Teachers’ Choice Piano Collections

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Hot off the press from Faber Music, and certainly not to be missed, the two books that make up the Teachers’ Choice Piano Collection have just appeared in partnership with EPTA UK, the European Piano Teachers’ Association.

Between them they include 58 pieces ranging in difficulty from Elementary/Grade 1 to Advanced/Grade 8, “selected by piano teachers for piano teachers”.

I must confess that when I first heard about these books a few months ago, my hopes for them were rather modest, but as soon as the finished collections arrived in the post I realised that they far exceeded my expectations. I think they are really wonderful!

So let’s take a closer look…

An Anniversary Celebration

These publications come at the tail end of EPTA’s 40th Anniversary year, which has been marked both by celebratory events (including a wonderful masterclass with joint patron Angela Hewitt, which I had pleasure in attending in London last November).

Introducing the Teachers’ Choice collections, Nadia Lasserson (Organising Secretary, EPTA Europe) explains:

“EPTA was founded in 1978 by Carola Grindea, who was so impressed by the success of ESTA (European String Teachers’ Association) that she wanted to give pianists and piano teachers similar opportunities. It was her intention to unite pianists all over the world to meet together and exchange views on pedagogy and pianism.

“Forty years on EPTA is thriving. with associations throughout Europe and affiliated associations worldwide: USA, Israel, China, Argentina and South America. The standard of piano teaching is rapidly escalating all the time, and piano pedagogy is now an integral part of study in all British Conservatoires.

“It is wonderful to have this publication ready to celebrate forty years of EPTA, and it is hoped that all teachers and students will benefit from this wealth of repertoire as they work through a diversity of enormously rewarding pieces.”

EPTA are well placed to pull together a collection of this kind, based as it is on an appeal to their members to suggest favourite pieces from their own teaching practice: pieces which offer helpful pedagogic content while also proving hugely popular with students.

Series editor Mark Tanner expands on this point in his Introduction to the books:

“It has been a treat to reacquaint myself with a treasure-trove of piano music in putting together these two books. In its 40th anniversary year, EPTA UK wanted to honour its membership by asking them to nominate their personal favourite pieces and also to cherry-pick from a range of standard repertoire. The hope and ambition for these two bumper volumes is to appeal to an audience of pianists and teachers alike, both within and outside the EPTA community.”

The Repertoire Choices

Without further ado then, here’s the selections for each of the two collections:

Teachers’ Choice Piano Collection 1: Grades 1-4

  • African Dawn (Armstrong)
  • Rocking (Gurlitt)
  • Minuet in F (Mozart)
  • Tempo di minuetto (Hook)
  • The Wood Fairies (Carroll)
  • The Wonderful Wizard (Wedgwood)
  • Lesson in C (Diabelli)
  • Scherzo – Duet (Diabelli)
  • Musette in D (J S Bach)
  • Skedaddle (Milne)
  • Children at Play (Bartók)
  • Now is the Month of Maying (Morley arr. Gritton)
  • Deutsche Tänze (Haydn)
  • Bärentanz (Schumann)
  • Dragon Dance (McLeod)
  • Zur Sonnenuntergangsstunde (Schmitz)
  • Minuet in G (Petzold)
  • Sonatina in C major (Clementi)
  • Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (Tchaikovsky arr. Gritton)
  • Philippa’s Jig (Murray McLeod)
  • Chocolate Car Park (Wedgwood)
  • Sonatina in F major (Beethoven)
  • Innocence (Burgmüller)
  • Solfeggio in D (J C F Bach)
  • All White on the Night (Kember)
  • Fröhlicher Landmann (Schumann)
  • Sonatina in C major (Kuhlau)
  • Upon Reflection (Hammond)
  • Ballade (Burgmüller)
  • Prelude in C minor (J S Bach)
  • Indian Pony Race (Glover)

Teachers’ Choice Piano Collection 2: Grades 5-8

  • Sarabande and Gigue (Handel)
  • Solfeggietto (C P E Bach)
  • Étude in A minor (Farrenc)
  • Cavalryman (Kabalevsky)
  • Für Elise (Beethoven)
  • What to Do When it Rains (Balch)
  • Cloche des matines (Burgmüller)
  • Scherzando (Haydn)
  • Des pas sur la neige (Debussy)
  • Moment musical No.3 (Schubert)
  • Wild Poppies (Wedgwood)
  • Consolation No.4 (Liszt)
  • Sonatina in D major (Clementi)
  • June (Tchaikovsky)
  • The Wit and Wisdom of the Night (Tanner)
  • Träumerei (Schumann)
  • Allemande (J S Bach)
  • Lowside Blues (MacGregor)
  • Gigue (de la Guerre)
  • Stick Dance (Bartók)
  • Scottish Legend (Beach)
  • Fantasia in D minor (Mozart)
  • Nocturne in C# minor (Chopin)
  • Intermezzo in B minor (Brahms)
  • Sonata in A major (Scarlatti)
  • Notturno (Grieg)
  • The Chimes (Baines)

These selections appear to me near-perfect from a range of angles, bringing together a stylistically diverse range of great repertoire new and old, beloved and lesser-known, from across all 8 UK Grades.

In the first volume it is a delight to see African Dawn from June Armstrong’s fabulous Safari (read my review here) heading up a collection which goes on to include the evergreen Minuet in G, Ballade (Burgmüller) and Children at Play (Bartók).

There’s some nicely imaginative pieces here: the delightful Skedaddle by Elissa Milne, The Wonderful Wizard (Pam Wedgwood) and David Carr Glover’s exhilarating Indian Pony Race. And there are plenty of traditional favourites here too!

The second volume has been predicated on a policy of not allowing any composer to appear more than once, and with an avoidance of long Sonata movements in order to maximise diversity and achieve as wide a representation as possible.

The emphasis, that said, is almost entirely traditional here (just 4 of the 27 pieces here are by living composers), albeit with the inclusion of a few rarities (William Baines’ The Chimes is new to me, and lovely!)

One of the most wonderful and unique selling-points of these collections is that every piece is preceded by helpful playing and teaching advice, offered by experienced teachers from the EPTA fold.

We all have so much insight to share and learn from one another, and the inclusion of these snippets from a wide range of EPTA members goes a long way to elevating these books above the many repertoire collections available.

Many of the pieces also include a number icon next to the title, referencing the Edexcel GCSE and A’ Level music performance difficulty levels for a further steer on repertoire standard. Many teachers working with children in the UK will find this instructive and a useful support.

The Publications

With soft laminate covers (see above) and a textbook-like appearance, the books may may not seem overly child-friendly (in fact, even adult pupils I’ve shown them to commented that they look rather dull). Although the covers aren’t the most eye-catching I’ve seen, I personally think that the books succeed in looking quite classy.

The layout within is equally tasteful. After the thought-provoking introduction, the music itself is very nicely presented and well-spaced.

The first book has 48 pages, while the second a generous 80, printed on white paper (I think cream would have suited the publications better). I’ve noticed only very minor mistakes, and none to lose sleep over. Fingerings are included throughout, though not quite with consistency.

A few of the pieces include editorial dynamics and articulation where composers didn’t write them. While such suggestions may be helpful to some, I would truly prefer to see all editorial markings shown in brackets so that the player can clearly distinguish between the ideas of the composers and those of the editor.

Lastly, and this is an even smaller point, I would have liked to see the composers’ dates next to their names, as this supports players’ broader understanding and musical development.

If these minor niggles seem a little critical, consider them advisory and don’t be put off: these are certainly publications that I will be using with my pupils.

Concluding thoughts…

As commemorative collections that celebrate the state of piano education in this, EPTA’s 40th Anniversary year, these books are of course unique. That the music in them was selected, and commented upon, by active members of the organisation also adds considerable value.

But I believe that there’s real potential for the collections, as Tanner put it, “to appeal to an audience of pianists and teachers alike”. Yes, they have interest and value to the piano teaching community, but far more importantly, as general music collections with broad appeal these two books are among the best I’ve seen for some time.

Where would they fit within my teaching programme?

In some respects they are rather similar to ABRSM’s Encore books (read my review here), providing a healthy and varied diet of enjoyable repertoire for developing players. Happily there isn’t too much overlap, either, meaning that these two series could mutually amplify each other.

In short, the Teachers’ Choice Piano Collections are a welcome addition to both teacher and student’s music library alike.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.