My guest writer today is Canadian composer and teacher Wendy Edwards Beardall-Norton. Wendy has taught the piano for over 40 years and, more recently, she has been writing music for it. In this article she describes her journey towards composition, and how she became a published composer. You can also enjoy her music by hearing and downloading the free piano composition at the end of this article.
Music has always been an integral part of my life. I think I was born singing and dancing. One apocryphal story in my family is that I was in a playpen (we used them in my day!) in Toronto, in the front yard on a bright April day. I was around 30 months old. A woman was passing by the house, then back-tracked, went up to the front door and rapped on the screen. When my Mother answered the door, the woman, looking quite awed, said; ‘I’m sorry for disturbing you, but do you know that your little child out there is humming Twentieth Century Drawing Room? (a currently popular song with a classical styling). Apocryphal or not, it did demonstrate that music was very much part of my life from my very early years. It also gives away my age, as this little ditty was released in 1937!
I was fortunate to have dancing, singing and piano lessons from a very young age, and, in high-school, in Hamilton, Ontario, to have group musical instruction, practical and theoretical, for two 90-minute periods twice a week for five years.
Though I lived in Hamilton for around 17 years, I had been born in Toronto and returned there to marry, and have my three wonderful sons. We had no room for a piano when my Mother offered to send it to me, and I eventually bought a guitar in order to have something to make music with. As a result, all three of my sons became expert guitarists, and I was brilliant at strumming and singing ‘Jean, Jean’!
In 1972 we moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick, with the proviso that I would get a piano. And this is where my teaching career of piano and theory took off. And so it was for almost 41 years. In 1999 my husband, Alan, succumbed to a heart attack while on a tread-mill at the health club. My boys were all grown and on their own, and my teaching career was what kept me going, both psychologically and economically, as my husband died without life insurance, though he had been diligently trying to find a simple life policy that would take the place of the one he had before retiring from the Provincial government. He ran out of time.
Music and Teaching
For the next 13 years my life very much revolved around music. I became the President of the Fredericton Music Teachers’ Association twice, and the President of the Fredericton Music Society and you might say that music and my Family were my life.
In 2007 I met the renowned music figure, Christopher Norton, when he was touring New Brunswick with his ‘Connections’ publication. We became good friends and in 2009, I travelled to England with a girl-friend to stay with my war-time pen-pal in Kent and because my friend wanted to see London, ended up staying at Chris and his lovely wife Frances’s flat in the Barbican.
In 2010, Chris returned to Fredericton for a week-long series of Master-Classes, Workshops, private Lessons and Student Concert. I was aware that Frances Norton was fighting, what I thought would be a successful fight, against cancer at this time. I was shocked to hear, in 2013 that she had lost that battle. In late 2013, Chris made a trip to his home country of New Zealand, and to the US and Canada, to thank people he knew for their support and friendship throughout Frances’s illness. To my great surprise before he left Fredericton, he proposed marriage. This was an unexpected shock on many levels, most seriously, to me, the difference in our ages. But it wasn’t a deterrent to Chris, and we were married in Fredericton in 2014 and I moved to London, U.K. as his wife!
Living with Christopher Norton is a learning experience in its own right. I, of course, knew about much of his piano music, which I admired and had taught over a number of years. I wasn’t aware of the vast output of choral, music for instruments, arrangements for piano, and other instruments, workshops, Masterclasses, etc. that was his world.
One of the newer creative ventures that Chris had just started was the producing of what he called MicroMusicals; 45-minute musicals based on a variety of subjects from the British education syllabi. He had six of these published by his publisher, Boosey & Hawkes in the U.K. At the time of our marriage Chris was aware that I was very involved with music, but had no idea that literate writing had always been an equally important part of my life, and that from childhood I had written and won prizes for poetry. I had also written short stories, a Children’s book, and a ton of lyrics, to accompany tunes that I had composed. When he realised that, he suggested that I try writing the story lines and some of the lyrics for new subjects suggested by the schools we were working with. To date, we have collaborated on an additional twenty-four MicroMusicals on a very wide range of subjects. Three of these I wrote, not only the story line and lyrics, but also the melodies for the ten or so songs in each musical, all brilliantly arranged by Christopher. Until the Covid outbreak, Chris and I were contracted to teach the MicroMusicals three times yearly in several London primary schools. Boosey & Hawkes are now in the process of publishing all twenty-four remaining MicroMusicals!
In 2018, in the midst of the Brexit debacle, which we were completely opposed to, and on a trip to Toronto to work and to visit my one son who resided there with his Family, Chris suggested, out of the blue, that we pull up stakes in the U.K. and move to Canada, where he did a lot of work and where he had a business in partnership with a colleague in Stratford, Ontario. Within days we had gone to Stratford, found a house, and by the time we were back in London had almost completed the deal on a house we both found charming.
Once we settled in Canada, Chris, a most loving, supportive, encouraging and non-competitive partner, began suggesting that I consider getting into serious composing. I had done a fair amount of composing over my 42 years of teaching piano and music theory, but I was more dedicated to giving my students an enriched musical experience, and though I taught and encouraged composition, I myself composed only sporadically, and with no thought of publishing.
My first book, published by Debra Wanless Publishing in Canada, is an eclectic collection of Intermediate range pieces. As I was writing pieces for Take It From Me, I began to realise that I had less interest in writing specifically for children, although most pieces could be played and enjoyed by any age. The repertoire in this book, and incidentally, in my next book, Take It From Me Again, as well as the forthcoming book, So Here We Are Again (from lyrics written for the second from last piece in the book, A Memory In My Mind; there are lyrics for several of the pieces in all three books), will be released separately. These are directed more toward the older teen or adult student for additional repertoire, which could be played for recitals, own choice examination pieces, or simply for pleasure.
Each book contains a mixed variety of dances, programme pieces, fun and occasion pieces and songs. There are rhythmic and co-ordination challenges in a number of the pieces, and hopefully some memorable melodies. I have enjoyed greatly writing these pieces and I hope that those who choose to play them will enjoy them just as much!
For those who would like an introduction to Wendy’s music, click the following links to hear and download A Perfect Day from Take It From Me Again:
And you can download the score, here:
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.