Anna Robinson: Notes on a Neighbourhood

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Back in January of this year I received, out of the blue, a music book produced by Melbourne, Australia-based composer and teacher Anna Robinson, together with a charming letter of introduction. Notes on a Neighbourhood features seven late-intermediate character pieces.

It isn’t unusual for me to receive unexpected material from those who have enjoyed reading my reviews here and are naturally keen to see their work featured, but to be honest I often find that self-published music falls short of making a significant impression on me. As a published composer myself, I have learnt the value that a good editor can bring into the equation, and it is usually obvious when that added-value is missing.

Not so in the case of Notes on a Neighbourhood, which has been burning a hole on my music stand ever since it arrived, the pieces within continuing to impress with their musical and pedagogic content.

With a little encouragement from me, and a lot of work from Anna, Robinson’s book is now available as a physical publication here in the UK, printed by Halstan, and stocked for mail order purchase by Forsyth’s in Manchester here.

So what’s the story?

Walter Carroll’s Shadow…

According to Robinson,

Notes on a Neighbourhood is a collection of miniatures for piano, inspired by the educational piano works of Walter Carroll. Ranging from approximately grade 3 to grade 5 level, these pieces were primarily written to teach technical and expressive skills in an imaginative and appealing way, and to introduce musical styles to young piano students with still-growing hands.”

The evocation of Walter Carroll is an interesting one, as he was one of the formative educational composers of the early twentieth century, a true master who applied his full creative powers to the writing of superbly characterful and infectious pedagogic piano music. Carroll inspired more than one generation, as evidenced here!

As stated, the book includes seven original pieces, which you can listen to in the composer’s own recordings from YouTube here:

Robinson goes on to explain,

“The word ‘miniatures’ seems truly apt in describing the piano music in this collection, as most of the pieces were inspired by observations of ‘miniature’ events in daily life around Northcote.”

The opening piece Dizzy Dog is an immediate favourite, weaving an easy chromatic passage with delirious humour to concoct a piece which is as irresistibly entertaining as it is pedagogically useful.

At the South Crescent Café is an easygoing waltz with lovely seventh harmonies, while sixths dominate The Pride of Union Street, a quirky swing piece made the more evocative in the knowledge that it was written as a tribute to all the cats of Union Street.

A more obviously lyrical piece, Bellbirds at the Boathouse can be used as a lesson in both voicing and legato pedalling, while the folky tones of The Merri Fiddler tease with their juxtaposition of simple and compound time signatures.

The easy charm of Ruckers Hill Rag (a piece that evokes Martha Mier more than Walter Carroll!) belies its technical challenges, while Eva’s Showstopper, composed especially for a student with a penchant for musical theatre and incorporating all of “those most enjoyable moments in the pit pianists’s score”, is a riot of contrasts that takes in drama, a memorably perky swing tune which returns “slower this time, in a very grand Gershwin style”, the “singer’s poignant moment”, and a super closing glissando.

The Publication

With charming cover art by Scarlett Robinson and typesetting by the composer, Notes on a Neighbourhood is very much the family affair, but seems in my view no less “professional” for it.

Rather than taking the easy Amazon self-publishing route, Robinson has sourced high quality producers in both Australia and now the UK, and if the presentation is ultimately a little folksy, it would certainly not look out of place either in a music store or in your piano studio.

With clean engraving, the book includes a short but valuable introduction to the pieces from their composer herself, and the notation that follows is clearly and spaciously presented. Though not fussy, the scores here include sufficient dynamic and articulation detail, and helpfully thorough phrasing marks.

For a publication that, as with Walter Carroll’s, is most likely destined primarily for education use, I would have liked more fingering included, although intermediate players must be strongly recommended to work with a good teacher, who will be able to provide support in this area.

Closing Thoughts

Notes on a Neighbourhood delivers seven enjoyable pieces that are ready to play in any home or piano teaching studio, while also introducing us to a fresh composing talent who, I hope, we will be hearing more from.

Once again, it is available from Forsyth’s in Manchester here.

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Published by

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.