The Pianodao shortlist of the best Christmas Music books continues with music collections aimed at intermediate players (around UK Grades 3-5).
Here the range of music available begins to diversify, and I’ve picked out two series with a jazzy feel, as well as two more traditional collections…
Christmas Jazz, Rags and Blues
Martha Mier’s Jazz, Rags & Blues series is a true milestone in educational piano music publishing, and I’ve been using the five core books with students for years. Here we have five companion books which can be used parallel to the main series during the festive season.
The intermediate player will be able to whizz through the first book, aimed at elementary players, before exploring the second, third and fourth, which provide a wealth of progressive material that the student can look at year by year. The fifth and final book is suitable for early advanced players.
It’s worth noting that several tunes recur from one book to another, with more complex arrangements to suit the developing player. Also, UK readers will again want to know that the books have a US-centric choice of music (which is not, of course, a problem!)
Mier has a canny knack for both nailing a musical style and throwing down a catchy tune. Here, interestingly, she eschews the jazzy Christmas songs of the crooners in favour of traditional carol melodies, which she then turns on their heads to produce some fabulous reworkings that players and listeners alike will surely fall in love with.
My friend Andrew Higgins (from Alfred UK) sums up the books perfectly:
“Martha Mier is an extraordinary composer who captures the authentic feel of popular styles and manages to infuse them with the Christmas spirit. No mean feat.”
Christmas Jazzin’ About
Bringing a more British spin to a similar concept, and attached to another landmark publishing phenomenon, Pam Wedgwood’s Christmas Jazzin’ About is an equally sure-fire triumph.
Wedgwood opts for a diverse selection of songs past and present, with upbeat arrangements of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer side by side with more relaxed contemporary renditions of I Saw Three Ships and Silent Night.
In addition to the 8 solo pieces in the collection, three duets appear at the back of the book: Sleigh Ride is a great arrangement of the Leroy Anderson classic, while swinging arrangements of Santa Claus is Coming to Town and O Come All Ye Swingin’ Faithful offer a rumbunctious conclusion to this great collection! An included CD offers complete performances and backing tracks for these pieces.
A second book offers a further eight duet pieces, suitable for players at the late intermediate level. Sadly there’s no CD with this one, but it’s another great collection that will surely appeal to enthusiastic duo partners everywhere:
If I have one caveat in recommending these titles, it’s that the notation of swing quavers is inconsistent and perhaps won’t appeal to those familiar with more recent jazz education materials. For my money however, that doesn’t change the fact that Pam’s arrangements here are exquisite, hugely enjoyable, and not to be missed!
These Christmas Jazzin’ About books are firm favourites that have pleased students and amateur players for many years already, and are likely to remain hugely popular for many more to come!
Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos
Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos from Hal Leonard offers a mixed collection of 30 seasonal pieces superbly arranged for solo piano, suitable for intermediate to early advanced players.
A big draw of this publication is the spot-on selection of seasonal music, blending together so many great pieces in one affordable book. Most appear here in better-than-usual arrangements, too, making the book a delicious concoction for the Christmas holiday season.
It should be noted here that no words are included: these are very much solo piano arrangements of the songs, and there’s certainly a really lovely mix, ranging from traditional classics to the swinging Christmas favourites of the mid twentieth century.
Peaceful Christmas Piano Solos is without question one of the best and most useful anthologies of its kind currently on the market.
Capturing the Spirit of Christmas
Finally at the intermediate level, it’s a pleasure to remind you of two excellent collections co-written by composers Alison Mathews and Barbara Arens, Capturing the Joy of Winter, and Capturing the Spirit of Christmas.
Arens and Mathews are fine composers with many publications to their separate names; here we find their two musical voices side-by-side, complementing each other in arrangements of traditional Christmas carols and songs which are mostly lesser-known.
Capturing the Spirit of Christmas finds them taking turns to present deliciously pianistic accounts of such pieces as We Three Kings, Deck the Halls, Gabriel’s Message and O come, O come, Emmanuel. There’s 12 pieces in all, six from each arranger.
Capturing the Joy of Winter is an equally gorgeous collection, although here the selections eschew the religious aspects of the season in favour of pieces that celebrate and evoke the natural order and home comforts that accompany the colder months.
If you are looking for music in an accessible contemporary style, and something a little bit different from the usual fare, these books are for you, and are highly recommended!
These are some of my favourite intermediate books for the holiday season, so now let’s move on to some recommendations for the more advanced player…
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