P Plate Piano: the composers in Book 1

The P Plate Piano series will be available for sale in Australia on November 4, so I think it’s time for me to talk about the composers whose material I’ve used to create this series.

Book 1 starts at roughly the point that a traditional method Book 1 ends – students are expected to know the basic mechanics of playing notes on the keyboard, reading steps and skips (2nds and 3rds), staccato and legato, rests, basic dynamic markings, and to be comfortable playing black notes and reading flats and sharps when placed directly before a note, while all the time playing within a set five-finger position.

There are precious few composers who choose to create works within these extremely restricted parameters, but I found that, about 200 years after piano lessons really started taking off in the middle class, there is now at least a body of work from which to select the very best at this early stage of study, most of it composed in the last few decades.

One composer who pretty much always gets it right at this level is American composer Bill Boyd (1933-2001). His music never sounds predictable, but always sounds right, and his teacher accompaniments are fantastic fun.

Another composer who creates interesting musical experiences for young students is the English composer Jane Sebba, who has created the Piano Magic method books published by A & C Black. The two Jane Sebba compositions I’ve used in P Plate Piano Bk 1 feature changes between 4 and 3 beats in a bar, as easily achievable at this level as it is rarely expected, and both her pieces are great fun.

Back in 2002 I ventured into the fabulous Doblinger Musikhaus in Dorotheergasse, Vienna, where I discovered an amazing two-book series, 70 Keyboard Adventures with the Little Monster (apparently this is the right translation but is much cuter in German), cowritten by five teacher/composers: Karin Daxböck, Elisabeth Haas, Martina Schneider, Rosemaie Trzeja and Veronika Weinhandl. I will devote a blog entry sometime soon to a review of these two utterly wonderful books, but suffice to say I’ve included some pieces in the P Plate Piano series, and have been very excited to do so.

Helen Caskie (b.1930) is a New Zealand composer I first met as an eleven year-old when I was asked  to perform a piece from her suite of piano music, Of Things Intangible (along with four other piano students in the Manawatu area of New Zealand) at a music teachers’ conference. That, I believe, had been Helen’s first foray into composition for the piano, but she went on to compose more (and easier) music for Boosey & Hawkes in the 1980s, and I’ve used one of these pieces in P Plate Piano Bk 1. It’s wonderful to discover well-written, easy pieces that don’t insist on being diatonic.  Helen’s piece, Scaredy Cat, fits this description.

Fritz Emonts (1920-2003) is probably one of the most influential European piano pedagogues of the past 60 years, first creating a piano method in the 1950s, and then updating this method to create The European Piano School (published by Schott Musik) in the early 1990s to include material from across Europe, in recognition of the European Community.  Fritz Emonts’ music is more traditional, but it is beautifully written, and much of it is intended to be experimented with and rearranged by the student performer.

Anita Milne (b.1943) is a New Zealand-born, Sydney-residing piano teacher, and is my mother. She does not really think of herself as a composer, but in the process of making suggestions for pieces she would like me to compose she has ended up sketching complete compositions herself, and one of these, The Last Leaves of Autumn, is included in P Plate Piano Bk 1. It is a beautiful exploration of the two-note slur, and of the effect piano harmonics can create. It is by far the best piece I have ever used in my teaching in regard to the concept of the two-note slur – students just love it, and I am so excited to have it in published form in this collection.

Dulcie Holland (1913-2000) is a household name in Australian homes that house pianos. Nearly every Australian piano student would have played at least one piece by Dulcie Holland in the latter part of the 20th century. She composed a piano method series, Learn the Piano, as well as the Master Your Theory and Practice in Musicianship series that so many Australian music students would have used as their textbooks preparing for their Australian Music Examination Board written exams. One of her compositions from Learn the Piano is included in P Plate Piano Bk 1.

Daniel Gottlob Turk (1756-1813) was, amongst other things, notable for his piano ‘method’, Klavierschule, and I’ve included two of the pieces from that collection in P Plate Piano, one in Book 1 and another in Book 2.

Timothy Brown is an American composer who has written an increasingly large body of work for piano students. He is published by the FJH Music Company, and has his own webstite, http://www.timothybrownmusic.com, where you can listen to samples of his work.

Elias Davidsson (b.1943) is one of the more fascinating people I’ve met in my life.  Born in Palestine, now a citizen of Iceland, he divides his time between music and human rights activism.  Elias Davidsson has written a number of collections of piano pieces for students, none of which are easily available in Australia, so it is a great delight to be able to include some in the P Plate Piano series. Elias Davidsson’s ideas about what is important for young piano students to learn are completely in sync with my own, his compositions have both clarity and wit, and students will be challenged without being discouraged by his pieces.

Feliks Rybicki (1899-1978) was a Polish composer probably best known in piano teaching circles for his Opus 20, I Begin to Play, first published in 1946, and his more advanced collection, Little Modernist, published in 1938. Feliks Rybicki was better known as a conductor in Poland, being the conductor of the Warsaw Philharmonic prior to World War Two, and teaching conducting for most of his life.  His educational piano works within somewhat traditional musical parameters, but is wonderful teaching material.

And finally, Fiona Macardle, who is a contributing composer to the Piano Time piano method series published by Oxford University Press.  I’ve been unable to find out too much more about her so far, but I do like her compositions, and she writes especially well at this very easy level.

Most of these composers are also included in P Plate Piano Books 2 & 3, and I’m sure that many of them will be new to Australian teachers.

I’d love to know if you’ve been teaching the music of any of these composers…. I think they each have made such an interesting contribution to the repertoire at this very first level of keyboard skill.

3 thoughts on “P Plate Piano: the composers in Book 1

  1. Hi Elissa,
    Congrats on this P Plate Piano Book 1! I’m extremely impressed at the scope of the book, the survey of works (including at an international level), the publication/representation of a considerable number of female composers many of whom have been underrepresented in the past (as well as the present), …all in all it sounds like an extraordinary authoring/editing publishing accomplishment, and that’s surely exactly what it is.

    I find it quite wonderful just to read what you’ve written, and *how* it is written. I’m sure that as a teacher, your enthusiasm and ‘introductions to compositions’, your language and expressiveness, helps your students more than you may realise, and I feel quite certain that such an element is fundamentally important to the effective teaching of any subject i.e. informed enthusiasm and a willingness to share knowledge and skills with others. Congratulations again, ~w

  2. Thank you, Elissa, for your kind words. I really enjoy composing for this age and it is nice to know that others enjoy the pieces.

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