Guest Reviewer: Dawn Wakefield
Saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Rob Hall has forged a highly individual path in music, consistently producing engaging, expressive and exploratory work that straddles genres.
He has toured widely throughout the UK and worldwide, and his performances (recorded and live) have been broadcast on BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, JazzFM, BBC Scotland & BBC TV.
As an educator, Hall has extensive mentoring and coaching experience with all sectors from Primary level through to Higher and Adult education. He runs his own teaching practice The Music Workshop and his tireless commitment to jazz education over more than three decades has benefitted hundreds of aspiring and professional musicians.
18 Easy Escapes for Piano, published by Spartan Press (SP1367) offers ‘Original creations and arrangements for the contemporary pianist’ and is suitable for elementary players (UK Grades 1-3)…
Discovering Rob Hall’s Music
I first met Rob Hall as a fellow instrumental teacher of clarinet and saxophone back in the 1990’s, when we both lived and worked in Cambridge.
In more recent times, having enjoyed his Asian Tiger Prowl (set for ABRSM Grade 1 piano in 2017 – 18), I later got in touch to find out if he had published anything else at a similar level.
I ordered Eighteen Easy Escapes but confess that I didn’t get round to exploring it until this spring, and have taken several more months since then to realise my initial enthusiasm to write a review of this book, to bring its delights to the attention of others.
The fact that one piece, She Moved Through the Fair is now set for grade 3 piano in the ABRSM 2021-2022 syllabus, has spurred me into writing this at last, as I feel for teachers and students exploring the alternative lists, (this year with no teaching notes) this article could be useful in telling them more about this book.
Easy Escapes for Piano is a slim, easily portable volume, containing 12 one-page pieces and then 6 that cover a two-page spread. The pieces are in roughly progressive order. The print is clear on white paper.
The full contents list (and YouTube links to a few):
- Number Cruncher
- Weta Walk
- Island Hop (Nordic Scenes)
- Were You There? (Traditional American)
- Tundra (Nordic Scenes)
- The Nightingales (Traditional Judeo-Spanish)
- Round the Mulberry Bush (Traditional English)
- Spinning Plates
- Noël Nouvelet (Traditional French)
- Marsh Mallow
- She Moved Through the Fair (Traditional Irish)
- Bothy Boots (Nordic Scenes)
- Mardi Gras March
- Mirror Fjord (Nordic Scenes)
- Bill’s Bounce
- Ae Fond Kiss (Traditional Scottish)
- The Devil’s Dance Floor (Nordic Scenes)
The publishers grading of grades 1 – 3 is largely accurate, although I would say that very few of the pieces are actually grade 1 level; the majority are grades 2-3, with a few feeling more like grade 3½ by current exam board standards!
The music would appeal to all ages, and whilst it is accessible for lower grade players, it would also be very attractive to players of grade 5+ ability looking for inspiring sight-reading or quick study pieces: something to enjoy playing through for pleasure or as an escape from their more advanced practice.
The wide variety of styles and themes could be seen as a bit random, but in my view adds to the ‘escape’ nature of the book, as you have no idea where you are heading next as you turn the page!
As a keen folk musician myself (usually on flute, recorders or whistles) I love the inclusion of folk inspired pieces that I can actually play as part of a traditional folk session.
Really tasteful, appealing and accessible arrangements such as these can be hard to come by at this level. Bartok, Britten and Vaughan Williams all come to mind as past composers who have explored the depth and vitality of this genre, and Rob Hall’s arrangements and folk imbued original compositions are a most welcome contemporary contribution to this field.
Inspiration for the music has its origins in the Nordic lands of Scandinavia, Scotland, Ireland, New Zealand, New Orleans USA, France, and the Jewish-Sephardic community from Spain.
Rob’s passion for jazz shows through in pieces 13 and 16; Noël Nouvelet effectively conveys the tune’s 15th century roots along with some chilly wintry dissonances in the harmony.
Rob Hall shows an exceptional talent for capturing the essential spirit and atmosphere of the places and tunes he has chosen to present here, with original harmonic twists and simple open styles of writing.
All the tunes are heartfelt, original and evocative. If you enjoy some escapist travels from the comfort of your own piano stool, I can highly recommend giving these a try!
There are also two more volumes in this series also published by Spartan Press:
To find out more about Rob Hall and his music visit www.robhall.co.uk