Here is my latest review on Music Teachers Helper:
May and June were the busiest months for my studio – recitals, festivals, competitions, National Piano Guild auditions, Royal Conservatory Music Development Program assessments – there was something going on almost every weekend. July and August are typically quieter, with many students away for the summer. One of the things on my to-do list during this down time is to do a studio library inventory check, restock my favorites, and shop for new titles. The following new series has caught my eyes:
A Graded Collection of Piano Duets by Master Composers, selected and edited by Gayle Kowalchyk, E.L. Lancaster, Jane Magrath
I am a big believer in introducing works by the good old masters of Western Art Music to beginning students. It is easy to find fresh-sounding, recital-appropriate repertoire written by contemporary composers – I applaud the major music publishers for printing high quality, pedagogically sound music by living composers/music educators who write with today’s students in mind. It is not so easy to find music by 18th, 19th, and early 20th-century composers that are technically simple enough for beginning students, yet sound sophisticated enough to keep them interested. One sure way to make simple music sound good is to play teacher accompaniments with the students. This new series serves that purpose brilliantly. There are four books in this collection, introducing piano duet music by 22 different composers spanning three centuries. You will not find big names such as Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven – their duet repertoire requires more advanced levels, but you will find familiar names such as Cornelius Gurlitt, Anton Diabelli, Carl Czerny, and even Igor Stravinsky. I am also happy to get to know names such as Ignaz Moscheles, Joseph Low, Arnoldo Sartorio, and many others who made significant contributions to the piano duet repertoire for students.
The following are noteworthy when using this series:
1. Levels 1 and 2 contain teacher-student duets – the Secondo/Teacher part is much more difficult than the Primo/Student part. In Levels 3 and 4, the parts are no longer labelled Teacher or Student, simply Primo or Secondo – they are comparable in terms of difficulty and musical interest, and would be suitable for either teacher/student ensemble or two students of similar ability.
2. The books are labelled Levels 1-4, without the use of words such as Elementary or Intermediate. Level 1 contains a lot of 5-finger position and unison playing in the Primo part, so a rhythmically competent Elementary level student would be able to work through it. The selections have interesting titles to spark imagination, for example, Funeral for a Bird, A Bike Ride, In the Boat, Calm Seas, to name a few. Students will also learn up to two sharps, three flats, and use of 6/8 time signature. Level 2 also contains much use of unison playing, but with more variety of rhythmic patterns and articulations, change of tonality, and longer musical phrases and ideas, suitable for Late Elementary level students. I would designate Levels 3-4 as Early Intermediate to Intermediate levels.
3. At the back of each book there is a short paragraph about each of the featured composers. These are not boring dictionary-style hard facts, but interesting life stories. For example, Anton Diabelli ran a financially successful publishing company, Arthur Foote was the first music degree recipient in America, and Cesar Cui learned musical notation by hand copying Italian operas and Chopin Mazurkas!
4. The Primo and Secondo parts are printed on separate pages, making it easy to read. Every piece has been carefully edited and fingered for performance ease, but no pedal markings are given. Experienced teachers and students would no doubt add pedal touches here and there to enhance accents, octaves, and certain legato passages. I am especially impressed by the phrasing and dynamic marks in the Primo part of Levels 1-2; the editors have carefully put those in to help beginning students appreciate beauty in even the most simple 5-finger position musical phrase – each crescendo leads to the natural climatic point of a phrase, followed by a decrescendo.
This new series is a great way to introduce the joy of ensemble playing to beginning students. The pieces are beautiful, accessible, and even the easiest ones demonstrate mastery of form, symmetry, and artistic intent. These books will no doubt remain a staple in my studio library.
For those looking for non-classics, check out the following new titles:
This series contains popular rock hits, arranged especially for students. They are technically accessible, yet remain faithful to the original sound, especially when performed with the optional duet parts.There are currently three books, from Elementary to Late Elementary Levels.
This is a series of three books. They contain original compositions that feature swing, blues, ragtime, and Latin styles. Each book comes with a CD, and each piece has three different CD tracks: Model Track, Practice Tempo Track, and Performance Tempo Track.
All of the above titles can be found on the Alfred website. Happy Summer to everyone!