Back in the summer I interviewed Barbara Arens about a raft of publications she was self-publishing using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing option.
At the time I wondered whether other composers might soon be tempted by the ease this route offers those who want to sell their latest music worldwide, quickly, and without the need for an established publisher.
And sure enough, since talking to Barbara I have received new self-published music from two more composers, William Minter and Jenny Walker. In this post I will review their books, while also considering the pros and cons of this burgeoning publishing option.
From initial concept through to end product, established publishers offer the clear benefits that come from collaboratively working with other professionals, whose experience and expertise significantly contribute to a successful finished result. But what happens when a publisher isn’t forthcoming?
There are particular challenges to self-publishing, such as producing notation to a professional standard; designing the cover, book layout and any original images; marketing and selling the finished product.
For most composers, going it alone or overseeing this whole process themselves probably won’t appeal, but as Barbara pointed out:
“Five such totally diverse books would be impossible for any one publisher to put in their programme. But all five were just perfect for self-publishing, as I could have all the creative processes in my own hands – which I really enjoy! Drawing illustrations, designing the covers, engraving the scores – a delight to be able to realise my ideas in these books!”
So let’s see how William Minter and Jenny Walker got on…
William Minter: Journeys
Journeys is a sequence of six progressive repertoire collections which between them offer 97 original compositions by series creator William Minter, published by his own business Koa Music.
The books are exclusively available from his website here, and can be purchased as e-Books (in PDF format) or (more expensively) by mail order as physical paperback publications.
The accompanying website includes recordings of William’s own performances of all these pieces, which is useful for those learning them or considering whether the series is one to invest in.
In his Introduction, William explains,
“I wrote this series to create a diverse and engaging set of repertoire for learners. I have sought variety in culture, genre, and mood, reflecting the cultures that have influenced me, and the many ways that music makes me feel … the series contains a wide variety of music, but it is not intended to be comprehensive or to evenly represent all kinds of music. It only really represents my personal journey in music. I hope it can become a part of your journey too.”
Minter certainly makes good on his promise to draw from diverse influences, which at times he wears on his sleeve. Delving in, I found several of the pieces particularly appealing, and there’s plenty here to enjoy.
Difficulty-wise, the books don’t specifically align with exam requirements, but I would suggest the first book be explored between UK Grades 2-3, the others between subsequent grades.
That said, the books would make great “quick study” material for more advanced players. And they would equally suit an adult enthusiast happy to explore the pieces for home enjoyment, using book and online audio as their guide.
One criticism here however: the majority of the pieces, including most of those in the first book, have no fingering. This makes the task of independent self-learning rather more challenging.
The books themselves are US Letter size (8.5 x 11.0 inches), which is a little smaller than A4, and significantly so than most music publications. They sport simple but attractive cover designs which William has drawn himself:
The books each have between 40-50 pages, printed on thin white paper, with well-spaced and clearly engraved notation. An attractive black-and-white drawing accompanies each piece, and like Barbara Arens, William Minter clearly relished illustrating the pieces; the results are a delight.
There is also a useful Performance Notes section in each book, explaining the background of each piece, with tips for interpretation.
Taken as a whole, this ambitious series can be warmly recommended for the range of musical styles included, the care taken over the presentation, and the wealth of new music it adds to the intermediate-to-early-advanced pianist’s repertoire.
Jenny Walker: Piano Borealis
Jenny Walker is a pianist, composer and teacher from Lincolnshire UK, and may be known to readers for her previous music published by Piano Pronto. For her latest three books, she has (like Arens) turned to self-publishing via Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform.
First came two books of Piano Tracks, offering ”pieces with a jazzy feel for the intermediate pianist and beyond”.
And now she has produced the more distinctively picturesque Piano Borealis. How very apt these pieces are, as the winter arrives here in the northern hemisphere!
According to Jenny:
“These pieces originate from ideas formed from a trip to the far North, namely Iceland, Greenland and parts of Norway. I couldn’t help but be moved by the eerie yet beautiful landscapes, and the sea, both teeming with life. Music just had to be written and I hope it will inspire you too.”
The publication includes eight original pieces, suitable for players at around UK Grade 5-6 level. These are evocative pieces, as you will hear from Jenny’s own recordings :
The book is once again US Letter sized (which seems to be standard for self-published sheet music), and Jenny has opted for cream coloured paper (which is always welcome in my view!)
I must mention that there are no fingering suggestions here (nor in the earlier Piano Tracks volumes). Also, while the notation engraving is always readable, I spotted several unfortunate collisions, and the spacing is inconsistent.
That said, if you enjoy listening to the recordings you won’t be disappointed, so go ahead and have a listen!
On reflection, I feel that these publications somewhat highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of self-publishing.
Weaknesses in that there are minor issues which an experienced publishing house would no doubt have ironed out prior to publication. Strengths in that the creative composer now has the ability to quickly respond to an identified need, realising and releasing new works without first navigating the barriers that typically exist in the publishing world. And all, it would seem, with a good financial return.
I am not sure whether either composers’ concepts would have attracted the investment of one of the bigger publishing houses, but I am certainly glad this music is now commercially available for those of us keen to discover it. The balance here is surely a complex one.
This leads me to the conclusion that self-publishing presents a worthwhile route for those who have the skills and drive to supplement the high-profile publications available elsewhere with interesting alternatives for those willing to seek them out.
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