A Canadian Playlist by Maggie Morrison

My guest writer this week is Canadian pianist, teacher, adjudicator and musicologist Maggie Morrison. Maggie (pictured below) is studying for her doctorate at the University of Toronto, where she is researching the piano music of Canadian composer David L. McIntyre. I asked her what qualities pervade David’s music and what drew her to study the music of contemporary Canadian composers. Over to Maggie…


When Melanie and I met this past March as adjudicators in Hong Kong, my grandfather was alive. He now rests in the Eternal Garden, a niche cremation wall in Brantford, Ontario.  After his death I began spending every Thursday with my Nana. During one of our Thursdays together, I noticed a hunter green chest tucked away in a corner with the title “J. WRATTEN” printed on the top in big black lettering.

I opened it up and found my great grandfather’s immigration slip from England dated 1913, from the port of Liverpool – the immigration slip!  I hadn’t thought or realized until that moment that my gramps was first generation Canadian. He instilled values that serve me today – work hard, be kind, and get the job done.

My grandpa grew up in the Salvation Army playing the tuba; he encouraged my mom to be a musician as a young girl, driving her to lessons and local Kiwanis competitions.  She is now an established teacher, life coach and mentor; blazing a trail for badass entrepreneurs with her online business The Music Teacher’s Teacher.

I grew up with Boris Berlin’s pedagogy books as a beginner pianist, attended Sharon, Louis and Bram concerts as a little girl, and later blasted Alanis Morissette and The Tragically Hip on my car speakers as a young driver, ripping around southern Ontario.  As a teenager I studied with Dr. E. Gregory Butler who encouraged me (and his entire studio) to learn and perform Canadian pieces every year.  My first advanced piece of Canadian repertoire was Jacques Hetu’s Impromptu Op.70.  I love the freedom that new music brings, the map is a familiar landscape among a different terrain.

I’ve come full circle with my love of Canadian music: I’m focusing on the piano music of David L. McIntyre for my doctorate dissertation at the University of Toronto.  Back in 2011, I asked David to write a piece for me.  We exchanged many emails – he was interested in getting to know me both as a musician and an individual.  He asked me many questions, from favourite colour to country to cuisine.  The piece he wrote for me, “Transmissions”, is now a part of Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music syllabus for the Diploma level.

David’s music is completely captivating.  His compositional style is very pianistic; he himself is a pianist.  His music for beginners is full of humour and personality.  Listening to the Sun and A Small Band of Smart Rodents are two of my favourites. There is often a rhythmic force – a pulse, a pattern that drives his music.  In Transmissions, David’s compositional style ping pongs between two main focuses: rhythm and melody.  The first section pushes forward with intense rhythmic drive – from the first bar McIntyre doesn’t spare a second – it begins with sixteenth notes in both hands chromatically crashing to the second bar where an intense motive then takes over.  There is an element of satirical humour heard here, with an almost Prokofiev-like approach. The feeling of breathlessness and intensity doesn’t let up until a few minutes into the piece.  The contrasting section is dreamy and melodic – highly pianistic and soulful writing – using the lowest and highest ends of the piano simultaneously, featuring languid rhythms in a bluesy section and ostinato in the bass.

David’s inspiration for this piece came from the first telephone call ever made by Alexander Graham Bell from Paris (Ontario) to Brantford, about 15 kilometres away.  David thought it was interesting that I was originally from Paris, but was premiering this piece for a fundraising concert in Brantford.  Thus blossomed his idea of a transmission – a wave of energy through technology, from the earth to the stars (or satellite) and back.

We often don’t know how our environments influence us. Sometimes it’s very clear, sometimes it is less obvious.  I am proud to be the granddaughter of a man who valued music.

Here is my Playlist of Canadian music for you to explore and enjoy:

  • The Tragically Hip – Bobcaygeon
  • Alanis Morrisette – Ironic
  • David L. McIntyre – Transmissions, for Maggie
  • Alexina Louie – Scenes from a Jade Terrace
  • Francois Morel – Etude de Sonorite, No.2
  • Heather Schmidt – Nebula

The following video comes from one of my Bachelor’s Degree performances at The Cleveland Institute of Music in 2012.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Weekend Competition: the winners…

Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition. There were three books on offer this weekend, all from Faber Music’s immense library: Ultimate Piano Solos, and The Easy Piano Series, Film and Shows.

The winners are:

Miriam wins the Ultimate Piano Solos

Jennifer Foxx wins The Easy Piano Series: Film

Kathy Thompson wins The Easy Piano Series: Shows

Congratulations! Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and your books will be on their way.

You can purchase the Film volume, here, Shows, here, and the Ultimate Piano Solos, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Indian Raags for piano, by John Pitts

My guest writer today is British composer John Pitts. John has recently published  two volumes of Indian classical raags for the piano. I asked him to shed light on the rationale behind his books and explain why they might be of interest to students and teachers. Over to John…


Back in the mid-1990s I spent a year in Pakistan, where my love of Hindustani raags was born.  I bought a sitar in a music bazaar in Lahore, and had a few lessons back in London with the inspirational sitarist Baluji Shrivastav.  But over the years I have explored and composed raags mostly on my first instrument – the piano.  In 2016 I published a 258-page book – How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano – designed for anyone with a piano and an interest either in Indian classical music or in improvisation.  Early 2018 I followed this with a much shorter book  for early pianists – Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy.

The obvious question is: why?  What’s the appeal?  Why play Indian sitar music on a piano?  The short answer, in a word that keeps on cropping up, is that it’s fascinating stuff.  Plus, many of us either were the kind of kids (or have students ourselves) who spend far more time playing around on the piano than actually practising their pieces.  One of the many beauties of raags is that they begin in a way which resonates with that natural, exploratory, creative impulse.  And they introduce simple but exotic ingredients to play with, and a really satisfying framework to do it in.

The combination of rotating drone notes in a free pulse, the rich resonance of the piano with the sustain pedal permanently down, and a  melody line that uses a carefully selected Indian scale, quickly evokes an immersive eastern sound-world.  The experience will be new too.  Somewhat unique, even: improvising, initially over a free pulse, drawing exclusively from the notated material, within a framework that starts with incredibly peaceful simplicity and develops into a fabulously rhythmic and exciting drama.  Playing semi-improvised raags certainly feels very different to learning Bach or Debussy, or the ubiquitous easy listening chill-out piano pieces, or the latest pop song from the charts.  Having said that, there is a certain parallel you can draw between Indian raags and the pleasure of improvising around the 12-bar blues; where the notes of the blues scale immediately create a ‘cool’ vibe, and the clashes between the melody and the underlying harmonies are just part of what defines the style.

To be clear, raags on piano isn’t ‘fusion’; this is not a blending of two styles of music.  These books are a serious attempt to expand the historic raag tradition to a widely played European instrument.  I want to encourage  a much wider practical engagement in Indian classical music – in its sound world, structure and emotional journey.  I want pianists to have a means of accessing Indian classical music, and to experience its rich treasures by learning to perform it.

So, who are the books for?  Well, traditional raags feature highly ornate melodies,  partly improvised and partly pre-composed, within a set of conventions and a typical structure, and performances can last anywhere between 5 minutes and 2 hours. So the larger, 258-page book is for more advanced pianists.  Obviously it’s suitable for anyone interested in learning about Indian music (and those with an Indian/Pakistani heritage may have an obvious interest), or for anyone interested in improvisation generally, or for anyone looking for new concert repertoire.  But the methodology, the process, of a raag performance is so radically different from any western genre of music, that this book should be of real interest to any pianists seeking a radically new approach to music making.  The book contains the sheet music of 24 raags – much of which involves improvising using selections from the large amount of notated material on each double-page spread in front of you, with lots of written instruction and encouragement.

The ‘easy’ book, Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy, is a small collection of six Indian raags – 3 North Indian (Hindustani) and 3 South Indian (Carnatic), re-imagined for piano, and then simplified for fledgling pianists (both children and adults).  The purpose is to provide an introductory experience of classical Indian music-making in an easy, hands-on way at a piano, offering a very accessible first encounter with improvisation.  It is designed for near-beginners (pre-grade 1) through to early intermediate players (c. grade 4-5).  The first three raags are each presented in three versions; “really easy”, “easy” and “quite easy’,  so that students and their teachers can quickly find a best fit for their level, and add complexity when ready.   Each simplified raag is on a single double-page spread, featuring: the opening gestures to set the scene, the alaap (the guided, free pulse, slowly unfolding improvisation which alternates with left hand drone notes), and the gat (a pre-composed melody), an opportunity to improvise over a simple rhythmic drone, as well as a set of typical ending gestures.

There are freely downloadable recordings and videos at www.pianoraag.com where both books can be ordered.  The ‘easy’ book is also available as a downloadable digital edition, with or without a studio licence for teachers to print as needed for their students.

You can purchase How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano and Indian Raags for Piano Made Easy, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

 

A Royal Double Bill

I live in Windsor, which is situated in Berkshire, around 20 miles to the west of London. I settled here four years ago and it’s a delightful place. However, this week my small town has become the centre of the universe (or so it seems), and it’s been almost impossible to walk out of the front door without bumping into a camera crew. The impending Royal Wedding is certainly a much-anticipated event, and I wish the royal couple every success for their future married life. But if your interest in this regal occasion has already waned somewhat, you might like to take a look at this concert, to be held on the same day at 7.00pm in London.

The Around the Globe Piano Festival, organised by Marina Petrov and Maya Jordan, is a wonderful music festival and concert series which fervently supports Contemporary composers.

The Festival is held in the Autumn every year and is open to all levels and abilities. I adjudicated at the 2017 festival and thoroughly appreciated the wide variety of repertoire on offer. The standard of performance was also extremely high, and winners are invited to perform at various concerts arranged throughout the year.  I’m honoured to be amongst the group of Contemporary composers whose music features on the syllabus.

The piano recital on Saturday showcases winners from last year’s festival, including children, adult amateurs and professional pianists. A diversity of styles pervades, from classics to modern, including compositions written by a host of innovative composers including Lola Perrin, Lindsey Berwin, Vera Milanković and myself. Guest pianist Olga Dudnik will perform the captivating “Jewish Suite” written by prominent Serbian composer, Aleksandar Vujić. You can book your tickets via the Around the Globe Piano Festival’s  website, or alternatively you can purchase them at the door. Hope to see you there!


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Weekend Competition: Piano Gallery

The first competition of 2018 features an innovative, attractive volume penned by renowned composer Pamela Wedgwood. Piano Gallery  (published in November 2017 by Faber Music) is a collection of 14 piano pieces which, as the title suggests, have all been inspired by great works of art. Each piece corresponds to a particular painting, and these paintings have been beautifully printed and included as a pull-out (in the middle of the publication) alongside the music.

‘I’ve relished writing this music that responds to the mood, colour, style, story and even humour behind each painting.’

Pamela Wedgwood

The works are easily accessible and intended for the intermediate level pianist (around Grade 4 – 6 of ABRSM standard). Playing through them, I would suggest they contain a variety of styles, yet Pam’s own voice can still be clearly heard. I enjoyed Starry Night (painting by Vincent Van Gogh), Fatata te Miti (painting by Paul Gauguin) and Large Wave (painting by Hokusai).

You can discover the music and paintings behind them for yourself by taking part in my competition. I have one copy to giveaway to one lucky winner. As usual, just leave your comment in the comment box below this blog post, and I will pick the winner on Sunday evening (British time). Be sure to check the post here on this blog, to see if you’ve been selected. Good luck!

You can find out more about Piano Gallery, here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Weekend Competition winners…

ed_13860-turner_648_Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition. The prizes consist of one copy of My First Chopin and one of The Piano Playlist, both published by German music publisher, Schott Music.

Without further ado, the winners are…

David Barton wins My First Chopin

and Helen Miller wins The Piano Playlist

CONGRATULATIONS! ed_22459_1-ohmen_648_

Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and your book will be on its way.

You can find out more about these publications on Schott’s website here.

There will be more competitions coming soon!


 

My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Weekend Competition! Safari by June Armstrong

safari-cover-238-236-225-light-backgroundMy competition this weekend features a new collection of beginner to pre-grade one piano pieces written by composer June Armstrong.

Safari consists of 23 elementary pieces and follows the course of a day in Africa, starting with African Dawn and ending with Night Sky with Stars.  You can meet all the animals along the way – gazelles, flamingos, lions, giraffes, hyenas, monkeys, elephants and many others, as well as a myriad of atmospheric scenes such as Mountain Mist and Mirage. To listen to every piece click here.

This selection contains a distinctly appealing atmospheric sound, and one which I think both adult and child beginners will enjoy. A wide range of piano techniques are introduced, and therefore these little pieces form excellent teaching material.

I have two signed copies of this volume to give away, so please leave your comments in the comment box at the end of this post, and I will select two winners (and announce them on this blog, so stay tuned!) on Sunday evening (British time). If you would like to purchase Safari, you can do so here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Weekend Competition…

Faber MusicIt’s a Friday and therefore time for a weekend competition. I have two books to giveaway to two lucky readers; Easy Jazzin About The Year and Mindfulness, the piano collection, both published by the fabulous Faber Music.

Easy Jazzin About The Year is the latest book by Pam Wedgwood, and is part of her extremely popular series, Jazzin About. It is intended for those of Grade 1-2 (elementary) level and contains a fun selection of original and favourite tunes perfect  for celebrating various ‘occasions’ throughout the year, such as Halloween, Christmas and Bonfire Night. It comes with a useful CD too.

Mindfulness, the piano collection is a delightful anthology of famous and less known pieces for those of around intermediate to advanced level (Grades 6-8), all designed to help you relax, unwind and practice the art of mindfulness. Works include pieces by Satie, Chopin, Ravel, Schumann, Beethoven, Einaudi, Goodall and Frahm.

I have one copy of each book, so please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this post to be in with a chance of winning. I will select the winners on Sunday evening (British time). Good Luck!

If you would like to find out more or purchase these books you can do so here and here.


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Piano Waves: 5 Piano Pieces

Piano WavesMy new piano pieces are now available, both in hard copy and digital format. Piano Waves consists of 5 pieces intended for intermediate level, which is around Grades 4-6 of ABRSM, Trinity College, AMEB, or RCM examination board levels.

With a hint of minimalism, Piano Waves lie comfortably under the hands for pupils. Inspired by my adventures at sea, when I spent many years giving piano recitals on ships, I hope these pieces provide food for thought musically, as well as developing certain technical aspects of a student’s playing.

The first of the set, Seahorse Dream, portrays the Seahorse’s initially peaceful slumber, but after a while, the creature is suddenly awoken by a vivid memory, before dozing off again. Waltz on a Sunken Ship is an eerie, underwater peek at a handsome passenger ship at the bottom of the sea, complete with faded yet elegant dining rooms and dance halls, depicting scenes of yesteryear. Ocean Surge reveals the power and beauty of the sea; the climactic cascades characterize the colossal swell of the waves. Asilomar is a ‘refuge by the sea’; the overall calm, joyous feel of this work, might suggest a leisurely hot afternoon admiring the ocean from the shore. The Flying Dutchman represents a mythical ghost ship, always sailing but never quite reaching land; a shadowy, apparition of a ship, continuously moving on in the distance.

 





My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

 

Weekend Competition Winners…

WinnersLogo_0_0Many thanks to all those who took part in this weekend’s competition, to win one of two books by American educational composer Glenda Austin. These books hail from the Composer’s Choice series which are published by the Willis Music Company.

The winners are: Jo Snowden (who wins the Mid to Late Elementary book), and Jana Poljanovskaja (who wins the Early to Mid Intermediate volume).

Congratulations! Please send your address via my contact page on this blog and the books will be on their way very soon.

You can purchase these books by clicking here.

Image link


My Publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my two-book piano course, Play it again: PIANO (Schott). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, 49 progressive pieces from approximately Grade 1 – 8 level are featured, with at least two pages of practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.