Gareth Malone became a household name with his TV series The Choir, and subsequent ratings juggernaut The Choir: Military Wives, which led to a Christmas Number 1 chart topper.
Malone’s many colourful and inspiring efforts to get the nation singing are surely one of the heartening success stories of British cultural life in recent years, and in 2012 he was awarded an OBE for his services to music.
Now Malone has turned back to the piano for a brand new recording entitled Music for Healing, with a supporting sheet music publication from Hal Leonard which is the subject of this review.
Let’s ascend the stairwell and take a look…
Healing for our troubled times
Those who have enjoyed Malone’s TV shows will know that they can often be emotional affairs, with a focus on the power of music to transform life stories.
Having featured in many moving tales of reconciliation and rebirth, Malone is perfectly placed to explore the timely theme of music for healing in our lives.
Of this new collection, Hal Leonard tell us,
“Gareth returns to his first instrument, the piano, to create this special album featuring solo piano, choir and strings. Each piece is named after a month of the year, reflecting the essential role that the natural rhythms of time play in the process of healing and restoration.
Gareth hopes his compositions bring peace and tranquility into the homes of those who have endured hardships, uniting people with the transcendent power of music, and sharing his own experiences with the wider world.”
In addition to the twelve pieces named after the months of the year, the collection opens with the track Music for Healing Part I, with Part II appearing at the half-way point between June and July.
From the outset, the pieces mix the vibe of “New Age” music with the post-minimal “new classical” stylings which have become so ubiquitous of late. The results are lovely!
The opener Music for Healing delivers the musical theme upon which all the other pieces are variations, a simple melodic DNA from which all the material of the rest of the album grows.
You can listen to the album on YouTube here:
These variations often include a narrative subtext, from the tentative beginnings of January through the raindrops of April (the ostinato here an obvious homage to Chopin) to the falling snowflakes of November and homespun happiness and valedictory pleasures of December.
The recording, as already noted, includes choir and strings as well as piano. The reductions here effectively distill the works for solo piano, although not without a few awkward moments.
Where the arrangements opt to reproduce choir parts there are occasional registration clashes between the hands,; in some cases, transposing the RH up an octave would be in keeping with the recording, and prevent clashes.
For the most part, these versions are suitable for an early intermediate player (UK Grade 4), but a more mature musician working with both recording and score would be best able to convey the original affection of the pieces. It should also be noted that many of the pieces require large hands, with stretches of a 9th and awkward chords a common occurrence.
The Hal Leonard publication has a glossy card cover that retains the original album artwork from the recording:
The 48 pages within are printed on white paper and the publication as a whole is generously spaced out, with two title pages, an introduction written by Malone himself, and the contents page before the scores themselves.
Notation is cleanly presented and again spacious.
Malone gives minimal performance directions aside from step changes in the dynamics. Although the sustain pedal can be used generously to enhance the warmth of the tone in these pieces, peddling is not indicated but left to the player. Nor is fingering included.
In short, this is a nicely presented score which includes plenty of space for the player or a teacher to add their own fingering and other performance notes should they wish to.
At any time, I would be happy to hail Music for Healing as a musical delight, a tasteful collection of solo piano pieces in a popular and accessible idiom and gorgeously presented.
In 2020, given the traumas of these times, there is surely an added poignancy here, a greater urgency than ever to focus on the positive and allow the healing power of sound and music to do its work.
These pieces will be technically manageable to most players, and offer a warmly welcome channel through which music can, and I hope will, work its magic in our lives this winter. This album will undoubtedly prove for many a conduit of restoration.
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