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Courtesy of COLLINS MUSIC


When Collins Music published Karen Marshall and David Blackwell’s excellent Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers collection in 2018, they also brought out a few extra arrangements as downloads only, supporting the book.

I have picked my favourite three and with the permission of Collins Music, I am pleased to present them here with exclusive introductions by David Blackwell


Coventry Carol

Background information

In the Middle Ages, mystery plays were performed in the streets of cities and towns as a way of telling bible stories to local people. Often they included songs, and this carol was sung as part of a mystery play acted each year in Coventry telling the Christmas story.

Christ’s birth was a joyful event, so why is this carol so sad? Well, Matthew’s Gospel tells of one particular grim event: Herod, King of the Jews at the time of Christ’s birth, was told by the Wise Men that a new King of the Jews had been born. To preserve his status as King, he ordered the massacre of all male children under the age of two, and this carol is a sad lament sung to the doomed children.

Of course, because Christ was born in a stable he escaped. Herod did not think a king would be born amongst sheep and cattle!

Arrangement and teaching content

This arrangement alternates the tune between the hands, starting in the right and switch- ing to the left for bars 5-7, with the same switch in the second half.

Pitched around ABRSM prep test level (or at the end of the first tutor book), this piece includes the pedagogical content of the sharp accidental, putting right-hand second finger over the thumb and simple hands together work.


In the Bleak Midwinter

Background information

Christina Rossetti’s text, the first verse of which we print here, has two popular and lovely settings. The first is by Harold Darke from 1911, often sung at carol services, and voted the best Christmas carol in 2008 in a poll by leading choral directors. The second is this simpler hymn-like setting by Gustav Holst, composed for the first edition of The English Hymnal in 1906, edited by his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Holst wrote a beautiful melody, that rises and falls with the text, and some awareness of this shape will help create a musical performance. The dotted notes are as Holst’s original, though it can – perhaps as a first step? – be played with crotchets.

Pupils should play the tune an octave higher when the duet part is added. This matches Holst’s harmony, and creates a calm accompaniment, allowing the pupil to shine in this lovely melody. Christina Rossetti’s text, the first verse of which we print here, has two popular and lovely settings.

Arrangement and teaching content

This piece is really written for the very beginning stages, and is particularly good at getting students to play Middle C with the left hand. With the thumb on D in the right hand, it’s useful for moving away from the Middle C position, and can also be helpful for counting dotted minims and semibreves.

If your student is able, why not use the dotted crotchet, quaver rhythm alter- native? It’s a lovely aural activity to get the student to hear the difference between the two.


O Christmas Tree!

Background information

This German carol began life as a folksong from the 16th century, with words about a fir-tree (‘Tannenbaum’ in German, and the modern carol begins ‘O Tannenbaum’ in German).

The text was updated by a Leipzig school teacher in 1824, who reinterpreted the tree as a Christmas tree. This was at a time when the Christmas tree was growing in popularity in Germany; Prince Albert introduced the tree to England after his marriage to Queen Victoria, where it quickly caught on.

Although evergreen symbols pre-date Christianity, the church cannily absorbed them, and they became a symbol of the renewal of life in the depths of winter that Christ himself represents. ‘The holly and the ivy’ is another example.

It’s rather nice to celebrate the unchanging leaves of the tree as we decorate our homes at Christmas and, if we wish, add in a deeper symbolism too.

Arrangement and teaching content

This arrangement has melody and all the harmony required comfortably under the fingers of the pupil.

The form of the tune is AABA, so pupils can quickly learn this, as all the A sections are the same. The tune dips down to the left hand for the third line, where neat right-hand fingers are needed for the chords above. The piece is useful for developing two-note chord control and also playing the D above middle C notated as a ledger line note in the bass clef.


Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers

These materials have all been produced in conjunction with the very excellent Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers book, written by Karen and David. In my review of the book I wrote:

“In a crowded market, Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers really does offer something different, interesting and hugely valuable. There are many good Christmas collections in the shops now, and to say that this is “the best” would be a moot point; closer to the truth, I believe that in offering a genuinely unique and brilliantly educational approach, this book is special.”


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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, published author and composer based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs a successful private teaching studio.

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