Rendezvous at the Zoo

Products featured on Pianodao are selected for review by ANDREW EALES.

Jennifer Linn is one of America’s most respected educational composers, authors and arrangers, with dozens of titles to her name. These include several collections of her own compositions, arrangements of music from popular shows, the Hal Leonard Piano for Teens method, and several award-winning classical editions in the Schirmer Performance library.

Many of Linn’s publications are best-sellers in the US, but most are less well-known here in the UK. Her latest publication is Rendezvous at the Zoo, and will certainly be of interest to anyone teaching children at early elementary level, regardless where in the world they are based… so let’s take a look!

The Jennifer Linn Series

Rendezvous at the Zoo joins the growing Jennifer Linn Series. These collections feature a variety of original compositions and arrangements, presented in progressive order of difficult so that developing pianists can enjoy the gradual challenge of advancing from one piece in the book to the next.

The series offers books at five levels:

  • Early Bird (beginner)
  • Easy Elementary
  • Elementary +
  • Easy Intermediate
  • Intermediate +

Easy Elementary books (of which Rendezvous at the Zoo is an example) all feature simple pieces with single notes in each hand, including hands playing independently and together. The music is presented with standard notation, engraved in a large music font.

Unlike the “pre-staff” Early Bird publications, they do not include note names printed inside the note heads. The included fingering is more extensive than strictly needed, but not all notes have a finger number accompanying them. This is a welcome balance in my view, encouraging music reading while also helping young players build confidence.

While the series apparently includes material for players at all ages, the presentation of Rendezvous at the Zoo is clearly suitable for children, and while the book includes no illustrations, I think the content will nevertheless really appeal to young imaginations.

An Interactive Zoo Experience

According to Linn,

Rendezvous at the Zoo features 12 piano solos in progressive order so that the beginning pianist can enjoy learning new challenges in each new solo as they explore the zoo.
It had been a decade or more since I had visited a zoo but, thanks to my granddaughter Ivy, I was reintroduced to its many wonders over the summer of 2021. We visited the Colorado Springs Zoo and Denver Zoo. I was inspired by the animals and the updated modern approach of the interactive zoo experiences. From feeding a giraffe, to walking next to penguin and watching snow leopards snooze, the time spent there was intriguing, joyful, and fascinating!”

The pieces which Linn composed have the following titles:

  • Meerly a Meerkat
  • Dance of the Jellyfish
  • Elephants on a Stroll
  • Porcupine Waltz
  • Snow Leopards in the Shade
  • Grizzly Bear Growl
  • Red-Eyed Tree Frog
  • Busy Beavers
  • Hippos’ Muddy March
  • Walkabout with a Wallaby
  • The Penguin Slide
  • Feeding the Giraffes

In common with the composer, I have to admit that it’s been a long time since I last visited a zoo, but Linn’s pieces certainly evoke their depicted creatures with good humour and imagination.

Bearing in mind most are written in (a variety of) five-note hand positions, it is particularly impressive how vividly they portray the movements and quirks of the different animals. In their own ways, each piece brought a smile to my face; Linn is an ingenious, nifty and inventive educational composer.

Pedagogic Wins

As well as serving up a succession of truly delightful little pieces to inspire young players, Rendezvous at the Zoo can be commended for its pedagogic insight and benefits, which range from introducing notation to developing technique, exploring the geography of the piano, and fostering expressive musicianship and communicative performance skills.

In terms of notation and rhythm, note and rest values range from whole (semibreve) to eighth (quaver) notes. Eleven of the pieces are in common time, with (disappointingly) just one in simple triple time. Included pitches cover a wide range across both clefs, with hands in a variety of five- and six-note positions. Sharps, flats and naturals are all introduced later in the book.

From early in the book, Linn uses the 8va sign to further extend the range, so that the player is using the whole keyboard. This strategy seems particularly popular in American pedagogy literature, and offers a wonderful way to help players engage more fully with the instrument from as early as possible, while perhaps also hinting at the stronger emphasis on public performance (rather than private exams) in the US.

Similarly enhancing performance, fostering physical freedom, and extending the expressive range, the later pieces in the book introduce crossing hands, tempo changes and even some pedal use. And where appropriate, Linn does not shy away from using dissonance to strengthen the musical content and sense of creative whimsy.

Indeed, Linn includes a good amount of expressive detail throughout the collection, with dynamic contrast and nuance written into even the earliest pieces in the book. Phrasing and articulation are introduced early too, nicely contributing to the characterful nature of these charming pieces.

Closing Thoughts

Rendezvous at the Zoo is a splendidly attractive publication which deserves the attention and interest of teachers everywhere. These are pieces which I have every confidence will be much enjoyed by younger players, and which combine musical interest with carefully embedded educational value.

Given Jennifer Linn’s popularity in the US this collection will surely be another best-seller there, while here in the UK, I would also certainly encourage teachers to take a look at Rendezvous at the Zoo for some fresh, imaginative and highly useful repertoire at this level. I think it’s superb.

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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.