Anna Robinson: Cats on the Keys

Featured publications are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Cats on the Keys is a new collection of sixteen character pieces for piano, designed to be appealing and relatable to the 21st century piano student.

Composed by Melbourne-based piano teacher Anna Robinson (whose Notes on a Neighbourhood I reviewed here) the book is vividly presented and would suit elementary players at around UK Grade 0-2 level.

Before turning to the publication, which is available in the UK from Forsyth Music, I am pleased to mention that the composer has generously provided a FREE piece for Pianodao readers to download and play; the score is here:

And now here’s my review of the whole collection…

Colourful Cats

Introducing the book, Robinson explains:

My first impression of the Cats on the Keys book upon receipt is that it has a slightly smaller format (A4) than Robinson’s previous collection, but with a higher grade card cover, paper, and quirky colour illustrations throughout.

This is a very appealing and vibrant book, and the illustrations (by Scarlett Robinson) are often enjoyably humorous. Each piece also has an accompanying text, with feline observations alongside helpful teaching and playing tips.

Delightful Cats

The whimsy of the collection is evident from the sixteen piece titles:

  • Fishing in the Grand Piano
  • Snooze in a Sunbeam
  • Scat-a-cat
  • Country Cousin Cat
  • Cats in a Canon
  • A Mysterious Tail
  • Feline Divine Celebrity Cat
  • Guilty Pawprints
  • Moggie and Doggie
  • Sneaky Cat
  • The Curse of the Winkeye
  • Cat-astrophe
  • The Ballad of Black Cat
  • Catnip Crazy
  • Classical Cat
  • Pirouetting Puss

With their cheeky puns and portraits of feline frolics, these titles immediately brought a smile to my face, and in many cases they also offer clues to the musical style of each piece.

From the elegant melody lines of Classical Cat to the bluegrass-inspired hoedown of Country Cousin Cat, and from the jazz-club vibes of Scat-a-cat to the high-octane excitement of Catnip Crazy, these fresh pieces run a dizzying and imaginative gamut of musical genres.

There is embedded pedagogy galore, too. The Ballad of Black Cat is written in E flat minor, almost entirely on the black keys and well before such a key signature might appear in more conventional repertoire.

Snooze in a Sunbeam is a gorgeous lullaby that makes use of crossing hands and the sustain pedal to paint its magical effect. Several of the pieces introduce swing quaver rhythms.

All this would be as naught if the pieces were tired pastiches, but happily they aren’t. Inevitably at this level, some pieces are more exciting and original than others, but as the book progresses I would say there are a high number of “hits” here, and very few “misses”.

Overall, I found the pieces to be every bit as musically satisfying as they are cunningly crafted. You can listen to all of them (and I certainly recommend you listen to a few in order to get a proper sense of the range here) in this short video:

Closing Thoughts

Cats on the Keys is a great (and unusual) example of how good educational music can be when the combination of enjoyable imagery, pedagogic integrity and musical character perfectly come together.

For a student at around Grade 1 level, I would suggest the collection offers plenty of musical enjoyment and educational value. And above all, it’s fun.

I liked Robinson’s previous publication; I really love this one.

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Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based in Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.