Everything We Play

Your Stories
guest post by Amy Boyes

I am delighted to share this reflective and uplifting vignette by Canadian pianist and educator Amy Boyes.

“Everything We Play” is a personal essay written from the perspective of an exhausted mother and music teacher. Wishing for some uninterrupted practice time to play something emotionally satisfying, the author is reminded by her young daughter that all music-making is beautiful…

Continue reading Everything We Play

Exploring Janina Garścia’s Educational Music

Music from Chopin’s Land.
In 2020 I was commissioned to record five short films showcasing piano music from PWM Edition. Captivated by the music, I asked to see a wider selection. This series was written independently to introduce this wonderful Polish repertoire to a wider audience…

Janina Garścia (1920-2004) was one of Poland’s great piano educators. In addition to teaching in primary schools for close to 50 years, she composed around 700 pieces for younger players, mostly for piano.

Much of her best educational piano music remains in print from PWM Edition, and in this review I will focus on three collections which were selected to feature in the recent Music from Chopin’s Land promotion, together with tutorial and demonstration videos filmed as part of that project.

The three collections I’ll look at here are:

  1. Musical Pictures for the Youngest
  2. Teasers for piano
  3. Little Sonatinas for piano
Continue reading Exploring Janina Garścia’s Educational Music

Piano Scale Mnemonics

Sheet Music Review

Recommending a no-fuss scale book used to be a simple matter: just get a copy of the ABRSM Grade 5 book as was, and all the keys were there, clearly presented in order.

But following ABRSM’s 2021 piano scales revision this is no longer the case, their new graded scale books offering a shockingly slight smattering of just a few scales, as limiting as they are limited.

Good teachers everywhere are inevitably (if sadly) left looking for more helpful alternatives, and thankfully a number of well-known writers are presently forming an orderly queue to occupy the educational high ground that the exam board have so perplexingly ceded.

Paul Harris’s revised Improve Your Scales books look to a composite of all the exam boards for common sense, while Karen Marshall’s Piano Trainer series from Faber Music will soon add an all-purpose scales book specially devised to fill the gap. I will be reviewing both these resources in the coming months.

Meanwhile, here’s a new book from Catherine McMillan, whose unique take on learning scales will particularly appeal to children, and whose stunningly presented Piano Scale Mnemonics book is now a studio essential.

Continue reading Piano Scale Mnemonics

Is this the definitive KV 331?

Sheet Music Review

Published in 1784, Mozart’s Sonata in A major, with its famous Rondo Alla Turca finale, is one of the most popular works in the entire classical piano repertoire.

A couple of years ago, a newly resurfaced section of the lost autograph prompted Bärenreiter to issue an up-to-date Urtext edition of this celebrated piece, which appeared as edition BA 9186.

Now, another source has surfaced with the appearance of a previously unknown contemporaneous copy of the complete manuscript, which has prompted the esteemed publisher to update their urtext edition again.

The newly discovered source by a professional Viennese copyist sheds new light on the numerous discrepancies between autographs and first editions of many Mozart sonatas. It supports the assumption that the revision of the text for the first edition resulted from the change of target group from Mozart’s inner circle to an audience of connoisseurs and amateurs, but that this did not render the original autograph text obsolete; rather, both versions of the sonata represent historical realities.

According to the publishers,

“To achieve a truly faithful scholarly-critical performance edition of Mozart’s sonata, the editor, Mario Aschauer, has set new editorial standards and offers the most innovative methodological approach of our time by presenting the musical texts of the autograph and the original print separately without merging the sources editorially to a new text. On the basis of the newly discovered source, it is possible for the first time to reconstruct the autograph of this famous sonata and offer it to the performer as a self-contained playable version.”

Exciting stuff, so let’s take a closer look!

Continue reading Is this the definitive KV 331?

Kurt Schwertsik: Collected Piano Works

Sheet Music Review

When Austrian composer Kurt Schwertsik’s Albumblätter: collected piano works landed on my desk in 2018, I was intrigued, but like too many books it ended up buried in my review backlog.

Fast forward to Summer 2020, and the newly released recording of this music by pianist Aya Klebahn caught my attention on Apple Music.

Second time lucky, I was quickly hooked…

Publishers Boosey & Hawkes tell us:

“Kurt Schwertsik’s music is characterised by ever-changing moods and is idiosyncratic with a refreshing lightness of touch. Though a pupil of Stockhausen, the composer rejected serialism in favour of new forms of tonality. His search for an ‘alternative’ modern culture draws inspiration from Satie and the Dada movement.”

Intrigued? A little belatedly, here is the Pianodao review…

Continue reading Kurt Schwertsik: Collected Piano Works

Howard Smith: Note for Note

Building a Library

Any self-published autobiography could too quickly be written off as a vanity project; Howard Smith’s newly available Note for Note offers a strong rebuttal of any such inclination, delivering a rich banquet that could both inspire the “returning adults” of the amateur piano world and inform those of us who teach them.

We are told at the start of the book that,

“The events narrated in this book took place between Friday, February 14, 2014 and New Year’s Day 2018”.

With equal precision, Smith lays out the story of his piano journey, self-described as “climbing onto an escalator”, and in so doing achieves much more than a simple memoir. As we accompany the author on his journey, we learn a mix of theory and practice at his side, set in the context of his ‘late returning adult’ story.

Before I read the book, its author self-effacingly warned me,

“The text is as much a moral tale of how not to go about learning to play the piano, as it is a set of pointers to a more enlightened and effective approach.”

Having now read Smith’s “musical fable” from cover to cover, here are my personal thoughts on his success, together with some suggestions as to why I think the book is a truly essential read…

Continue reading Howard Smith: Note for Note

Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

Active Repertoire Project

For piano players, like everyone else, 2020 has been a huge struggle.

We have needed to re-evaluate our goals and quickly change many of our plans. But in the midst of the turmoil, many of us have found a renewed enthusiasm for piano playing, while many more have returned to the piano or taken up playing for the first time.

We enter 2021 with growing numbers of pianists and teachers embracing a fresh direction and revitalised piano goals.

Whether disenchanted with a dull exam-driven formula or eager to disentangle from over-prescriptive methodology, many are now hungry for a more inspired musical approach.

We want to embrace a more motivated, positive version of ourselves at the piano!

Thankfully, there is an answer…

Continue reading Active Repertoire: The 2021 Challenge

Herbert Howells: Piano Music

Recording of the Month

The last months of any year always include several notable CD releases, and 2020 has been no exception. But for this month’s choice recording I am again eschewing the mainstream for something a little different, but truly exceptional and revelatory…

Herbert Howells  (1892-1983) was an English composer, organist and teacher who is chiefly remembered for his wondrous contribution to the Anglican choral tradition. Alongside these activities, he wrote a significant body of solo piano music, much of it unpublished, undiscovered and unloved until now.

Matthew Schellhorn is a leading performer who regularly appears at major venues and festivals throughout the UK, has recorded numerous critically acclaimed albums and given over a hundred premieres of new works, including several solo and chamber pieces he has himself commissioned.

Having previously performed music from Howells’ modest published output for the piano, Schellhorn was fascinated when presented with manuscripts of the composer’s unpublished music, and so began a journey of discovery that has led to the release of the first of two albums of this hitherto unknown music, brought to us on the Naxos label.


The alchemy between composer and pianist is tangible in these astonishing recordings, every work seemingly a masterpiece.

Here then is the Pianodao review…

Continue reading Herbert Howells: Piano Music

Sam Wedgwood’s ‘Next Level’

Sheet Music Review

Sam is the latest member of the Wedgwood clan to be making a big name for himself as a composer of well-crafted and catchy piano pieces suitable for intermediate students.

Following the popularity of the two Sam Wedgwood’s Project books from EVC Music, the publisher’s latest release is his new collection of solo and duet pieces, Next Level.

Here’s the Pianodao review…

Continue reading Sam Wedgwood’s ‘Next Level’

Alexis Ffrench: The Sheet Music Collection

Sheet Music Review

Chances are readers will have encountered the music of Alexis Ffrench; his albums Evolution and Dreamland have both topped the classical charts making him the UK’s biggest selling pianist of 2020, and his music has amassed over 200 million streams online.

Now, in conjunction with Universal Music and SONY, Hal Leonard bring us the official music book of Ffrench’s biggest piano hits to date, Alexis Ffrench: The Sheet Music Collection.

Here’s the Pianodao review….

Continue reading Alexis Ffrench: The Sheet Music Collection