Here is my latest review of new Alfred piano books on Music Teachers Helper:
Summer is over! Studio teaching for the new school year is well under way, and it is time to plan for recitals! Here in Temecula Valley, California, there are two active music teachers groups that provide numerous performance opportunities for students. The Music Teachers Association of California Temecula Valley Branch hosts an annual Halloween Recital where students can dress up in their Halloween costume and perform Halloween themed music, while the Temecula Valley Music Teachers Association organizes an all-inclusive Fall Recital. This works out great, as some families do not celebrate Halloween, and those that do can choose to participate in fun costumes and “spooky” music.
I would like to share with fellow teachers my latest finds in sheetmusic that may be suitable for your next Halloween or Fall recital.
This is a series of graded solos, drawn from the catalogues of Alfred Music Publishing and Myklas Music Press. The pieces range from Early Elementary to Intermediate, and represent the most popular and effective Halloween solos published by the above two companies throughout the years. Altogether, there are four books containing 39 solos from 19 composers! You will find favorites such as Dennis Alexander, Martha Mier, Robert D. Vandall, Catherine Rollin, and Melody Bober. I am especially delighted to get to know the music of some other composers that I was not familiar with, such as Sharon Aaronson, Christine H. Barden, Ruth Perdew, George Peter Tingley, just to name a few. Indeed, this collection is like an encyclopedia of modern composers! This aspect alone is worth the $19 price tag for the value pack. I also like the following features:
1. Beautiful Halloween themed covers – Book 1 features an owl, Book 2 a cat, Book 3 a pumpkin, and Book 4 a ghost!
2. Imaginative Halloween inspired titles – how can you resist titles such as “Witch on a Super-Speed Broom (Book 1),” “The Wobbly Old Witch and Her Cat (Book 2),” “Skeleton Dance (Book 3),” and “Ghosts on the Run (Book 4)”!
3. Focus on minor keys – most students, especially beginners, play a ton of music that is happy and “nice” – this is a great way to introduce minor tonality, mysterious sounds, and different moods.
4. Pedagogical values – students learn useful techniques such as varying articulation, getting up and down the keyboard, independence between hands, and using triads and inversions, all while having fun!
5. Relative rhythmic simplicity – apart from Book 4 which uses more syncopation, triplets, and extended eighth note passages, most pieces employ simple rhythmic patterns, so students can focus on other details such as staccato, accents, accidentals, register changes, pedaling effects – elements that make these pieces Halloweenish!
For those that do not care for Halloween, but want to play something festive and fun, I highly recommend the following:
This is a collection of three books from Late Elementary to Intermediate levels, that celebrate Latin American Styles. Wynn-Anne Rossi has done it again! I have always been a fan of her music, and am once again impressed by the originality of this series, especially so soon after her ground-breaking series “Creative Composition Toolbox.” All of the pieces feature musical characteristics of Latin American music through use of rhythmic syncopations, colorful harmonies, and mesmerizing melodies. A variety of moods can be found; the playful and energetic ones are perfect for celebrating Fall harvests, while the gentle and mysterious ones reflect the calming qualities of Fall. I also appreciate the following features:
1. Rhythm Workshop – Each piece begins with a short rhythm exercise that prepares students for the rhythmic patterns featured in the piece. This is perfect for the rhythmically challenged! No more than two rhythmic patterns are featured per piece, and students are asked to first tap them with their hands to become familiar.
2. Exotic titles – The Spanish titles are accompanied by a translation, as well as a brief and interesting fact about each piece. This sparks the imagination of the performer, as well as inspires students to explore the rich history and culture of this part of the world. For example, did you know that “Trinidad, an island off the coast of Venezuela, is considered the birthplace of the calypso style?” how about “Located in Yucatan, Mexico, the Mayan pyramid of Kukulcan has 365 steps?” You can not help but think about the island or the steps while you play those pieces.
3. No more Italian – How appropriate to use phrases such as “Feel the Beat!” “Building Emotion,” and “Relaxed Attitude” to describe the desired speed and mood for each piece! Students have no excuse not to understand and follow.
4. Quality original music – 23 original solos are included in the collection. Apart from the strong rhythmic aspects, they represent many different pianistic patterns and figurations that are useful for developing pianists. I can even see the potential of using this series in conjunction with the Creative Composition Toolbox – have students learn the composition tools, use one or two of the rhythmic patterns found in this series, learn the solos found here as examples, and write their own Latin American inspired original compositions!
5. Video support – What can be more authentic than the composer performing their own works! Rossi has recorded most of these pieces on her Vimeo site. Students can watch these at home, and it beats just listening to a CD.
Both of the above series can be found on the Alfred website. The value pack for Musica Latina is only $15 – get it while it lasts!
Are you planning a Halloween/Fall Recital? What is your favorite Halloween music? Do you have any new recital favorites to share?