Terribly exciting news from the Music Teacher Magazine!
My interview about Elena Cobb Star Prize event at the Royal Albert Hall on 5 April is out and I want to say a heartfelt thank you to the team for highlighting such an important educational event for the young pianists.
The programme will feature piano students from ten different countries and they not only will perform music by the living composers published by EVC Music: Donald Thomson Paul Birchall Heather Hammond Lindsey Berwin Elena Cobb Irina Nenartovich Sam Wedgwood Andrew Higgins and guest composers Christopher Norton and Richard Rodney Bennett but also will have a unique opportunity for the masterclass with their heroes!
The British and International Federation of Festivals and I are working tirelessly on creating solo performance opportunities at the world-class venues to those who learn to play the piano. It is a common knowledge that in comparison to those who play an orchestral instrument or sing, young pianists are left to mostly performing in front of the examiner. Tap to read online why this event will be a life-changing experience for the students.
There is truly a piano piece inthese books for everyone.
Donald Thomson is a talented Scottish composer whose Celtic Piano Series, Celebrating the Beauty of Scotland, published by EVC Music (www.elenacobb.com) has been nominated for a major national award by Music Teacher magazine in the Best Print Resource category at the MusicExpo in London in February 2018. This popular series so far include three books: A Borders Suite, A Hebrides Suite and Scottish Waters.
Donald, who currently lives in Ormiston, East Lothian, studied piano at the RSAMD in Glasgow (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) and since moving to the Edinburgh area in 2006 has immersed himself in the music of Scotland, taking his inspiration from places he has visited. He describes his style as ‘Contemporary Scottish’, taking the ‘flavour’ of traditional music and giving it a modern twist.
The first collection of five pieces, A Borders Suite, was originally written as a Christmas present for his mother, an accomplished pianist and lifelong piano teacher, and grew out of a couple of short tunes that he had composed to play at a family wedding in Innerleithen. Within this book are lyrical, slow tunes, a quick jig dedicated to a family Border Collie called Brodie, and a dazzling depiction of the Grey Mare’s Tail waterfall, near Moffat.
The second book, A Hebrides Suite, was inspired by composer’s visits to the Islands and include musical pictures of a boat trip to Staffa, a lively take on the traditional waulking songs of Harris, and a carefree jig from Colonsay.
Scottish Waters, the third book in the Celtic Piano Series, was released earlier this year and draws on the composer’s affection for the seas, lochs and rivers of Scotland. The Silvery Tay is side by side with a dramatic and technically demanding depiction of The Corryvreckan Whirlpool, a brooding and turbulent Legend of Loch Ness and a jaunty tune called The Guddly Burn which always makes his audiences smile.
In addition to composing, Donald is demand as a freelance music typesetter (MacMusic), producing scores for many well-known music publishers. Recent commissions have included producing a full orchestral score for a recording by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on Hyperion Records, the latest A-level and GCSE music examination workbooks, and various choral and organ works for the Royal School of Church Music. As a pianist, Donald accompanies the Southside Choir and the Dalkeith Singers as well as occasionally joining forces with instrumental players and singers for solo recitals and examinations. And if this wasn’t enough, he also sings Bass with the Edinburgh Bach Choir.
Outside of his musical interests, Donald is a member of Edinburgh and District Advanced Motorcyclists (EDAM) and is often to be seen touring the country aboard his trusty Triumph, seeking inspiration for his latest compositions.
Click on the cover of each book to go to the product page with previews and audio to appreciate beautiful music by Donald Thomson.
60-seconds Interview with the Composer
Dogs or Cats?
Bach or Mozart?
Composing at the piano or in your head?
At a keyboard, attached to my computer; then fine-tuned on a ‘proper’ piano.
How old were you when you had your first music lessons?
6 years old (from my mother)
Morning person or night owl?
Edinburgh (and Paris)
Facebook or Twitter?
Workout or night out?
Night out (but it has to be somewhere quiet!)
Tea or Coffee?
Coffee in the morning, then tea for the rest of the day.
Below is my article from the Music Teacher magazine UK, November 2013. I am very grateful to all who took part in the lively discussions on the Facebook piano teachers forums, made suggestions and offered their opinions on this highly interesting and often controversial topic.
in 2016, Improv Exercises for Classically Trained Beginners was published based on my experiences of teaching jazz and improvisation to the classically trained pianists – take a look here >.
Over a hundred years ago musical pioneers created a phenomenally popular musical style – jazz! Exciting, rhythmic, harmonious, colourful, toe-tapping and ear-catching, jazz had it all – and people loved it! It was a massive shaking up of the musical world. And, as well, it had something new – it had a swing! However, this new creation had come from the poor and disinherited in the world; people who had lost much in their lives and had little; people who understood loss, disinheritance, loneliness, isolation – and for many, the associations of these people who had nothing and had lost an enormous amount (even, in the case of slaves, their freedom) meant that the normal music-loving populace could not give the new musical invention its due. Improvisation was not willingly added to the classical music scene and it is not an element that exists in our current musical exams. But – why not? Besides watching how excited pupils become playing jazz tunes and how fast they learn to play them, would it be a stretch too far to say they would also be happy to include improvisation in their musical learning?
Judging by the number of children entering the classical exams each year, it’s clear that children can be interested in whatever kind of music their teachers recommend. But, however malleable the pupils might be, teachers tend to believe that you need to be a specialist to teach jazz. They think that children who are eager to focus on it, need to learn sophisticated bass lines and intentional dissonances under the watchful eye of an expert and it isn’t considered to be something that an untutored teacher can offer – disappointing news for the average child.
Of course, classically trained teachers do have the advantage that they can tell pupils how to play each piece appropriately for the chosen composition style to make sure no marks are lost, and this works well for how current exams are structured, but what about the one, very important element of jazz which is different from the elements of classical music – improvisation?
Improvisation is believed to be a spontaneous moment of sudden inventiveness and, in reality, it has been around for as long as music exists. Great composers and performers of all classical styles were very good at improvising. But, somehow, it didn’t make it into the books we use today and it seems that only jazz musicians carry on the tradition.
Here is a quote by Snake Davis: “I’m an improvising musician. Yes, I read, yes I learn parts by ear and repeat them, but I am most happy when I “shut my eyes and blow”. But improvising can be very frightening. Nowhere to hide, no safety net, very exposed, like going on stage naked. So it needs to be handled with care, taught with passion and sensitivity. I love teaching it, de-mystifying it, I call it “making stuff up” rather than “improvising”. Should classical students be encouraged to improvise? YES! because it will make them braver, more free, more confident players. Should classical teachers teach improvisation and jazz? Yes, but ONLY if they themselves are confident and proficient improvisers.”
Not wanting my pupils to miss out on such an important musical experience I felt that as a modern classically trained teacher, I should be able to cross boundaries to provide a balanced education to my pupils. So I wrote and published ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ series for young pianists, (also for sax players and classical guitarists) which, unlike normal jazzy piano books (which don’t have improvisation sections), includes elements for young pianists who have plenty of enthusiasm for improvisation. And I hope that my recommendations will find their way into your lessons so the journey into the world of Jazz for you and your pupils can begin.
The main benefits I have found that jazz improvisation brings to classically trained children include:
– an increase in confidence and self-esteem
– a more positive attitude to home practice
– improved sight reading and eye-hand coordination
– improvements in the ability to maintain the beat and think on the go
– greater creativity in the lesson with increased development in independent thinking
– a sense of achievement for something that is considered difficult by others
– and last (but not least) let’s not forget the ‘cool factor’ – with lots and lots of fun!
If you’re a classically trained teacher and you find yourself confused as to whether to introduce improvisation to your pupils or not, you could find the following improvisation exercises very useful as a start. There are both rhythm and notation exercises and you could practice them with your pupils from memory or by looking at the sheets associated with this magazine with this article. Hopefully, you’ll find the exercises logical and easy to remember – and it will be fun for both you and your pupils.
1 Rhythm exercises Tip – Count aloud
Remembering that every crotchet consists of two quavers and we are getting ready to ‘swing’ them, tap the rhythm on your thighs and count aloud one and, two and, three and, four and. Get your pupil to start slowly and repeat each exercise until they are ready to move on to playing. Note that the left hand always taps crotchets.
2 Notation exercisesTip – Know your notes and fingers
The blues scale is very special and if you play the notes from it you create a ‘blues sound’. The exercises below are based on the blues scale on C and for your pupils to play them effectively, make sure they find the notes on the keyboard first and then stick to the fingering for the right hand of:
– 1st finger for C
– 2nd finger for Eb
– 3rd finger for F
– 4th finger for F#
Transpose the exercises into any key and let your pupils use them for different pieces or just for enjoyable practice.
Putting it together using ‘Super Duck’ Tip – Count the bars
Take a look at the preview of the piece and you’ll see that there is colour in the bass clef notes. C is in the usual black ink, but F is green and G is red. Make sure your pupils memorise this colour usage and when they’re playing, make sure they count the bars (as below).
(4 x C) + (2 x F) + (2 x C) + (1 x F) + (1 x G) + (1 x C) + (1 x G) = 12 bar blues
‘Super Duck’, one of the tunes in the ‘Higgledy Piggledy Jazz’ book, is a twelve bar blues and we can use that tune to start off with. It would be most suitable for a pupil already working on Grade 1 (and above) classical piano. From bar 15 you’ll notice that your pupil has the chance to play what they’d like with their right hands – they can play it as it is or they can use that space to improvise and make it into a solo.
Get your pupil to start practising by playing the entire solo, repeating one bar from the notation exercise in the right hand. When they’re feeling confident, tell them to try mixing the notation exercises up. When they’re feeling very confident and ready to go – let them use their own ideas. Tell them to remember that they are improvising and what they thought was a mistake could well be a real gem of a find! And finally, like a pro, get them to create a fantastic ending by adding the pedal to the last chord and playing it on the tremolo.
Certainly, jazz improvisation can be a little tricky initially and not everything will come easily. But it will be invigorating and rewarding to watch your pupils turn dreams into reality.
All Material Is Copyright 2013
And for even more enjoyable experience, please take a look at my play-along tracks here >
I am delighted to tell you that for the second year running, the committee for the Carmel Klavier International Piano Competition has selected piano works published by EVC Music for the programme and a great variety of piano pieces by our composers will be featured in the Contemporary Composers category.
Heather Hammond, UK Irina Nenartovuh, USA
Andrew Higgins, UK Donald Thomson, Scotland Sam Wedgwood, Australia Lindsey Berwin, UK
Cash prizes will be presented to the most outstanding performances of their works. Pieces by either composer may be used to enter the Contemporary Composers category (levels Elementary, Intermediate. & Advanced).
And the most exciting prize of all – the winners will be invited to perform at the Winners Concert at the Royal Albert Hall in Spring 2019. Please email email@example.com for any questions and sign up for updates. For the Repertoire List, please click >
In 2018, Irina’s piano pieces will be featured in theElena Cobb Star Prize repertoire list for the Contemporary Composer category at the Carmel Klavier (USA) and Feurich International Piano (Vienna, Austria) competitions.
Irina’s compositional style can be described as the Contemporary Classical. Her piano works possess some very unique qualities of musical expression of diatonic and chromatic technique, elements of folkloric style and neo-romantic music.
Sankt Petersburg. Photo Credit Lonely Planet
60-Second Interview With Composer Irina Nenartovich
Dogs or Cats? 2 Cats. I love dogs, but as a night owl, I can’t walk at 6 am! Bach or Mozart? Bach. Composing at the piano or in your head? Mostly at the piano, but can do both. How old were you when you had your first music lessons? 5 years old. Morning person or night owl? Night owl. Favourite city? I have two – Saint Peterburg and Jerusalem. Facebook or Twitter? Facebook. Workout or night out? Prefer night out but enjoy the workout too. Tea or Coffee? Coffee and green tea (strong).
… and finally, the first collection with Irina Nenartovich piano works will be released in 2018.
EVC Music is growing and with so many new names, I decided to write a weekly feature introducing to you each composer and the music she or he writes.
All this week, I am offering up to 50% off on Heather’s music for piano, clarinet and flute. To order the books, click on the link >.
To my knowledge, Heather Hammond has never written a tune that is not filled with the innate sense of happiness, groove or a swing. Heather is a prolific British composer with over one hundred books in Jazz and Pop styles for different instruments released by the various publishers during the past decade. Many of her pieces are regularly included in the Syllabuses by the major exam boards.
From 2017, Heather’s piano pieces are also featured in theElena Cobb Star Prize repertoire list for the British & International Federation of Festivals and starting from 2018, her works will be included in the Contemporary Composer category in several prestigious International piano competitions too. Read more about it in the next Newsletter.
60 Seconds With Heather Dogs or Cats? Dog Bach or Mozart? Both Composing at the piano or in your head? Both How old were you when you had your first music lessons? 8 years old Morning person or night owl? Changeable Favourite city? York Facebook or Twitter? Facebook Workout or night out? Night out Tea or Coffee? Tea