As we slide from one decade into the next, I want to say a huge THANK YOU to readers for all your support in 2019.
The close of the year is always a time for reflection, for looking back at our successes and failures, for making resolutions to do and to be better in the coming year…
The last twelve months have been record-breaking ones for this site, with readership numbers worldwide having doubled in the last couple of years.
As ever, there have been many individual articles and reviews that have attracted special attention, and in this post I will be continuing the annual tradition of counting down the most popular ten posts.
It’s always interesting to see which posts most speak to the contemporary issues and concerns that readers have, and the list can be seen as a barometer of the subjects which the piano community are interested in at present.
I will also be naming the Pianodao Album of the Year 2019 as well as highlighting some other great piano recordings that I wasn’t able to feature in my Recording of the Month series.
And as in previous years, this post will disappear in just a few days’ time, so if you are interested… don’t wait! Now’s the time to read on …
This year I wasn’t a media guest at the conference, but in any case ABRSM chose to make their biggest announcements online. And two of those announcements are pretty significant…
This article offers a quick update on ABRSM’s new online booking service for exams, including some details teachers may have missed, as well as taking a look at their new online learning platform, Journeys: Guitar.
Paul Harris’s series of A Piece a Week books have been appearing at regular intervals over the last three years. As Faber Music now bring us the Grade 5 book, it seems appropriate to consolidate my thoughts into a single review.
I’ll start with a reminder that the books appear within the best-selling ‘Improve Your Sight Reading’ series. That said, these are not sight-reading practice books per se. While useful in the practice of sight-reading as a discrete skill, the books aim to assist in the broader development of music literacy.
In the review which follows, I will first explain the concept behind A Piece a Week, before then commenting on the actual material included in the books, including a few observations about their effectiveness based on my extensive use of them within my own studio.
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.
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.
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…
Exclusive Interview with Michael Elliott, Chief Executive, ABRSM
Having attended a few ABRSM conferences in recent years, the 2018 event was notable in many ways. On a visible front, it was noticeable that the venue was teeming with enthusiastic professionals.
More subtly, it seemed to me that ABRSM as an organisation was invigorated, the spring back in its collective step, its message an especially positive one, in spite of the challenges which presently face music education.
Against this backdrop, it was unusual too that in his welcome address, ABRSM’s Chief Executive Michael Elliott refrained from listing a string of achievements and announcements for the future, as has typically been the case.
Happily, I later in the day had the chance to sit down with Michael, together with ABRSM’s new Communications Officer Kerry Sheehan, to follow up on a few announcements from previous years and other rumours doing the rounds.
Michael gave generous and full answers, outlining his vision and a raft of forthcoming developments which will undoubtedly please readers here. And he was happy for me to audio record our interview and publish this full transcript, in which I hope readers will capture something of his enthusiasm and positive message!
Can it really be a year since I last reported from the annual ABRSM Teacher Conference? Apparently so! But once again this year I was delighted to be invited along to report from the event, share ABRSM’s latest news, and generally reflect on the day.
This year I had the added pleasure of a sit-down interview with ABRSM Chief ExecutiveMichael Elliott on the day, and I’m grateful to him for graciously giving up time to answer my questions. Thanks too to Penny Milsom and Kerry Sheehan for their support.
I’ve said in previous years, but it bears repeating: ABRSM really know how to put on a fantastic training day for instrumental teachers, building on their experience as world leaders in the music education sector, and with their fine pedigree of in-house and associated presenters.
A pleasure, too, to be back at London’s Grange Tower Bridge Hotel, once again proving to be a superb venue to host an event on this scale. As usual, the food was splendid, and every need of both hosts and delegates was anticipated and smoothly met. As for ABRSM themselves, the event was as flawless as in previous years, even though there was a noticeably and considerably larger audience this year (the conference sold out well in advance).
The rear cover of the glossy conference programme included the following important reminder of just how extraordinary ABRSM’s global reach is, summed up in these staggering statistics:
Over 40 million exams since 1889 600,000 exams a year More than700 examiners 1,200 books published 1,000 different assessments for 43 instruments Exams in over 90 countries
I feel ABRSM are quite right to celebrate these achievements, because they don’t simply underline their success as the world’s largest examination board, but equally our success as musicians and teachers.
Not that we can rest on our laurels however; there is always more to learn, to do, and to achieve. As Michael Elliott explains in his introduction to this year’s conference:
“As music teachers, you have a vital role to play in passing on and nurturing a knowledge and love of this wonderful thing we call music. It’s a role that’s very much about giving and sharing. But it’s also about reflecting on what works and what doesn’t, discovering and implementing new ideas, and finding new sources of inspiration. Today we offer you a chance to do just those things in a conference packed with insights and top tips from a range of expert music educators.”
So without further ado, here’s the Pianodao report from the day…
For 45 years, Finchcocks – a beautiful Georgian manor house situated in Kent – was home to Richard and Katrina Burnett’s impressive collection of over 100 historical keyboard instruments (some 40 of which were fully restored), including harpsichords, clavichords, early fortepianos, square pianos, and more.
These instruments could not only be seen by visitors whenever the house was open to the general public – they could also be heard in performances there, and even played. Finchcocks was one of the few collections where visitors could avail themselves of the chance to get a feel for playing earlier repertoire on authentic instruments.
When the Burnetts retired in 2015, and the museum closed, with many of its instruments auctioned off for charity, there was naturally some sadness among aficionados of historical performance practice.