ABRSM’S global standing has long been predicated on wide respect for their role as leaders in music education, setting and maintaining the “gold standards” that have been such a rich source of motivation and affirmation, inspiring generations of musicians worldwide.
But as they launch their latest Piano Scales Review, it increasingly seems they are ceding their authority, trading educational leadership for commercial popularity, led by market research.
In this post I will unpack some of their latest proposals against the backdrop of the bigger question of ABRSM’s historic role in setting and maintaining global standards in music education, noting both improvements and concerns.
Pam Wedgwood has long been one of the UK’s bestselling educational and contemporary piano composers, with several hugely successful series of books in her back catalogue.
Though now in her 70’s, she remains prolific; since starting to review music on Pianodao I have already written about her outstanding Jazzin’ About the Year (which has subsequently become one of the most popular collections with my own younger students), How to play jazz piano, and her 2017 collection Piano Gallery, about which I concluded:
“Pam’s knack for writing engaging idiomatic piano music and for creating satisfying character pieces with ongoing value seems to me perfectly distilled in Piano Gallery, making this a collection to truly cherish.”
Pam’s latest, Piano Seascapes, is the sequel to Piano Gallery, bringing players 12 new original piano pieces inspired by the sea…
The Tord Gustavsen Trio’s superb recent album The Other Side was my Recording of the Month back last October, and I concluded that:
“This is music that has the power to take us by surprise, to deeply move and supremely delight. The Tord Gustavsen Trio emerge not simply as three musicians at the top of their game, but as consummate masters of the Trio form, delivering a classic album that is far more than the sum of its parts.”
I also noted that rapt religious sentiment prevailed on the album, especially with the inclusion of three J.S. Bach chorale melodies as launchpads to the trio’s musical explorations, noting:
“These veer between heartfelt depth and ecstatic utterance, offering the album’s most intense pinnacles, and perhaps an invitation to join the trio and ascend to more hallowed ground.”
This Easter Sunday, it seems particularly apt to include this astonishing jazz trio meditation on Bach’s beloved setting of the chorale, ‘Jesu, mine Freude’ – do have a listen:
It’s now been three months since launching the Pianodao Tea Room as a very special exclusive online community for supporters of the Pianodao site, and there’s plenty of room for you to join us if you are interested.
Here’s a quick update of what’s new for Tea Room members:
I Back in 2008, ABRSM published a series of books called Piano Specimen Sight-Reading Tests. Although deserving an award for having the most utilitarian and uninspiring titles in my whole music collection, they have nonetheless rarely been out of action in the intervening years.
In short, they were an essential purchase for any piano teacher preparing students for ABRSM’s world-leading piano grade examinations, and have seen very active service over many years.
Since 2008, many others have brought out alternative products to help teachers and students prepare for the sight-reading element of ABRSM exams. Paul Harris’s ubiquitous and respected Improve Your Sight-Reading series has been updated more than once, and now includes audio tracks. Useful and innovative alternatives have also appeared from Alan Bullard, Samantha Coates, e-music maestro and several others.
Now ABRSM return with a new series bearing the slightly-less scary title More Piano Sight-Reading, a suite of eight new books, one to tie in with each of their grades.
A superficial look at the eight books suggests that these aren’t radically different from their predecessors (which, I should add, are still valid, as the syllabus itself remains unchanged). However, a more detailed look reveals several tweaks and changes to the format which, between them, make the new books a step-improvement on the older ones.
For this review, I will focus on five specific improvements which I think make this new series a superior alternative to the previous books.
An interview with teenage piano sensation Eva Gevorgyan.
At the tender age of just 14, Russian pianist Eva Gevorgyan has astonished audiences across Europe, Israel and the USA with her deeply felt musicality, dazzling technique and mature musical intelligence.
A student at the prestigious Central Music School for Gifted Children at the Moscow Conservatory since she was six years old (where she studies with Natalia Trull), Eva is gaining recognition as one of the brightest stars to emerge from Russia in recent years.
In 2019, Eva became the Discovery Winner at the ICMA (International Classical Music Awards). She is among 24 pianists who went through to the 1st round of The Cliburn Competition, and was named a piano student-in-residence at the Verbier Festival this year.
Here she is performing Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole, S.254:
Eva has performed for the Italian President, and recently quizzed Russian President Vladimir Putin in a live TV debate about possible reforms for the Specialist Music education in her homeland.
It was a privilege to witness her first UK performance, recently held in the Elgar Room at London’s prestigious Royal Albert Hall, and one of the highlights of this year’s Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival.
Afterwards, with Elena’s support as a translator, I was able to chat with Eva backstage…
ABRSM’s Piano Star series of books for children have been warmly received since their introduction a couple of years ago, their pieces regularly appearing in student concerts, festivals, the Prep Test and Grade 1 exams.
Last year the original series of three progressive books of fresh new repertoire grew to include a book of “Five Finger Tunes” at the entry level, and a “Piano Star Grade 1” book at the upper end (reviewed here).
And now there’s another addition: the Piano Star Theory primer is published this week. Let’s take a look…