Accent on William Gillock

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

There’s little doubt in my mind that William Gillock (1917-1993) was one of the most significant educational piano composers of the twentieth century, and it’s a delight to be reviewing The Willis Music Company‘s new complete edition of the Accent on Gillock series. All of the original eight volumes (still available separately) also now appear in one newly edited and engraved volume.

Let’s therefore take a moment to consider Gillock’s seminal importance before reviewing this essential new compendium…

Gillock the Trailblazer

At a time when many educational composers in Europe were clinging to the thought that children would prove Schoenberg prescient in his pronouncement that modernist, atonal musical language would become their lingua franca, Missouri-born Gillock was pioneering the more populist approach to educational music that has in fact become today’s global norm.

Whether serving up Romantic piano pastiche, echoes of cartoons or the movie theatre, jazzy tributes or lyrical ballads, Gillock proved himself as adapt at turning out distinctively memorable piano pieces in an accessible vernacular musical language as he was at engaging the imaginations and enthusiasm of young learners, in doing so paving the way for today’s educational composers.

He is perhaps best known here in the UK for his evocatively bluesy New Orleans Nightfall, the wistful Holiday in Paris, stomping Swinging Sioux and Latin-infused Carnival in Rio, all of which have been popular exam-choice repertoire in the last few years. And even from this small assortment, we can see that the quality and variety of his writing matches its obvious appeal.

New Orleans Nightful actually dates, believe it or not, from the 1960’s, decades before jazzy educational pieces became popular here in the UK. It comes from a separate series to the Accent on Gillock books that are the subject of this present review: for a compendium of Gillock’s more blues-infused music try this collection.

Surveying the 369 Gillock titles currently available at Musicroom (many are digital downloads of individual pieces), the range of his output immediately impresses; from jazz, through faux-baroque to recital collections, Gillock produced a body of music which continues to delight and inspire piano players long after his death.

The ‘Accent on Gillock’ series

The Accent on Gillock series comprised eight progressive music collections ascending from Elementary to Advanced level. With all eight included in the new omnibus edition, here are the titles (note that one or two have been updated with the new release):

Volume 1

  • Fog at Sea
  • The Prowling Pussy Cat
  • Autumn is Here
  • Happy Holiday
  • My Toy Duck
  • Tom Toms
  • Pow Wow
  • Toyland

Volume 2

  • The Glass Slipper
  • Clowns
  • French Doll
  • Moonlight
  • German Dance
  • The Haunted Tree
  • Mission Bells

Volume 3

  • Village Dance
  • Promenade
  • A Music Box
  • Waltz
  • Little Suite in Baroque Style
  • Für Elise

Volume 4

  • At the Ballet
  • Capriccietto
  • Fiesta
  • Harlequin
  • Last Spring
  • Old Homestead
  • Lazy Bayou

Volume 5

  • Tarantella
  • Carnival in Rio
  • Flamenco
  • The Juggler
  • Sarabande
  • Valse Triste
  • Barcarolle

Volume 6

  • Adagio Esotico
  • Baghdad
  • By a Sylvan Lake
  • A Woodland Legend
  • Viennese Rondo
  • Fountain in the Rain

Volume 7

  • Castanets
  • Ariel (A Forest Sprite)
  • Sevilla
  • Blue Mood
  • In Old Vienna
  • Dusk on the Bayou

Volume 8

  • Arabesque Sentimentale
  • Night Serenade
  • Goldfish
  • Portrait of Paris
  • Sleigh-bells in the Snow

The pieces in Volume 1 are around UK Grade 1 level, but with considerably more musical character than players might be used to from some method book and exam material found at this stage. Gillock is adventurous from the off, making good use of the full range of the piano, crossing hands, exotic keys and chromatic passages (using accidentals rather than signatures).

Gillock’s gift for melody, sense of fun, and enthusiasm for delivering music that learners of all ages will thoroughly enjoy pervades each of the following seven volumes. It would be moot to single out specific pieces for particular praise, such is the consistency and enjoyment which shines through every single one of the 51 classic pieces here.

Those who have only encountered the occasional Gillock title on an exam list are in for a real treat, discovering this extraordinary wealth of superb piano music. Pupils could literally live on this collection, and I’ll wager they will be very happy doing so. They would also, I suspect, progress with surprising speed and confidence!

The New Edition

The new complete edition appears in a 130-page book with a stiff glued spine and understated soft, matt cover:

Accent on Gillock

Teachers in the US have long been asking for a complete version of this music as a reference copy for their studios. The Willis Music Company decided that in bringing the material together they would also leverage the opportunity to update the edition as a whole.

The eight original books were published in the early 1990’s using typeset engravings of scans from the 1960’s-80’s. The publishers decided to bite the bullet and produce fresh engravings, also taking a new look at the scores editorially, making minor changes to a few details of fingering and beaming.

The notation in the new complete edition is beautifully engraved and well spaced. The pieces are separated into their eight component books, so appearing roughly in order of difficulty. The pieces from the first two volumes have a larger music font than those that appear later, but in all cases the music is easy to read.

The single-volume editions will be updated to match the new complete edition when they go for reprint. And they will remain on the catalogue, meaning that students can if they wish purchase the slim volume suitable for their level rather than this larger book.

Closing Thoughts

It is truly brilliant to see this updated edition, which is everything Gillock fans have been hoping and asking for. The Willis Music Company have done a superb job, and with all the care and respect for the source material that one could expect.

For those who aren’t yet Gillock fans… goodness! This is one of those music collections that once picked up you will struggle to put down.

I’ve recommended some great publications of late, but this one is quite simply a studio essential, destined to become a favourite – if it hasn’t already!

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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.