Jason Sifford’s KEYBOP

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • by ANDREW EALES
For help playing this • BOOK A CONSULTATION
For feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


New from the Willis Music Company, Jason Sifford’s two books of Keybop each offer “11 jazzy solos for the young pianist”.

Not another set of jazzy books for young pianists, I hear you say. But stay with me, because these ones are really worth a look…

Continue reading Jason Sifford’s KEYBOP

Herbert Howells: Piano Works

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • by ANDREW EALES
For help playing this • BOOK A CONSULTATION
For feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


Last year, pianist Matthew Schellhorn treated us to a splendid recording of the “lost” solo piano music of the celebrated twentieth century English composer Herbert Howells.

It was my Recording of the Month, and you can read my review here.

Now I am delighted to tell you about a recently released sheet music publication which includes all of these rediscovered and reissued works, together with a few other newly resurrected miniatures.

Edited by Jonathan Clinch, and brought to us by Novello Music, Herbert Howells Piano Works is an absolute treat for all lovers of this music, and a very welcome addition to the repertoire of advanced players.

Herbert Howells Piano Works Novello

Let’s take a look…

Continue reading Herbert Howells: Piano Works

Musical Achievement, Assessment and Motivation

PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING • by ANDREW EALES
For lessons and advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


A RESPONSE TO ABRSM

With a single Tweet, the exam board ABRSM have in the last week provoked what they have themselves described as a “passionate debate”.

Defending their stance, ABRSM have subsequently confirmed that these are the words of their Chief Examiner, John Holmes, quoted from his presentation at this year’s Music Education EXPO event in London:


In the context of his talk, Holmes will no doubt have made many other points, adding balance and nuance to his position. That said, his view of a “virtuous circle of motivation” was surely not made up on the spot. We must accept this as his well-rehearsed position on the nature of and relationship between musical achievement, assessment and intrinsic motivation.

Discussion of these important concepts must be welcomed. As teachers it is our basic responsibility to question ideas, absorb good material, develop subject knowledge and promote better understanding. I should add that we also have a duty to confront that which might genuinely harm our students.

These issues are of course also of interest and importance to the parents of any child learning to sing or play a musical instrument. In contributing this response, I hope my thoughts might be considered both by teachers and by parents who are rightly keen to understand their childrens’ progress.

Together, let’s begin to unpack some of the many positive ways that we can all celebrate our childrens’ and our own adult achievements.

Continue reading Musical Achievement, Assessment and Motivation

Folk Songs of the Far East

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • by ANDREW EALES
For help playing this • BOOK A CONSULTATION
For feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


Flushed with enthusiasm for Hal Leonard’s just-published African American Folk Songs Collection (reviewed here) I wanted to waste no time looking back at previous publications in this superb and growing series.

In this review I will focus on four collections of intermediate piano arrangements of traditional songs from the Far East:

  • Chinese Folk Songs Collection (arr. Joseph Johnson, 2009)
  • Korean Folk Songs Collection (arr. Lawrence Lee, 2010)
  • Japanese Folk Songs Collection (arr. Mika Goto, 2013)
  • Malay Folk Songs Collection (arr. Charmaine Siagian, 2019)
Continue reading Folk Songs of the Far East

African American Folk Songs

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • by ANDREW EALES
For help playing this • BOOK A CONSULTATION
For feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


Here in the UK we celebrate Black History Month each October, and with perfect timing Hal Leonard have recently launched a wonderful new sheet music collection. The African American Folk Songs Collection contains intermediate piano arrangements by Artina McCain of 24 traditional songs.


Dr. McCain, who comes from Arlington, Texas and is now based in Memphis, Tennessee, has won multiple Global Music Awards for her recordings of works by composers of African descent.

In her introduction to this new piano collection she tells us,

“African Americans created a rich history of song and dance. I am proud to say that I am the great-great-great-granddaughter of these strong and resilient enslaved Americans and can trace my origins in America back almost 200 years. In the late 18th century our musical history began with the African American Spiritual (or Negro Spiritual) and is the largest and most significant form of American folk song. There are over 6,000 or these anonymous masterpieces! Through oral tradition, they were passed down from generation to generation and brilliantly blended the rich musical culture of Africa with text describing hardships that they were experiencing in America.”

From this extraordinary treasury of song, McCain has selected her 24 classics for inclusion here, making original, wonderfully pianistic and pedagogically valuable arrangements.

I’m happy to tell you right away that this book is really outstanding, but let’s take a closer look…

Continue reading African American Folk Songs

Margaret Murray McLeod: An Appreciation

I was saddened to hear news of the recent passing of the beloved pianist, teacher, educator, writer, and composer MARGARET MURRAY McLEOD (1936-2021).

In this moving appreciation, guest writer MURRAY McLACHLAN pays tribute to one who made such a wonderful difference in the lives and music-making of many…


Margaret was an extraordinary, talented person in so many ways. She was driven by the desire to give. Her contributions to society, pupils, colleagues, organisations, and family are immense and serve as a model for all of us, even though there are few if any of us who could begin to match Margaret in terms of what she achieved.

She was an immensely talented individual, a beautiful person who touched so many of us through her tremendous warmth, loyalty, energy, and devotion. Her beauty is evident in many touching photographs from different periods of her life…. But the real beauty in Margaret was so much more than her physical attractiveness, considerable though that was.

She cared with beauty. Her pupils’ development mattered deeply to her. Margaret cared so much for Napier (where she was a remarkable head of keyboard), for ABRSM (for whom she did countless national and international tours as well as articles, presentations and books), for EPTA and EPTA Scotland in particular (regional organiser, EPTA UK Management Committee Member), for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (for whom she played harpsichord and Piano), and for the Royal Academy of Music (where she graduated from after a hugely successful studentship in which she won the coveted Scott Huxley Prize for accompaniment).

She was a vibrant speaker. She wrote enthusiastic reviews and teaching notes. She was passionate about training new teachers. The burning desire she felt to help new teachers resulted in an extraordinary annual summer course at Napier which ran for many years, and which was hugely successful in helping to support and encourage new generations of musicians to become piano teachers. Margaret’s piano teachers’ course remains the flagship model of its kind, and it remains by far the most successful piano teaching course ever to have been held in the United Kingdom.

But all the above is but a superficial beginning… Margaret was so much more than that. She never retired; she was constantly working, supporting, encouraging, and motivating. Every phone conversation I had with her (and there were many) always included a new musical project for her, or me, or usually both of us, to get stuck in with.

She wrote a wonderful book on piano pedalling which was well received, and which really needs now to be reprinted. She planned a follow up book to this excellent first volume.

Margaret was also a highly accomplished composer in her own right. A number of her beautifully crafted miniatures are still available in print. Additionally, she made transcriptions, including a most exquisite one for clarinet and piano duo of John’s solo piano version of the ‘Three Interludes’ from his film score ‘Another Time, Another Place’. I was deeply honoured and privileged to perform Margaret’s transcription with the clarinettist and principal of RNCM, Professor Linda Merrick at a special John McLeod 80th birthday concert in 2014.

Margaret had a highly stimulating and extremely busy career. Her performances ranged from triumphant renderings of Bartók’s Third Concerto through world premieres of her husband’s works, duo sonata repertoire and harpsichord continuo work (as well as much else).

But in spite of such ‘perpetual motion’, she never failed to be anything other than a wonderful mother and grandmother, and an extraordinary wife! As partner to John she was, undeniably, superwoman. Her energetic fervour, loyalty, and passionate endeavour knew no bounds when it came to supporting John McLeod the composer. Not only did she perform her husband’s glorious music, but she also helped and assisted with the tiring tasks of administration, copying, proof-reading and so on. And she was far from inactive in terms of promoting John’s music: Immediately after her husband John’s Sixtieth birthday concert at Napier University in 1994 (an event which Margaret lovingly organised and masterminded) the composer Ronald Stevenson pulled me aside and said,

‘We should be deeply moved, touched and humbled by the huge love that Margaret has just shown to dear John. That is devotion. That is loyalty’.

Ronald Stevenson always had a soft spot in his heart for dear Margaret, just as I am sure everyone privileged enough to come into contact with her did too. When John phoned me on Monday with the sad news, of course tears immediately filled my eyes, along with deep concern for John himself, who has lost his devoted partner after over 60 years of blissful marriage. Indeed, they had only just celebrated their Diamond Wedding anniversary on 12 August in a hospital party at which Margaret showed extraordinary fortitude, positivity, and spirit.

But, as the grief continues, we should also feel a deep sense of gratitude for all that Margaret did. She was courageous beyond belief in the face of her final illness, over the past twelve months in particular, so it is a merciful blessing indeed that she is no longer suffering.

There remains a deep held conviction that Margaret is continuing to inspire us all by watching over what we do. In particular she will ensure that the world shows continued loyalty for John’s glorious music. As mentioned earlier, Margaret assisted so much in John’s artistic work, and John looked after Margaret too. In the final months, as throughout all their marriage, John was exceptionally caring and loving. It is comforting to know that she spent her final days in her beloved music room, surrounded by flowers with her Steinway grand and photos not only of her family but also including one of Emil Gilels, her special pianistic hero.

Margaret Murray McLeod
pianist, teacher, educator, writer, and composer
Born: Southend-on-Sea, 18th November 1936
Died: Edinburgh 26th September 2021


Yann Tiersen: Kerber

SHEET MUSIC REVIEW • by ANDREW EALES
For help playing this • BOOK A CONSULTATION
For feedback on your playing • SHARE YOUR VIDEO


Yann Tiersen is best known for his brilliant and suitably quirky soundtrack to the movie Amélie, which yielded such contemporary classics as the Waltz from Amélie and of course Comptine d’un autre été.

Tiersen’s varied career has taken in further soundtrack work as well as solo instrumental recording projects, the latest of which is the album Kerber, released last month. Kerber maintains the signature sound that his fans have come to love so much, mixing lush piano lines with a gorgeous bed of electronic musical elements, ranging from the subtle to retro kitsch sci-fi.

Comprising 7 tracks which combined last around 46 minutes, Kerber is one of those albums within the new classical space which I think deserves repeated listens, and which I believe will stand the test of time.

Whether this is music that solo piano players will find themselves performing is another matter, but to help satiate the enthusiasm of Tiersen’s fans, Hal Leonard have just published the music book. So do these pieces work without the album’s other musical trappings? Let’s find out…

Continue reading Yann Tiersen: Kerber

Tim Richards: Beginning Jazz Piano

EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES • review by ANDREW EALES
Supporting your teaching • PATHWAYS FOR TEACHING


Tim Richards is well established as one of the UK’s leading jazz educators, having burst onto the scene with his best-selling book Improvising Blues Piano, which set a new standard in jazz education publishing upon its first release back in 1997.

Since then Richards has produced a steady flow of publications in partnership with Schott Music, including the excellent Exploring Jazz Piano volumes 1 and 2, and more recent Blues, Boogie and Gospel Collection, which I described in my 2016 Pianodao review,

“…not simply as the best “jazz piano” publication of the year, but probably the best of the decade so far.”

Now he’s back with two chunky new books. Beginning Jazz Piano Parts 1 and 2 are billed as a new jazz method for players who already have some piano experience and a basic technique, and claim to offer “an introduction to swing, blues, latin and funk”.

Let’s find out whether these handsome publications live up to the sky-high standards of Richards’ previous work…

Continue reading Tim Richards: Beginning Jazz Piano

Beatrice Rana plays Chopin

RECORDING OF THE MONTH • by ANDREW EALES
Showcasing an inspiring recent piano recording.


As Autumn draws in, there is usually a bumper selection of new piano recordings to enjoy, and this year is proving no exception.

In recent weeks, several major artists have released recordings which explore unusual territory, adding to the interest of their programmes. Streaming these latest issues, I have heard superlative pianism and moments of supreme beauty and inspiration. Sadly though, I must also admit that some albums I had high hopes for have ultimately left me disappointed, proving perhaps that novelty as an end in itself is not always the best route.

Enter Beatrice Rana with her latest CD for Warner Classics. Following on from her stunning and highly acclaimed recording of Ravel and Stravinsky a couple of years ago (my Recording of the Month here), Rana’s latest disc is a recital of Chopin, comprising his 12 Études Op.25 and the Four Scherzi.

And that’s it. No obscurities, DJ collaborations or electronic noodling thrown in to entice the punters, nor even an encore bonbon to sweeten what is essentially a rather dark programme.

But Rana’s programme is, in my view, the most audacious of all. It is perhaps easier to impress with music that is lesser known; to tackle two such beloved monuments of the piano repertoire and breathe fresh, invigorating life and artistic illumination into them: well, that’s a significant challenge!

And – big sigh – Rana succeeds.
This new recording is in a word: magnificent.

Continue reading Beatrice Rana plays Chopin

The Future of ABRSM Grades?

PATHWAYS FOR PLAYING • by ANDREW EALES
For lessons and advice • BOOK A CONSULTATION


In the last couple of weeks I have come across two well argued letters in the music press, the first by Alex Aitken and published in the September 2021 issue of Music Teacher magazine, the second by Pauline Carter and appearing in the October issue of the BBC Music Magazine.

Both letter writers lament a perceived decline in music education, singling out ABRSM as being uniquely responsible for this malaise. Their charge is probably unavoidable, and not without merit bearing in mind that ABRSM are in their own words,

“…the UK’s largest music education body, and the world’s leading provider of music exams.”

The diametrically different solutions each of the two propose points to the serious challenge ABRSM now face in charting a path that reconnects with all of their stakeholders, wins wide support, and restores confidence in their ability to (as they put it) “inspire musical achievement”.

It is certainly beyond doubt that many in music education are reflecting anew on the role, relevance and value of music exams:

What is the future of ABRSM grades?

I am coming to the view that it’s time to focus on a live performance assessment and scrap divisive “support tests” and other prerequisites from grade exams. Done well, this could raise a bar which does seem to have been steadily slipping in recent years, while better matching the real-world priorities of the 21st century.

When ABRSM announced their “Performance Grades” a few months back, I admit that I was skeptical. But having listened carefully to a range of opinion, I now believe that making the performance of music the whole focus of graded assessments could prove unifying, and makes a lot of sense for a variety of reasons. Let’s consider three of particular significance…

Continue reading The Future of ABRSM Grades?