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With autumn well upon us, and a new school year firmly underway, many teachers and players will no doubt be looking for repertoire to enjoy as we approach Halloween.
Each year I am asked to recommend suitable music for the annual spook-fest, and for elementary to early intermediate players, around UK Grades 1-3, a recent compilation of “10 Bewitching Piano Solos” from The Willis Music Company could be just the ticket.
Intrigued? Let’s tiptoe through the gate and investigate the secrets within…
Open the beautifully illustrated and sturdy card cover of Strange Sounds and you will be beckoned in with the following greeting:
“Welcome to the world of Strange Sounds. The piano solos in this book may be used for a Halloween Recital, or simply to stimulate imaginations at any time of the year.”
The book serves up the following ten glowing concoctions:
- Glenda Austin: On This Eerie Night
- William Gillock: Spooky Night
- Edna Mae Burnam: A Haunted House
- Randall Hartnell: Escape from the Dark Forest
- John Thompson: The Goblins
- Carolyn C. Setliff: Creepy Crocodile
- Carolyn Miller: The Cool Skeleton
- Jason Sifford: Lupus Ululat (The Wolf Howls)
- Charmaine Siagian: Into the Abyss
- Naoko Ikeda: The Midnight Ball
I think that the collection benefits considerably from its range of composing voices, living and departed, whose dates span from 1889 to the present day. An inkling for the macabre is certainly nothing new under the moon, and there is a breadth of character to the pieces which impresses, heightening an instinct to investigate the whole anthology.
Where the pieces find common (if hardly hallowed) ground is in their blood-curdling portrayal of their terrifyingly child-friendly subject matter, all the while equally maintaining a clear pedagogic focus.
Austin’s On This Eerie Night adds scary enjoyment with its invocation of atmospheric pedalling and crossing hands, while Gillock’s Spooky Night and Burnam’s A Haunted House dissect minor keys and scaley fingerings. Whole tone and chromatic scales frequently appear throughout the collection, fiendishly proving their capacity to arouse suspicion.
Some pieces venture towards jazz, notably Setliff’s Creepy Crocodile and Miller’s The Cool Skeleton (which is one of those brilliant swing pieces that are always so hugely popular with young elementary players).
Sifford’s Lupus Ululat and Siagian’s Into the Abyss (deliciously marked with the instruction to play “with an impending sense of doom”) tap into the developing player’s devilish desire to show off, hopefully without causing undue torment.
From the fairly easy to the early intermediate, the book delivers its frights in progressive order of peril, culminating in the fabulous fun of Ikeda’s The Midnight Ball. Along the winding way, I felt relief at Hartsell’s Escape from the Dark Forest, and with a jolt became reacquainted with Thompson’s Goblins.
Though black-and-white within, the book includes a couple of vivid full-page illustrations, and concludes with three bonus scares: firstly “Your Turn”, a blank manuscript page on which learners are encouraged to come up with their own strange sounds; secondly a page of Performance Notes written in most cases by the composers; lastly a page of brief composer biographies.
This collection is a real find, including ten equally enchanting pieces that are bound to be popular with elementary players, while showcasing the creativity of some of the most characterful voices in the piano pedagogy repertoire.
In short, this book is worth keeping on the piano well after October 31st, and is one to which players will want to return year after year. Terrific!
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