie No.1  (used in The Pallbearer)
  2. J.S. Bach: Prelude 1 in C major  (used in Bagdad Café/Out of Rosenheim)
  3. J. Strauss II: The Blue Danube  (used in 2001: A Space Odyssey)
  4. W.A. Mozart: Piano Concerto No.21, slow movement  (used in Elvira Madigan)
  5. A. Ponchielli: Dance of the Hours  (used in Fantasia)
  6. N. Rota / L. Kusik / E. Snyder: A Time for Us
    (Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet)
  7. F. Chopin: Ballade No.1 in G minor  (used in The Pianist)
  8. E. Satie: Gnossienne No.1  ( used in Chocolat)

This is quite a diverse selection – in a couple of cases the music is perhaps more famous than the films! – but the collection gels very well, and offers something for all with its high number of immediately recognisable melodies.

Most importantly, the arrangements themselves are carefully and musically managed, with both parts broadly around Grades 3-5 level, and combining to make enjoyable and artistically satisfying renditions of the selected pieces.


4 Afro-Caribbean pieces for 6 hands

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This is perhaps the more innovative collection on review, and comes as the latest addition to a series which also includes (and read these combinations carefully to understand the scope!) –

  • 4 pieces for 6 hands at 1 piano (Grades 2-4)  UE 21 300
  • 3 pieces for 6 hands at 1 piano (Grades 4-5)  UE 21 123
  • 4 pieces for 5 right hands at 1 piano (Grades 3-4)  UE 21 595
  • 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 right hands at 1 piano (Grades 2-4)  UE 21 649
  • 5 pieces for 5 left hands at 1 piano (Grades 4-5)  UE 21 711

This obviously specific list of titles identifies the clear niche for each publication, and I suspect that niche is potentially a significant (and rewarding) one. According to publishers Universal Edition,

“How to make friends at the keyboard” might be the series title for Mike Cornick’s albums for 5 or 6 hands at one piano!

Introducing the present publication, 4 Afro-Caribbean pieces for 6 hands, Mike explains:

“Trios make great light-hearted concert items and it is hoped that these examples will provide entertainment for performances and their audiences. Six-handed arrangements can also serve as excellent material for informal musical soirées or provide a humorous diversion for students of the instrument who might normally be engaged in more serious pianistic pursuits while attending weekend courses and the like.”

The four pieces include three arrangements, and one original composition which Mike tells us, ”makes reference to some of the stylistic mannerisms of the region”.

All three parts in the pieces are around ABRSM Grades 3-4 level, and are:

  1. Jamaica Farewell  (Trad. West Indies)
  2. Mary Anne  (Trad. West Indies)
  3. The Sapphire Sea  (Mike Cornick)
  4. Yellow Bird  Trad. Haitian)

All four of these pieces benefits from a catchy melody, sunny harmonies and infectious rhythms – they are great fun, and sure to please those who enjoy these styles of music.

The book presents the pieces in full score format, also including a code with which the purchaser can freely download individual parts for all four pieces. This is in my opinion a huge bonus, and will be for many the preferred option. Unlike the duets books, however, there are no recordings here.

Once again, the publication has a beautiful cover illustration which aptly announces its content. With three players in the score, and two systems per page, the music could easily feel crowded – it’s a testament to Universal Edition’s keen attention to the engraving that it never does so, always feeling clear, clean and spacious. Fingering here is more generous too, as befits the easier level of these pieces.

A further collection, 4 MORE Afro-Caribbean pieces for 6 hands at 1 piano is advertised, and will feature slightly more difficult material aimed at players around Grades 4-5 level.


Conclusion

Mike Cornick will be familiar to many for his excellent jazz publications, including the best-selling Easy Jazzy PianoPiano Jazz and Blue Piano. I recently also reviewed and highly recommended his solo piano collection Six Jazz Piano Solos.

These latest two publications, like Mike’s previous duet and ensemble books, make a great addition to the pianist and teacher’s library, and must be commended for their imagination, scope, and above all for their hugely enjoyable vision of bringing players together around popular music.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Sample pages for each are available on the UE website – from where the books can also be purchased:


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs Keyquest Music - his successful independent music education business, private teaching practice and creative outlet.

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