Animal Farm (or, published piano pieces by Elissa Milne with titles that refer to living creatures)

The cataloguing continues, tonight with a view to fauna.

I was born in Australia and then raised in New Zealand, and very rarely did the creatures referred to in children’s literature, either literary or musical, connect with any creature I had much experience of, unless it was a cat or a dog. Not a lot of piano pieces about cows. Or sheep. And back in the 1970s there were no teaching materials for young pianists that involved pukekos, tuataras or wetas. At least, it would seem, none that were known to my mentors and teachers.

All the music seemed pretty much to come from the northern hemisphere, and we’d be playing about hedgehogs and bears and the like.

So here’s the list of the animals I have referenced in my published piano music, thus far….

Funnel-web, Creepy-Crawlies
Cockroach, Creepy-Crawlies (also available in Getting to Preliminary New Mix)
Milli-Molli-Mandipede, Creepy-Crawlies (also available in Getting to Grade One New Mix)
Waltzing with Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs!
Dinosaur Stretches, Dinosaurs!
Turkey Trot, Getting to Preliminary New Mix
Cockatoo, Very Easy Little Peppers
Cat and Mouse, Easy Little Peppers
Mozzie, Easy Little Peppers
The Lone Echidna, Easy Little Peppers
Cat’s Whiskers, Easy Little Peppers
Bandicoot Ballet, Easy Little Peppers
Bees Knees, Little Peppers
Brolga Stroll, More Little Peppers
Lizard, Even More Little Peppers
Wombat, Pepperbox Jazz 2

As you can see, this menagerie is fairly and squarely Antipodean – Australian, really, despite the absence of koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and most creatures we associate with the taken-from-us-too-soon Steve Irwin. Other than the turkey. Not that turkey isn’t a traditional Christmas dish in this part of the world… Yes, good citizens of our northern hemisphere ANZUS ally, Christmas dish. Cos – oh, you’ll figure it out.

Yep – I decided to take the opportunity to plant a bit of a flag beneath the equator and introduce children around the world to some of the cool animals that live in my part of the world. The ends of the empire strike back, or, I don’t know – a pianistic Beatrix Potter-ing below the tropic of Capricorn, or some such.

Now there are SO many creatures I’ve not yet mentioned in my titles – those pukekos haven’t had a look in, for example, in fact none of the bird life of my New Zealand childhood years, and I notice upon making this list that the rather terrifying Australian snake scene has been left well alone by me as well. But I have a real fondness for the creatures I’ve depicted thus far; Mozzie in a particularly reverse kind of way, being someone who is well-loved by voracious mosquitos.

Will there be more? I would think so, when I next come to publish more piano pieces.

But til then, here’s how I grew up: as a very little girl the sound of kookaburras would awaken me early on hot Sydney summer mornings, and I would watch tiny little lizards hatching from their tiny little eggs in the cool lizard-containing devices my parents fashioned for this purpose when I was 2 or 3 years old. When we moved to New Zealand, a few months before I turned 4, I was relieved to learn that there were no snakes anywhere to be found in the nation. We lived on the edge of a dairy farm, and if my sister and I clambered through the back hedge we could walk amongst herds of dairy cows and even help the farmer take them in for milking. We soon added a cat to the family, and then a collie dog, and chooks (usually 4 or 5, along with a rooster) for eggs, and bantams as well (for smaller eggs!), and later an orphaned lamb and some quite extraordinary budgies. There were rescued sparrows and, living so close to an abattoir as we did, we even tried to rescue the little boy calves destined for destiny, never succeeding in staving off their fate for more than about a week. But my goodness, we shook our fist at death, we did, as we snuck out to free the poor wee calves from their boxes before the trucks came to collect them.

Saving billy calves, practicing the piano and dreaming about one day having a piano piece wrote included in an examination syllabus; ah, nostalgia for a childhood well-lived! And here’s to an enhanced musical menagerie for the enjoyment and exploration of young pianists the world over!

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