Paul Harris is known worldwide as one of today’s foremost music educators and I have reviewed numerous publications bearing his name on Pianodao before.
Harris’s latest is unusual indeed, which perhaps need not surprise us given his incredibly fertile mind and innovative creativity.
The Purple Piano House, published by his own Queen’s Temple Publications and subtitled “A Musical Adventure for Pianists” is a delightful story-with-music book which is sure to charm younger players, and offers several intriguing pedagogic possibilities.
The story itself is written by Sam Edenborough, and the book includes illustrations by Jasper Pye. Let’s join them on an adventure…
Meet Zump and Soodi
Zump and Soodi were brother and sister and they lived in a normal house in a normal town and did normal things. One afternoon, after school, they were relaxing by a river. The sun shone warmly and the birds sang tunefully while they chatted happily together.
As they gazed into the water, Soodi turned to her brother and said, “Zump, I’ve been thinking, sometimes I wish things weren’t so normal…”
So begins Edenborough’s story, in which his two young protagonists discover and explore a purple house that is built (and plays) like a piano. And as the cover image implies, the purple property has another trick up its sleeve, too.
This beguiling tale is interspersed with snippets of music (think, ‘Peter and the Wolf’) which can either be played at sight or learnt as quick studies, and would suit early elementary players at around UK Grade 1 level.
Paul Harris produced this video launch introducing the book, which includes the whole story for your enjoyment:
When it comes to contemporary childrens’ storytelling I’m no expert, but The Purple Piano House is an enjoyable yarn with the jauntily surreal vibe of Enid Blyton’ Magic Faraway Tree books. More to the point, the narrative sets up the musical content nicely, and with imaginative verve.
A Musical Adventure
The enthusiastic descriptions of the interior of the eponymous house will arouse interest in the innards and workings of an actual piano, while the interconnection of mood between each musical snippets and the story the author spins will certainly develop the child’s appreciation of musical characterisation.
Further enhancing such pedagogic potential, the musical fragments provide ample context for introducing and understanding phrase shapes, simple modulation, scale patterns, articulations, dynamic contrasts, tonality, composition, balance between hands, pedalling and tempo changes.
There are many ways that this material could be incorporated into a child’s learning. An eager young pianist might simply read and play through the whole story in half an hour. Alternatively, it could be used within an imaginative approach to sight reading in lessons, incorporating learning about the importance of communicating the expressive elements of the music.
And with the youngest children, the book could be literally a story book, a parent playing the musical examples while reading.
The publication itself is a simple affair, with an eye-catching cover. The story and music are printed beautifully on the 16 cream pages within, accompanied by Pye’s evocative black and white illustrations throughout.
Happily ever after?
The Purple Piano House may seem a surprising addition to Harris’s educational output, but entirely fits with his commitment both to creative, holistic learning and to the pursuit of musical excellence.
As for the story and the publication itself, I am certainly charmed. The Purple Piano House isn’t the first story-with-music book to come my way, but it is undoubtedly an excellent one, and I have no doubt that there will be many children whose enthusiasm will be immediate and unrestrained.
And if the story ends on something of a cliffhanger, let’s hope for an equally delightful sequel soon!
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