Donald Thomson’s Halloween Piano Tunes

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Having only just reviewed the Willis Music’s Halloween anthology Spooky Sounds here’s another dastardly publication, this time from EVC Music and scaring us with 19 original pieces from the excellent Donald Thomson.

I have previously praised Thomson’s Celtic Piano Music (reviewed here), and am equally enthusiastic about this collection. Let’s open it up to find out what’s lurking within…

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Willis Music’s ‘Strange Sounds’

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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…

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Rendezvous at the Zoo

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Jennifer Linn is one of America’s most respected educational composers, authors and arrangers, with dozens of titles to her name. These include several collections of her own compositions, arrangements of music from popular shows, the Hal Leonard Piano for Teens method, and several award-winning classical editions in the Schirmer Performance library.

Many of Linn’s publications are best-sellers in the US, but most are less well-known here in the UK. Her latest publication is Rendezvous at the Zoo, and will certainly be of interest to anyone teaching children at early elementary level, regardless where in the world they are based… so let’s take a look!

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ABRSM: Pop Performer!

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There has long been speculation that at some point ABRSM would launch a pop piano syllabus, but they have perhaps sensibly resisted any call to do so.

The wide disparity and significant difference in approach taken by Rockschool Piano and Trinity Rock and Pop Keyboards illustrates the difficulty in creating a syllabus that is both helpful and true to the skills required by keyboard players in the contemporary commercial sphere.

Some forget, too, that the four Royal Schools of Music affiliated to ABRSM don’t offer specialist courses in this field. And then there’s the issue of copyright clearances: ABRSM simply don’t have access to the latest chart material without permission and significant cost.

Happily, ABRSM have now addressed this last hurdle by teaming up with Hal Leonard, the world’s largest sheet music publishers, who represent the rights to an unparalleled catalogue of commercial hits. It is certainly to the board’s credit that they can both recognise their own core strengths and collaborate with so prestigious a partner.

Enter Pop Performer!, two books of solo piano arrangements of contemporary pop standards and chart hits carefully graded for players from Initial to Grade 5 level. These striking publications look like the work of ABRSM, with songs arranged by examiners and looking little different to the pieces in their official exam repertoire books. But with Hal Leonard’s stamp equally evident in the songs, not to mention the inclusion of their online audio Playback+ software, it’s clear that this is an equal and exciting partnership.

Pop Performer! is neither a new syllabus, nor a hint that one is on its way. On the contrary, these are arrangements that can be played for enjoyment by those taking ABRSM’s traditional grades, and the board makes much of the important point that they can be used as ideal fourth pieces for their recorded Performance Grades.

In other words, what we have here is the option to include commercial popular hits, carefully curated, arranged and benchmarked, alongside and within ABRSM’s existing exam offer.

I’ll state upfront that I think this is a brilliant concept, am impressed with the books, and anticipate that they will be the most essential “must-have” purchase for piano teachers and students in this new academic year. So let’s take a much closer look…

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Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate

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Reviewing the first two volumes in the ABRSM series Nikki Iles and Friends when they appeared in April 2021, I concluded:

“I have no hesitation in declaring this series an “epic win” for ABRSM. Don’t hesitate in getting copies!”

Suitable for intermediate to advanced players (UK Grades 4-8), the books have proven popular with players in my studio here in Milton Keynes and elsewhere. You can read my full review here.

Somewhat sneaking under the radar, a third book has now been added to the series. Nikki Iles & Friends: Easy to Intermediate will, I am certain, have huge appeal to players who are less advanced.


The sensibly age-neutral cover matches the designs of the previous two books, but beyond that there are some points of departure worth noting, so let’s take a closer look…

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‘Graded Gillock’: Three New Collections

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I have long been an admirer of the brilliant piano music of William Lawson Gillock (1917-1993), so it is with huge pleasure and a sense of pride that I can now announce that, in conjunction with the Willis Music Company, I have selected and edited a new series of ‘graded’ collections showcasing a varied range of his best pieces.

Graded Gillock appears in three volumes, now available:


There’s little doubt in my mind that Gillock was one of the most significant educational piano composers of the twentieth century, as adept at turning out distinctively memorable and colourful piano pieces in an accessible style as he was at engaging the imaginations and enthusiasm of young learners, in doing so paving the way for today’s educational composers.

Gillock is perhaps best known here in the UK for his evocatively bluesy New Orleans Nightfall, stomping Swinging Beat and Latin-infused Carnival in Rio, all of which have been popular graded exam pieces in recent years. But what of his other music?

For this new series, I have used these favourites as a starting point, working with the composer’s long-term publisher Willis Music to explore and select Gillock’s most enjoyable and pedagogically useful music.

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South African Folk Songs Collection

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Last October, I welcomed Artina McCain’s African American Folk Songs Collection, reviewed here, and took as sideways look at several other titles from Hal Leonard’s uniformly excellent series of elementary to intermediate piano solo arrangements of music from around the world.

Now I am delighted to introduce the latest title to this superb series. The South African Folk Songs Collection contains 24 traditional folk songs arranged by James Wilding and Nkululeko Zungu, and is now available.


Here’s the Pianodao review…

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Philip Godfrey’s ‘Hotchpotch’

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2022 is turning into a vintage year for excellent new music composed for elementary pianists. I’ve already raved about Victoria Proudler’s Piano Grades are Go! and Anna Robinson’s Cats on the Keys, and I’m equally excited about Philip Godfrey’s Hotchpotch, newly published by Editions Musica Ferrum.

This small collection offers ten new compositions, each one page long, suitable for players at around UK Grade 2 level. And it is great!

Read on to find out more and have a listen…

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Anna Robinson: Cats on the Keys

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Cats on the Keys is a new collection of sixteen character pieces for piano, designed to be appealing and relatable to the 21st century piano student.

Composed by Melbourne-based piano teacher Anna Robinson (whose Notes on a Neighbourhood I reviewed here) the book is vividly presented and would suit elementary players at around UK Grade 0-2 level.

Before turning to the publication, which is available in the UK from Forsyth Music, I am pleased to mention that the composer has generously provided a FREE piece for Pianodao readers to download and play; the score is here:


And now here’s my review of the whole collection…

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Andrew Eales: Fresh Air

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I am delighted to announce that my composition Fresh Air has been selected and licensed by ABRSM for inclusion in their 2023-24 Grade 1 Piano Exam Pieces book.

The piece was originally composed for and published in the 2018 Editions Musica Ferrum collection Mosaic 1.

The composition is a gentle tune which I wrote in my head while walking in the local park with my dog Bella one lovely spring morning. The chords I’ve used mostly lack their bass note, giving a sense of weightlessness, as if floating in calm blue skies.

Here’s my recording of the piece, followed by my practice tips…

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