Piano Tales for Peter Pan

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

In the few years that I have been reviewing music publications on Pianodao, there have been a few standout releases which have gone on to become real favourites with my own students.

An obvious winner in this sense is the brilliant Piano Tales for Alice, composed by Nikki Iles and published by EVC Music, which I reviewed here in 2018.

Hot off the press, the much anticipated sequel Piano Tales for Peter Pan is out now, and for those who have been keen for its arrival I have good news: Nikki Iles has done it again! Piano Tales for Peter Pan delivers another equally delicious mix of wit, imagination, and jazz-tinged brilliance. So let’s take a look…

What’s the Story?

According to publisher EVC Music, Piano Tales for Peter Pan offers,

“An enchanting collection of eleven jazz-influenced piano pieces, including two duets, inspired by the stories and characters of Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, suitable for early intermediate pianists, Grades 3-5.
These delightful pieces, with their whimsical interpretations of one of the best-loved children’s stories, are sure to become strong favourites in the piano repertoire.”

Composer Nikki Iles has produced this short video introducing the collection and featuring performances of around half the pieces:

The piece titles alone are enough to transport us to Neverland:

  • Straight on ‘till Morning
  • Shadow Play
  • Wendybird
  • Tic-Toc the Croc (duet)
  • Blue Lagoon
  • Cut to the Chase
  • Marooner’s Rock
  • Hook’s Hornpipe
  • Smee
  • Tink (duet)
  • Lost Boys Blues

As with Piano Tales for Alice, there is a wonderful mix of styles here, more predominantly drawing on Iles’ professional jazz background, while also including some more classically inspired and highly cinematic moments such as the wonderfully creative and evocative opening piece Straight on ‘till Morning.

Highlights are hard to pick from a collection that is so consistently enjoyable; the unexpected harmonic twists of Wendybird, jazzy joviality of Smee, mildly louche Lost Boys Blues and amusing rhythmic syncopations of Hook’s Hornpipe are all full of character, but perhaps my overall favourite is the lovely (and relatively easy) Blue Lagoon, which perfectly conjures its scene with gentle Latin harmonies.

Infusing all of these pieces, Iles’ quirky humour and subversively unexpected musical ideas lift these contrasting musical portraits far above the bland pastiche and predictablilty that one too often finds in supposedly “jazzy” educational music.

These are pieces whose initial nose and sip are full of exotic surprise, but with a long, smooth aftertaste to savour. With their range of left field musical flavours these are pieces that will both delight and expand the player’s musical palette.

Beauty in Simplicity

I never cease to be surprised by the variety of approach that different publishers take to presenting new music; with this publication, EVC Music again prove that there can be considerable appeal and quality within simplicity.

The striking artwork of the front cover is more vivid in real life than a computer graphic perhaps conveys; it looks striking and just fabulous:

Within, the Contents page leads directly on to the scores of the eleven pieces. These are presented in generously sized notation. Sensible, helpful fingering is included throughout, all effective and pedagogically spot on.

Pedal marks are all indicated too, and it’s good to see some contemporary music at this level which provides such instinctually worthwhile but understated use of more advanced legato pedalling colours.

The book concludes with a page of written Descriptions of the pieces, which for the most part are reminders of the characters and events portrayed in J.M Barrie’s inspirational masterpiece.

Helpfully, the composer also suggests the Grade level of each piece alongside its title here, making it easier for teachers and players to select and order the pieces best suited to their developing technical and musical fluency.

A particular strength of Piano Tales for Alice, repeated here, is the deliberate avoidance of presenting successive pieces in a strictly progressive order, such that they might be attempted too methodically.

This is whimsical music to explore on a whim! And isn’t that just the best?

Concluding Thoughts

So there we have it. Nikki Iles has indeed done it again.

And knowing that some of the proceeds from sales of the music are going to support Great Ormond Street Childrens’ Hospital is the icing on a delightful cake!

Piano Tales for Peter Pan offers a truly magical musical adventure that many of my students will undoubtedly embrace with enthusiasm; I find myself entirely agreeing with the publisher:

“… sure to become strong favourites in the piano repertoire”.

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Andrew Eales

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