Paul Birchall’s Daily Expressions

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Fresh from the Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival event in London earlier this week, I am continuing my survey of the superb catalogue of piano music published by EVC Music, much of which I have previously reviewed here.

Among the publications which I have previously featured on this site, and a highlight of the EVC catalogue, I was super-impressed with Paul Birchall’s excellent Blues, Boogie, Jazz and more collection, several pieces from which appeared in the Star Prize Festival programme this year.

Birchall’s two collections of Daily Expressions, published a few years ago, make another worthy (if belated) addition to the Pianodao Music Library.

Spontaneous Expressions

Each of the two books in this series offer seven pieces, named after the days of the week, Monday, Tuesday and so on. Birchall recalls composing one new piece each day for one month, seven of which were included in the first sheet music publication in 2014, and another seven of which make up the second volume which followed:

“I set myself the task of composing a new pieces every day for 28 days. The pieces are improvised with some intervention editing taking place afterwards, allowing for a more considered and composed final result. It is up to the pianist to interpret the mood of each piece.”

Expanding on this, we learn from the publisher’s website,

“Paul described the process of composing as: ‘I would conceive a theme very quickly and then develop it into a complete piece.’ He notes that although he did not make a conscious decision to compose according to his mood, his state of mind would inevitably influence his work. He also observes that sometimes a brighter, more optimistic theme came on a day when he would find himself in a low mood, under stress or both. Some editing took place before submitting them for publishing, but the pieces essentially remain as they were originally conceived.”

British colleagues may immediately recall Richard Rodney Bennett’s Seven Days a Week and A Week of Birthdays, two collections of intermediate miniatures which cast their spells using the somewhat austere musical language that was so popular with composers in the mid twentieth century. Those small pieces became the exam syllabus staples of yesteryear.

Like those earlier milestones, Birchall’s pieces weave their own special magic using a contemporary language, but one which is perhaps more apt for our time, blending classical influences with hints of popular and contemporary minimalist music. And like Bennett’s works, Birchall’s are rich in pedagogic potential, introducing players to a range of styles and techniques appropriate at the upper end of intermediate level.

Readers should particularly note that these pieces mostly begin with the instruction con ped. but without detailed instruction; given the variety of styles used, Daily Expressions would make a useful resource for teaching players how to use the sustain pedal in different musical contexts.

Almost all of the pieces have been condensed to a two-page score, this welcome economy making them accessible to practise and for use in lessons, concerts and assessments.

Notwithstanding the composer’s point about personal interpretation, the scores include plenty of dynamic and phrasing detail, and the publications (which are simple affairs printed spaciously on white paper) include ample fingering throughout.

Closing Thoughts

Paul Birchall’s Daily Expressions are a welcome addition to the late intermediate repertoire, and I would suggest players at around Grades 5-6 level will particularly enjoy the characterful music delivered here. The two books also offer eminently suitable music for more advanced players seeking out quick study material.

The music here has a very different character from that found in Blues, Boogie, Jazz and more, clearly highlighting the composer’s versatility. But make no mistake: this is equally music of substance, pieces which will surely reward study.

As always with EVC Music, demo recordings are available to listen to on the publisher’s website here. Check them out, and see what you think!

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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.