Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair

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Phillip Keveren has established a formidable reputation as an outstanding arranger with his Phillip Keveren Series, numbering nearly 100 titles published worldwide by Hal Leonard.

Ranging from Gospel music, hymns and worship songs to contemporary popular artists such as Coldplay, Queen and Billy Joel, and with plenty of music from films and stage thrown in, these beautifully presented “Piano Solo” collections offer arrangements suitable for the late intermediate player, while there’s also a selection of “Easy Piano” titles aimed at elementary players.

The Phillip Keveren Series already includes several Seasonal titles, such as A Celtic Christmas, Yuletide Jazz, and for “easy piano”, Santa Swings.

For 2019, Keveren brings us another seasonal newcomer to the series, Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair, so let’s see whether he has again struck gold…

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Hauschka: A Different Forest

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Known professionally as Hauschka, composer Volker Bertelmann has catapulted himself into the top tier of composers. Perhaps best known for his compositions for prepared piano, Haushka has also excelled as a film composer, receiving an Oscar nomination for his soundtrack to the 2016 film “Lion”.

Hauschka’s latest album A Different Forest, a solo piano recording (with some electronic elements and treatments), was released back in February on the Sony Classical label.

There is now also a supporting sheet music publication from Bosworth Edition, distributed by Hal Leonard, the subject of this review…

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Contemporary Piano Masters

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You’ve surely spotted the rise-and-rise in popularity of so-called ‘new classical’ music, as championed by Ludovico Einaudi, Max Richter, Yiruma and others.

Their music seems to travel from TV shows to school concerts, and from adult piano clubs to the studios where those of us who teach students of all ages are routinely asked to help them learn River Flows in You, The Heart Asks Pleasure First, Nuvole Bianche and more.

And why not? These are expressive, melodic and reflective pieces that seem to have struck the perfect chord in our otherwise often turbulent times.

How happy, then, to find a single collection that includes so many of the genre’s top titles in one tastefully presented bumper compendium! Contemporary Piano Masters may just offer a one-stop-solution to your ‘new classical’ needs, bringing together 40 pieces from 20 of “the world’s leading piano composers”.

Let’s take a loser look…

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How to Blitz ABRSM Theory

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I’ve seen a number of good music teachers recommending Samantha Coates’ How to Blitz ABRSM Theory book on forums, and having obtained a set to take a closer look myself, I can see what all the fuss is about.

I met and interviewed Samantha Coates at this year’s Music Education Expo show in London, and she explained that in Australia, her homeland, the incumbent theory books she grew up with were (ahem!) rather dry.

Her criticisms surely apply equally here in the UK, where the official exam-board workbooks can similarly suck the joy out of a lesson, and have a surprising ability to make a bus timetable from 1976 look like a relatively exciting proposition.

Coates found a solution by producing her own course:

“What I wanted was an alternative, a theory book that essentially had the same content as this other boring book that I grew up on, because it was written for the same syllabus. So I just thought, there’s got to be a more hip and groovy alternative. 
I wanted a text that was conversational and user-friendly, and light-hearted, and in language that is not formal…
“I think the word “somewhat” should never appear in any child’s tutor book! I just wanted it to be much more casual.”


Happily, with publisher Chester Music on board, she has brought out adapted versions for the UK market, tailoring the content to match the requirements of our leading exam board.

So let’s find out just how different the How to Blitz ABRSM Theory books are. What distinguishes them from the official alternatives, and what are their advantages? Importantly, have they succeeded in making music theory more relevant and interesting for piano players?

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Rockschool Piano 2019

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“From a small office in West London in 1991, RSL (Rockschool Ltd) had a dream to change the landscape of formal music education, and sought to become the first viable alternative to the traditional offerings available in Britain at the time.”

So says Rockschool founder Norton York. And from these small beginnings, Rockschool has grown into a major international examining board, offering grade exams, teaching and performing diploma qualifications, vocational qualifications and performing arts awards in 9 different disciplines, and in more than 40 countries.

Rockschool recently launched their new 2019 Piano syllabus, which you can download in full from their website here, as well as publishing nine music books, one for each of the usual 8 Grades as well as “Debut”, their pre-Grade 1 offering. The music books are brought to us by industry leading Hal Leonard publishing, ensuring worldwide availability.

Note that the syllabus document does not actually list the pieces. For that reason, I will list them below as I believe readers will be particularly interested in this information.

Looking at the books, I think there are two potential markets here:

  1. Firstly, some will be interested in following this syllabus for the core learning structure it provides those specifically wanting to play rock and pop piano styles.
  2. Secondly, I suspect many players will be interested in dipping into these resources alongside more traditional music and methods for the breadth and perspective they bring.

For this review, my main focus will be on the published resources. I will include a concise syllabus overview, but a more in-depth consideration of the pedagogic pathway it offers and its benchmarking against traditional alternatives is beyond the scope of this article.

To be clear, too, I have never entered a student for the Rockschool exams; the assessments are fully accredited, but pianists and colleagues I’ve chatted with have given mixed feedback.

And I should also preface the review by pointing out that the Rockschool exams should not be confused with Trinity College London’s Rock and Pop syllabus, which I have reviewed here.

So let’s take a closer look at the Rockschool 2019 Piano syllabus…

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Einaudi’s Seven Days Walking

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Ludovico Einaudi’s legion of fans worldwide are no doubt already enjoying his latest release; Seven Days Walking: Day One was released in mid-March, and is to be followed by six further albums, each offering fresh variants on the first, culminating in a boxed set later in the year.

Hot on its heels comes the sheet music publication of the album, brought to us by publishers Chester Music and distributed by Hal Leonard.

For more information read on…

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Leonard Bernstein’s Anniversaries

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Among 2018’s musical anniversaries, the centenary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth in 1918 has offered an opportunity for musicians and music lovers to reassess his extraordinary contribution to music over the last century.

How fitting that Boosey & Hawkes music publishers in conjunction with the Leonard Bernstein Music Publishing Company and Hal Leonard have celebrated with the publication of Selected Anniversaries for Piano, a superb new collection of Bernstein’s solo piano music featuring 16 pieces suitable for players of around UK Grade 5-7 level, and including excellent support material and online tuition videos, all the work of editor Michael Mizrahi.

Let’s take a closer look…

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First Term at the Piano

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Bartók’s Mikrokosmos has, since the first half of the 20th century, been a potent force in the pianist’s repertoire, hugely impacting pedagogy worldwide, while his charming collections of pieces For Children have delighted elementary to intermediate players of all ages. But what of his other little collection, The First Term at the Piano?

Largely overlooked, except as a curiosity for completists to consider, this seemingly innocuous sequence of 18 short pieces has passed under the radar of most piano teachers, and even though some of the pieces are brilliantly inventive and melodic, they have too rarely surfaced in other collections, exam syllabi or student performances.

Now the US-based pianist, teacher, lecturer and editor Immanuela Gruenberg is looking to turn the tables, resurrecting this work for a new century, and for a new audience.

Her stunning new edition of the pieces – which comes with complete commentary, imaginative lesson plans, and a series of online videos – has recently been published by Hal Leonard in association with Boosey & Hawkes. And as we shall see in this review, it is a genuine must-have purchase for anyone who teaches beginners.

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