Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

“If we begin to think about our goals in life as destinations, as points to which we must arrive, this thinking begins to cut out all that makes a point worth having.
It is as if instead of giving you a full banana to eat, I gave you just the two tiny ends of the banana – and that would not be, in any sense, a satisfactory meal”.

Alan Watts: What is Tao?

Over the many years I have been teaching the piano to children, one of the most common enquiries from parents is this:

“What goal can my child be working towards?”

More often than not, it turns out that they would like me to move their child onto an exam-driven footing rather than simply allowing them to wander more freely in the meadows of musical wonderment.

Interestingly enough, far fewer adult learners make this point.

We should consider why, and how useful goal setting actually is…

Continue reading Rediscovering the Magic of Piano

Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora

Sheet Music Review

One of the many positive developments within the piano teaching and performing community in 2020 has been a re-evaluation of the contribution of musicians of African descent to the repertoire.

A primary sourcebook for this music, Oxford University Press published Piano Music of Africa and the Afrian Diaspora in five volumes, compiled and edited by William H. Chapman Nyaho, between 2007-8. Between them, the books offer 60 pieces by 36 separate composers of African descent, organised by difficulty level as follows:

  1. Volume 1: Early Intermediate
  2. Volume 2: Intermediate
  3. Volume 3: Early Advanced
  4. Volume 4: Advanced
  5. Volume 5: Advanced

More than a decade has passed since the publication of these books, and it is odd that so little of this music has made its way onto concert platforms or found regular use in teaching studios, exams, and homes.

Quite why more haven’t picked up this music is a mystery, because anyone with a fair mind and musical imagination will discover as soon as they explore these OUP volumes that the music of these neglected composers is consistently superb.

So let’s explore the series…

Continue reading Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora

Melanie Spanswick: Simply Driven

Sheet Music Review

Melanie Spanswick enjoys a very successful career as a pianist, teacher, adjudicator, writer and blogger. In recent years she has added composer to this list, with a succession of publications beginning with easy minimalist pieces for EVC Music, and now writing for Schott Music.

I have previously reviewed Spanswick’s No Words Necessary for intermediate pianists here on Pianodao, as well as her series Play it Again for adult returning pianists.

Spanswick’s latest book Simply Driven is a collection of 5 Virtuoso Pieces, suitable for players at around Grade 8 and above…

Continue reading Melanie Spanswick: Simply Driven

Murray McLachlan: Complete Piano Music of Edward Gregson

Recording of the Month

There have been several remarkable piano recordings in the last month, but as regular readers will know I always particularly enjoy releases which expand our knowledge of the repertoire and take us on a journey of musical discovery.

Murray McLachlan’s latest release (and his first for Naxos) is a notable example, delivering a complete overview of the solo piano music of contemporary composer Edward Gregson.

Gregson (b. 1945) was a student of Alan Bush (who, incidentally, I met and played for as a teenager); like his teacher, Gregson combines modernity with irrepressible harmonic logic in his music, and it has a uniformly accessible appeal.

Though perhaps chiefly known for his music for brass and wind, this new recording reveals that Gregson’s piano compositions very much come from his “top drawer”, and deserve a far wider uptake.

For his part, McLachlan has added to an already raucously adventurous discography a recording which reaffirms, should we need reminding, that his name belongs in the first division of British artists.

So let’s explore this intriguing and fabulously enjoyable album…

Continue reading Murray McLachlan: Complete Piano Music of Edward Gregson

16 Attributes of a Good Teacher

Pathways for Teaching

With these striking words, contemporary Daoist author Deng Ming-Dao invites us to consider how our personal qualities can help us be the best people, and by extension, the best teachers that we can be:

“Those who follow Dao believe in using sixteen attributes on behalf of others: mercy, gentleness, patience, non attachment, control, skill, joy, spiritual love, humility, reflection, restfulness, seriousness, effort, controlled emotion, magnanimity, and concentration. Whenever you need to help another, draw on these qualities.”

Deng Ming-Dao, 365 Tao Daily Meditations, 188 (Harper Collins)

So let’s be clear from the start: what is on offer here is the secret of how to be successful in helping others, in any context. A lot of us will devote much of a lifetime to discovering the answers which are presented right here.

But how about applying this directly to our work as piano teachers?

In this post I am going to look at each of these attributes in turn, briefly exploring the powerful links that exist between a teacher’s character and the quality and effectiveness of their teaching…

Continue reading 16 Attributes of a Good Teacher

Igudesman’s ‘Insectopedia’

Sheet Music Review

Aleksey Igudesman is perhaps best known as one half of inventive and irreverent clas­si­cal duo Igudes­man and Joo, who have taken the world by storm with their unique and hilar­i­ous the­atri­cal shows, com­bining com­edy with clas­si­cal music and pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Igudesman and Joo’s YouTube clips have to date gath­ered over 35 mil­lion hits, and the duo has appeared live and on tele­vi­sion in numer­ous coun­tries.

But there’s a lot more to St Petersburg-born Igudesman, who describes himself variously as “The World’s Most Ambiguously Inglorious Composer”, “Most Accidentally Immoral Producer” and “Most Attractively Intense Violininst”.

Insectopedia is one of Igudesman’s latest projects, a collection of ten insect-inspired solo piano pieces for the intermediate pianist which aim to be as educational as they are entertaining.

From the rear cover of the beautifully presented Universal Edition publication, global superstar pianist Yuja Wang tell us:

“Reminiscent of Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, you will have a lot of fun with this little album. In fact, the more you are involved, the more fun you will have with it. The music in Insectopedia is so vivid that you feel like you are becoming one of the insects. Well, perhaps not the cockroach, but try not to fly away after playing it!”

Well that got my attention!

Intrigued? Let’s check it out…

Continue reading Igudesman’s ‘Insectopedia’

Granados: Danzas españolas

Sheet Music Review

Enrique Granados (1867-1916) was one of the great composers to expand the piano repertoire in the twilight years of the Romantic era, and must be counted among Spain’s most marvellous writers for the instrument; so it is a shame that so much of his output remains too little-known and rarely performed.

Less than a handful of easy miniatures have been picked up by exam boards and anthologies, the same few repeatedly so, revealing not only a lack of imagination but too limited a knowledge of Granados’s music, which in fact includes a significant body of music suitable for intermediate and early advanced players.

Meanwhile, the mighty cycle Goyescas belongs aside his compatriot Albéniz’s Iberia suites, but alas, only a couple of movements appear on concert programmes with any frequency.

At the centre of Granados’s output, the twelve Danzas españolas are a fabulous collection suitable for the advanced player (around UK Grades 6-8).

And while (unlike Albéniz) much of Granados’s solo piano music is closer in tone to Schumann than to Spanish flamenco, these pieces are replete with the regional flair and the sunny countenance that lends colour and a hint of exoticism to the best Spanish music. This is Granados at his most rustic.

That much of Granados’s music is difficult to find in good, widely available editions doesn’t help. Those wanting to play the Danzas Españolas relied on old editions by IMP and Dover. Happily, these marvellous pieces can now be explored in a superb new urtext from Henle Verlag, the subject of this review…

Continue reading Granados: Danzas españolas

Ola Gjeilo: Night

Sheet Music Review

“I love nighttime. I love the mood of night, and feeling all of New York City light up from endless skyscrapers. There’s something very inspiring and even reassuring and calming about that to me. New York at night is very romantic, I think”

So writes Ola Gjeilo in the introduction to his new album Night, available on CD from Decca (purchase from Amazon UK here) and sheet music from Chester Music/Hal Leonard (the subject of this review).

Those who’ve not yet had the joy of discovering Gjeilo’s music are in for a treat with this album and will hopefully also explore his previous work, including the earlier piano albums Stone Rose (2007), Piano Improvisations (2012) and his immensely popular choral music.

So let’s take our time and journey towards the dizzying and inviting lights of Gjeilo’s Night

Continue reading Ola Gjeilo: Night

Memoirs of an Accompanist

Building a Library

Specialist literary publisher Kahn & Averill have a stellar reputation for delivering compelling biographies and autobiographies of interesting and important figures within the classical music world.

I have previously reviewed their biographies of the iconic pianist Dinu Lipatti and more recently the autobiography of filmmaker Christopher Nupen.

And now, hot off the press, comes the autobiography of Helmut Deutsch, one of the most successful and sought-after lieder accompanists of our time.

Deutsch has accompanied, both on stage and in the recording studio, the likes of Hermann Prey, Olaf Bär, Brigitte Fassbaender, Jonas Kaufmann and many others.

His is a career and life in music that will surely yield both insight and a rich seam of anecdote, in the tradition of Gerald Moore’s excellent memoirs, so let’s take a look…

Continue reading Memoirs of an Accompanist

Rob Hall: 18 Easy Escapes

Sheet Music Review

Guest Reviewer: Dawn Wakefield

Saxophonist, clarinettist and composer Rob Hall has forged a highly individual path in music, consistently producing engaging, expressive and exploratory work that straddles genres.

He has toured widely throughout the UK and worldwide, and his performances (recorded and live) have been broadcast on BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 3, JazzFM, BBC Scotland & BBC TV.

As an educator, Hall has extensive mentoring and coaching experience with all sectors from Primary level through to Higher and Adult education. He runs his own teaching practice The Music Workshop and his tireless commitment to jazz education over more than three decades has benefitted hundreds of aspiring and professional musicians. 

18 Easy Escapes for Piano, published by Spartan Press (SP1367) offers ‘Original creations and arrangements for the contemporary pianist and is suitable for elementary players (UK Grades 1-3)…

Continue reading Rob Hall: 18 Easy Escapes

Catherine Gordeladze: Caprice Brillant

Recording of the Month

In my review of Catherine Gordeladze’s Dance Fantasies CD back in 2017, I concluded,

Dance Fantasies is a brilliant success, offering a fabulous selection of familiar and semi-familiar music in a fresh and inspired piece of programming.”

Now Gordeladze is back with an equally clever and in my view even better executed recital album intriguingly titled Caprice Brillant. Featuring a 76-minute programme of music from Bach to Kapustin, from Mendelssohn to Moszkowski, Gordeladze once again assembles an imaginative and riveting programme of too-little performed piano gems.

Let’s take a closer look at this month’s Pianodao Choice recording…

Continue reading Catherine Gordeladze: Caprice Brillant

John Rutter: The Piano Collection

Sheet Music Review

One of the most extraordinarily popular and successful British composers of his generation, John Rutter’s choral works, anthems, hymns and carols are beloved the world over for their distinctive mix of French choral, English pastoral and American popular influences.

Rutter has enjoyed a long career at the pinnacle of the English choral world, from his appearance as a chorister in the first (1963) recording of Britten’s War Requiem (conducted by the composer himself), through his time at Cambridge and his numerous prestigious appointments and accomplishments up to the present day.

Now his Piano Collection: A Flower Remembered, brings together 8 of his best-loved choral pieces in new transcriptions for solo piano.


Appearing both as a 21-minute recording by Wayne Marshall (available on the usual streaming platforms and to purchase in MP3 format here), and as a sheet music publication from Rutter’s publishers OUP, the arrival of The John Rutter Piano Album is something of an event to truly cherish!

Read on for more…

Continue reading John Rutter: The Piano Collection

Why is My Piano Black and White?

Building a Library

Nathan Holder’s latest book, written for children aged 8-12, bills itself as “The Ultimate Fun Facts Guide, and works hard to fulfil its aim.

We are told,

“From Beethoven to Billy Joel, Mozart to Mary Lou Williams, and Scott Joplin to Stevie Wonder, be inspired by some of the most interesting people who have ever played the piano.
Why is my Piano Black and White? takes you on a musical journey to help you discover the weird and wonderful world of the piano, and the people who make music on it! Filled with fun fact, jokes, quizzes and music, after you read it, the piano will never be the same again!”

Let’s take our lives in our hands and jump in!…

Continue reading Why is My Piano Black and White?

Piano Reflections with Lao Tzu

A couple of weeks ago I introduced readers to a feature I have added within the Pianodao Tea Room community: The Daily Dao.

If you haven’t yet joined the Pianodao Tea Room you are of course welcome to do so, but for this one time, I’m going to reproduce below the Daily Dao posts from the first week.

Each week, I select a “source” from which quotes are drawn, one per day with reflective and discussion questions. I have reproduced the first week below, and hope that you find these reflections helpful and thought-provoking.

The selected source for that first week was the Daoist classic Tao Te Ching by the great sage Lao Tzu. In the questions for reflection and discussion, these texts were applied directly to our lives as piano players and teachers.

In the second week, the selected source was Charles Rosen’s classic book Piano Notes. Those quotes and reflections will remain accessible on the Pianodao Tea Room community page.

And next week, the selected source is Mindfulness in Music by Mark Tanner, which I have previously reviewed here.

In the Tea Room, many of the questions and reflections led to interesting and supportive discussions between members; those comments are of course exclusive to that community, so once again, do come and join us if you are interested. From the reflections below, you will realise the Tea Room is not simply another Facebook group!

In the meantime, here verbatim are the six posts which made up the Daily Dao in the week beginning Monday August 10th 2020.

Continue reading Piano Reflections with Lao Tzu

Trinity Piano Syllabus 2021-23

Sheet Music Review

Sometimes, like busses, exam syllabi arrive more than one at a time. If it seems as if it were just last month that I wrote my bumper review of the 2021-2 ABRSM piano syllabus, well… that’s because it was. And now here is the new syllabus from Trinity College London (TCL) …

TCL tell us that this is their biggest ever piano syllabus, so there will be a lot of ground to cover in this bumper review.

Although I am going to integrate my material, I will tackle the review from two perspectives, trying to answer questions and pick up on the headline news for:

  • existing TCL exam users; and
  • those considering switching to TCL from ABRSM or another board.

So let’s discover the big stories in the TCL Piano Syllabus 2021-3…

Continue reading Trinity Piano Syllabus 2021-23

NEW: The Daily Dao

Regular readers will know how I enjoy sharing favourite quotes from pianists, teachers, philosophers and writers here.

Now, starting from Monday 10th August 2020, a new series is coming exclusively to the Pianodao Tea Room community over on Facebook.

The Daily Dao will offer a fresh quote each morning from Monday to Friday, each accompanied by a few additional comments or questions for reflection and to stimulate discussion.

Though seemingly a small innovation, The Daily Dao will add to the overall content offered by Pianodao by providing an ongoing reflective extension to the major themes of philosophy and practice covered in articles here on the main site.

My hope is that The Daily Dao will also bring together Pianodao readers and supporters with a closer spirit of sharing a common journey.

Rather than a random selection, each week’s quote will come from a single source: a book, anthology or interview. The book of the week will be introduced in advance each Sunday.

The sources I draw on will touch on all three of major strands covered here on Pianodao:

Pathways for Playing
Pathways for Teaching
Pathways for Living

Each month I will select sources pertinent to each of these, giving a balanced and varied focus to our thoughts and conversations.

Lastly, Tea Room members can if they wish volunteer a week’s quotes as a guest host, and I hope that within each month one week will be led by another community member in this way.

If you are interested in joining the Pianodao Tea Room, full details are here. It would be great to welcome more members to the Pianodao community; do come and join us!


DID YOU KNOW ?
Pianodao offers 500+ articles and reviews FREE of charge.
The site grows thanks to the generous support of readers.
For extra content and special discounts, join the Tea Room community.


Faber’s Easy Piano Anthology

Sheet Music Review

Faber Music’s growing series of high-quality Piano Anthologies have been establishing a reputation for offering generous and well-presented collections compiled for intermediate to advanced players.

I have previously reviewed:

Hot on their heels, Faber bring us their Easy Piano Anthology, a new book in the series that is aimed at less advanced players, including an enticing selection of arrangements suitable for the elementary to early intermediate player (around Grades 1-4).

Let’s take a look at this new collection…

Continue reading Faber’s Easy Piano Anthology

Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

In Part One of this major feature I interviewed Music Teachers’ Board Chief Examiner Mark Kesel. The article certainly generated a lot of interest, and as a piano teacher I am myself very excited by the innovation and stimulating vision promised by the MTB.

For one thing, the idea of being able to take a graded exam any day of the year is a real boon for those of us who don’t want to spend months working on and listening to the same three pieces ad infinitum. I feel that this simple innovation could revolutionise teaching and learning, providing scope for students to develop better momentum, engagement, and to progress far more quickly without being held back by the schedule of an exam board

Combine this with the no-fuss ability to take graded exams using a simple app in the lesson, and the fact that the MTB allow candidates to play any three pieces of their own choice so long as they are appropriate for the grade, and here is an exciting opportunity for learners to move away from an exam-driven mentality and embrace their own personalised piano journey, without losing the benefits of independent, fully accredited assessments along the way.

But I’m not one to simply jump on every latest trend or fad; ABRSM have been a friend on my musical journey for more than 40 years and I have used their exams almost exclusively with my students. Were ABRSM continuing to meet the needs of my students, I wouldn’t lightly make a decision to switch board.

When looking for advice and support, the Pianodao Tea Room is the natural place to ask, its members always willing to share their experiences in a friendly way. I knew several members had tried MTB exams with their students in recent months, and several were willing to share their experiences…

Here then are five teacher interviews I arranged, which answered my own questions and will, I hope, help you find answers to yours…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 2)

Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

An Interview with MTB Chief Examiner Mark Kesel

For music teachers and students struggling through the last five months, with the UK in lockdown, there has been a significant preoccupation with the problem that music examining boards have been struggling to adapt to the situation.

On the social media platforms and forums where I am active, I have seen regular and very significant complaints about all three of the traditional boards here in the UK. But throughout these challenges, one fully accredited music exam board has stood out from the crowd by a country mile.

Many teachers hadn’t even heard of the Music Teachers’ Board at the start of the year. But this changed overnight with the appearance of effective targeted advertisements online trumpeting a bold claim:

“MTB’s Grade 1-8 exams are to continue without disruption during this difficult period.”

The progression from intrigue to full commitment has been startling, many teachers who were formally loyal to ABRSM or one of the other boards posting online to praise the MTB Exams having tried them out and had hugely positive experiences.

Determined to get to the bottom of this, I tracked down MTB’s Chief Examiner Mark Kesel for this remote interview. And in a second feature I talk to some of those teachers who have tried out these exams with their students, asking them about their experiences.

So buckle up and enjoy the ride…

Continue reading Discovering MTB Exams (part 1)

Louis Lortie: In paradisum

photo: Elias.photography

Recording of the Month

Of all the truly seminal composers in the evolution of the piano repertoire, Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) remains one of the less performed, his significance little understood, his extraordinary music too easily overlooked.

How welcome then In paradisum, the second instalment in French-Canadian pianist Louis Lortie’s Chandos series A Fauré Recital which began with the excellent Après un rêve (available here) back in 2016, and which we must hope will develop into a complete cycle of this, arguably Fauré’s most important body of music.


Whether you are already an enthusiast for this music or a newcomer to it, Lortie’s winning way with Fauré’s idiom will enchant and enliven your appreciation of this wonderful repertoire, so let’s take the disc for a spin…

Continue reading Louis Lortie: In paradisum