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,
I grew up in a community in rural New Zealand where many of the adults played the piano, and many
Parents of piano students: you immediately subdivide into Those Who Send Their Children In, and Those Who Sit In On
For readers from the northern hemisphere and non-English speaking backgrounds, “daggy” is a wonderful word used in Australia and New Zealand to denote that which is embarrassingly out of fashion…. It was back in 2005 when I attended a Rolling Stones concert (for the first time in my life) that I realised what made the Rolling Stones so ‘cool’: the almost complete absence of the dominant chord in their tunes. More than that, in fact, because this absence of the dominant was accompanied by an abundance of the subdominant. This is all classical-speak for saying that the Rolling Stones use chord I and chord IV (C and F, for instance) and almost no chord V (G). Now, I haven’t sat down and catalogued the occurrences of the various kinds of chords in Rolling Stones numbers to be able to support this assertion, but certainly in the play list the Rolling Stones for that September 2005 Madison Square Gardens appearance the
The purpose of having piano lessons is quite straightforward (one would think): one wishes to learn to play the piano, and by taking lessons one assumes that one will learn to do so. The thing is that ‘playing the piano’ can mean so very many different things. I have often made the joke that when an adult student starts with me they tell that they want to learn to play the piano, but what they really mean is that they want to learn to play “Piano Man”. And in this there is a big clue. What each person intends when they say that they want to learn to play the piano is highly dependent on the music they know and the music they have seen being made. So, by ‘playing the piano’ do we mean being able to play a Chopin Nocturne? Do we mean being able to play keyboard in a pop/rock group? Do we mean accompanying other instrumentalists
There’s so much of it in print, so little of it that you want to use. In this blog I’m planning to work my way through the contemporary (meaning somewhat recent, or at least, still in copyright) piano music I love and use, as well as reviewing new publications I am looking at in my quest for great new material. The shame of it seems to be that for many piano teachers Bartok’s Mikrokosmos drew a line in history, and they are reluctant to use anything very much that has been written since – unless it is just ‘for fun’. Further, the profession’s collective propensity to start beginners on white notes with both thumbs moored on middle C makes some of the brilliant contemporary contributions to pedagogical repertoire to be (at first glance) far too advanced, when in fact these pieces are perfectly designed to celebrate what young fingers, wrists, arms and brains (belonging to beginners) can and do enjoy
Previously: A childhood in New Zealand, desperate to start piano lessons so I could compose more easily, not enough books in the school library but plenty of sexism to confront and theology to deconstruct. Growing up on a farm, growing up in a city, sick through enough of my childhood that I didn’t quite expect to grow up. Composing came easily, but what to choose to say to the world, and who to decide to be? Sometimes charting a perilous course between incompatible identities, irreconcilable expectations. Choosing to change the culture. The culture I’m changing in 2009 is the culture of piano teaching (see “P Plate Piano”, “Getting to” and other topics in weeks to come), but this very niche educational market is only one terrain I hope to help change (for the better).