Rachmaninov: Second Sonata

Sheet Music Review

Rachmaninov’s Sonata No.2 in B flat minor Op.36 is one of those gargantuan masterpieces generally only attempted by those with a truly titanic technique.

But for anyone interested in playing, studying or getting to know the work, Dominik Rahmer’s brand new edition for Henle Verlag will be of profound interest.

As connoisseurs of the Sonata will probably know, there are two versions: the original 1913 version published in 1914, and the composer’s major revision published in 1931.

For this Henle publication, Rahmer has produced not one but two brand new urtext editions, printed one after the other for comparison.

Adding further enticement, fingering is provided by none other than the revered concert pianist Marc-André Hamelin. So let’s have a look…

Continue reading Rachmaninov: Second Sonata

Piano Playground 2

Sheet Music Review

Hans-Günter Heumann has been busy. Since I launched Pianodao three years ago I have reviewed his excellent Fantasy Piano and Mystery Piano collections, as well as the 16-book Piano Junior method series.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I reviewed Piano Playground 1, a fresh collection of original pieces, concluding:

“The best pieces here are genuinely great, and will surely enliven the musical development of young players!”

Hot on its heels comes the follow up, Piano Playground 2, so let’s investigate…

Continue reading Piano Playground 2

Slow Progress

The Fermata Series

”Often we find ourselves in trouble simply because we are going too fast, disregarding signs of trouble that we would have seen if only we had been going a little slower.
All too often we get caught up in the rush; our whole culture is based on it.  Get ahead!  Do it now!
Sometimes the right thing to do is not to do anything.”

Solala Towler, Cha Dao (Singing Dragon, 2010)

These comments (which are taken from a book about the preparation and consumption of tea) offer golden advice which can be applied to pretty much any aspect of our lives. No wonder so many of us feel completely worn out most of the time!

For our purposes, I want to touch on the value of taking our time in two areas:

•  firstly teaching and learning
•  and then our personal piano practice

Continue reading Slow Progress

Ragtime by Scott Joplin

Sheet Music Review

In addition to this year marking the Debussy centenary, November 24th 2018 is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Scott Joplin, composer of some of the most popular piano pieces ever written.

In this review I will be looking at the recently published volume, Ragtime by Scott Joplin, by Jean Kleeb, appearing as part of Bärenreiter’s Ready to Play series.

But first, a few words about the importance of Joplin himself…

Continue reading Ragtime by Scott Joplin

No Words Necessary

Sheet Music Review

Lots of piano players enjoy the contemporary stylings of popular composers such as Ludovico Einaudi, Yirumi and David Lanz, but it’s not so easy to find really good arrangements of their music that are accessible to intermediate players, and which manage to be both concise and accurate distillations of the post-minimal piano style.

The search for an educationally sound and musically engaging alternative just got easier with the publication by Schott Music of No Words Necessary, an excellent collection of 12 new pieces composed by Melanie Spanswick.

These interesting and enjoyable pieces will certainly satisfy those looking for approachable contemporary piano solos, and they further confirm Melanie as an imaginative and engaging composer.

So let’s check it out …

Continue reading No Words Necessary

Illuminating Diwali

The Fermata Series

Wishing you an illuminating, auspicious, prosperous and joyous Diwali.

As we approach the climax of the five-day celebration of Diwali, I would like to send warmest wishes to all readers!

Diwali, the “Festival of Lights”, is a five day celebration observed worldwide by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, this year climaxing around Wednesday 7th November.

Different faiths attach different religious meaning, stories and beliefs to the Festival, but at its heart Diwali is a celebration signifying the victory of

  • light over darkness
  • knowledge over ignorance
  • good over evil.

Regardless of religious affiliation, these are universal values which we can surely all affirm and celebrate as one.

And, beyond the traditional cultural festivities (which include cleansing and then illuminating properties and public spaces with lamps and candles, dressing in the best clothes and eating sweet food) there are simple lessons we can take away from this Festival which will make our lives and our world better.

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Let’s ask ourselves this Diwali:

  • How can I shine as a positive example that brightens my world?
  • How can I promote knowledge in a way that is genuinely helpful and accessible to those who lack it?
  • How can I overcome evil I see around me, and make a true difference?

Diwali is, perhaps above all, a time to focus on the positive.

And with the challenges, disharmony and uncertainty of today’s fast-changing world, celebrating the positive is surely good for our mental health, heart and spirit.

Fermata Series

ABRSM: New Directions 2019

Exclusive Interview with Michael ElliottChief Executive, ABRSM


Having attended a few ABRSM conferences in recent years, the teachers’ conference last Saturday was notable in many ways. On a visible front, it was noticeable that having sold out well in advance, the venue was teeming with enthusiastic professionals.

More subtly, it seemed to me that ABRSM as an organisation was invigorated, the spring back in its collective step, its message an overwhelmingly positive one, in spite of the challenges which presently face music education.

Against this backdrop, it was unusual too that in his welcome address, ABRSM’s Chief Executive Michael Elliott refrained from listing a string of achievements and announcements for the future, as has typically been the case.

Happily, I later in the day had the chance to sit down with Michael, together with ABRSM’s new Communications Officer Kerry Sheehan, to follow up on a few announcements from previous years and other rumours doing the rounds.

Michael gave generous and full answers, outlining his vision and a raft of forthcoming developments which will undoubtedly please readers here. And he was happy for me to audio record our interview and publish this full transcript, in which I hope readers will capture something of his enthusiasm and positive message!

Continue reading ABRSM: New Directions 2019

ABRSM Conference 2018: Report

Can it really be a year since I last reported from the annual ABRSM Teacher Conference? Apparently so! But once again this year I was delighted to be invited along to report from the event, share ABRSM’s latest news, and generally reflect on the day.

This year I had the added pleasure of a sit-down interview with ABRSM Chief Executive Michael Elliott on the day, and I’m grateful to him for graciously giving up time to answer my questions. Thanks too to Penny Milsom and Kerry Sheehan for their support.

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I’ve said in previous years, but it bears repeating: ABRSM really know how to put on a fantastic training day for instrumental teachers, building on their experience as world leaders in the music education sector, and with their fine pedigree of in-house and associated presenters.

A pleasure, too, to be back at London’s Grange Tower Bridge Hotel, once again proving to be a superb venue to host an event on this scale. As usual, the food was splendid, and every need of both hosts and delegates was anticipated and smoothly met. As for ABRSM themselves, the event was as flawless as in previous years, even though there was a noticeably and considerably larger audience this year (the conference sold out well in advance).

The rear cover of the glossy conference programme included the following important reminder of just how extraordinary ABRSM’s global reach is, summed up in these staggering statistics:

Over 40 million exams since 1889
600,000 exams a year
More than 700 examiners
1,200 books published
1,000 different assessments for 43 instruments
Exams in over 90 countries

I feel ABRSM are quite right to celebrate these achievements, because they don’t simply underline their success as the world’s largest examination board, but equally our success as musicians and teachers.

Not that we can rest on our laurels however; there is always more to learn, to do, and to achieve. As Michael Elliott explains in his introduction to this year’s conference:

“As music teachers, you have a vital role to play in passing on and nurturing a knowledge and love of this wonderful thing we call music. It’s a role that’s very much about giving and sharing. But it’s also about reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, discovering and implementing new ideas, and finding new sources of inspiration. Today we offer you a chance to do just those things in a conference packed with insights and top tips from a range of expert music educators.”

So without further ado, here’s the Pianodao report from the day… Continue reading ABRSM Conference 2018: Report

Journeys in self-publishing

Sheet Music Review

Back in the summer I interviewed Barbara Arens about a raft of publications she was self-publishing using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing option.

At the time I wondered whether other composers might soon be tempted by the ease this route offers those who want to sell their latest music worldwide, quickly, and without the need for an established publisher.

And sure enough, since talking to Barbara I have received new self-published music from two more composers, William Minter and Jenny Walker. In this post I will review their books, while also considering the pros and cons of this burgeoning publishing option.

Continue reading Journeys in self-publishing

Parents, Partners & Supporters

When I started teaching a quarter of a century ago, the bulk of my students were children. They and I depended on their parents for payment and support, which sometimes also meant direction. And the crucial (if at times complex) triangle relationship between teacher, pupil and parent was a fundamental in almost every private lesson context.

Today the world has changed considerably, and one of the many differences for teachers is that the network of relationships around the private lesson context has become a far more complex and diverse one.

Continue reading Parents, Partners & Supporters