I am just back from the Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival, an event organised each year by EVC Music and held in the Elgar Room at London’s iconic Royal Albert Hall. Young players from around the world are invited to take part, performing music predominantly handpicked from the EVC catalogue, this year including performances from youngsters from as far afield as Canada, the USA, Colombia, the UK, Ukraine, and even Australia.
From a personal perspective, the Festival offers a golden opportunity to hear music from the many EVC publications that I have reviewed here brought brilliantly to life in superb performances, many accompanied by a professional house band, which further adds to the sense that this is a uniquely brilliant and life-changing event for families taking part.
For 2023, the programme included several pieces composed by Sam Wedgwood, whose Next Level collection I previously reviewed here, but who has previously also published two books under the title Sam Wedgwood’s Project, which I will retrospectively introduce and review now.
Simply put, I really enjoyed the performances of these pieces. So let’s find out more about Sam Wedgwood’s Project…
Two Playalong Projects
Sam Wedgwood’s Project appeared as two complementary books back in 2017, one devoted to “pop piano” and a second devoted to “jazz piano”.
Between them, the two collections deliver 19 original pieces composed by Sam Wedgwood, each with an accompanying audio track featuring a full band arrangement (available from the EVC Music website here, and free to listen to if you are considering the books).
Both collections are ideal for early intermediate players at around UK Grade 3-4 level, and the “jazz piano” edition includes Shark Soup, a piece which has already become a Grade 4 ABRSM exam syllabus favourite, likely known by many readers.
Out of the 65 performances at the Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival this year, no fewer than 13 were of Sam Wedgwood’s music (including from these two books and from Next Level), a testimony to just how downright catchy and popular his music is with young players.
The two books that make up Sam Wedgwood’s Project comprise the titles:
BOOK 1 • POP
Gimme Vinyl Any Day
Think it Over
How ‘Bout You Come over?
BOOK 2 • JAZZ
Cato vs. Clouseau
Take a Look
Brown Paper Cowboy
Over and Over
I’ve Got a Groove
Let the Good Times Roll
This is not the first time that I have encountered the contrivance of splitting material into two volumes, and a cynic might wonder whether the aim is to generate more sales, or flood the market with more material than is needed. Happily, neither charge applies here!
The stylistic difference between the two collections is not simply a matter of mood but of genre, and in my experience players who enjoy either pop or jazz styles might not be equally enthusiastic about both. We are not all as eclectic in our tastes as the multitalented Sam Wedgwood is in his professional expertise, and I think the decision to split the material accordingly was a good one in this instance.
Nor are there any weak numbers here. We are not overwhelmed with “filler” pieces to pad out the publications, but are rather presented with a choice selection of consistently enjoyable and commendably varied material, with a perfect balance to satisfy the remit of the project.
How about the publications? Though not among EVC Music’s most recent, they are nevertheless blessed with the qualities we have come to associate with the publisher: eye-catching covers, clearly presented scores (including ample fingering) which, though printed on white paper, are sufficiently spacious and well engraved to be easy on the eye.
As usual, accompanying text appears on the rear cover, and extra support can be found on the EVC website. This includes the recordings, and given Sam Wedgwood’s background as a professional media composer it’s perhaps no surprise that these are so inspiring. For both books, there are full “performance tracks” with band accompaniment which, remember, you can explore and listen to here.
Sam Wedgwood’s Project books have already brought a lot of joy to developing players, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. Reviewing Next Level, I concluded with these words, which I believe equally apply here:
“I really couldn’t be more enthusiastic about this new score. These pieces really are a blast, and I have no doubt that they will be a big hit with intermediate students, particularly tween and teenagers.”
Hearing these pieces brought so wonderfully to life in the performances given by young musicians at the Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival has left me more enthusiastic than ever to introduce them more regularly in my teaching, and I highly recommend teachers and parents reading this review follow suit and do the same!
In a word, stunning!
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