It is back-to-school time again! At the last MTNA National Conference, I discovered three new repertoire series that I will be using in my studio.
Five-Star Solos by Dennis Alexander
There are three books in this series, from Early Elementary to Late Elementary levels. Dennis Alexander needs no introduction! I already use many of his original compositions in my studio, from Early Intermediate to Early Advanced levels, so I was very glad to come across this new series. Now my beginning students can experience the magic of his creative genius. There are 11 original solos in each book, all with optional duet accompaniments. They contain a variety of styles, tempos, and moods – from ballads, waltzes, Latin pieces, contemporary sounds, and “showstoppers” that are sure to inspire students and impress parents. The optional duet accompaniments are fresh and contemporary-sounding, and technically accessible by teachers, parents, or older siblings. Many of my students do the National Piano Guild Auditions, and this series is perfect for the Elementary categories.
Classics for Students – Bach, Mozart & Beethoven, selected and edited by Jane Magrath
A highly respected piano pedagogue and frequent music conference presenter, Jane Magrath also needs no introduction. This new series contains three books, from Early Intermediate to Late Intermediate levels, featuring the music of three great masters – Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. The literature found in this series provides a sequenced course of study for the serious developing student who aspires to play music with substantial quality. All selections have been carefully edited with sensible fingerings and helpful ornament realizations. Pedal markings are very sparse, so as to remain as authentic as possible to the original composer’s score. What I really like about this series is that before the works of each composer is introduced, there is a page on the biography of the composer as well as important and interesting facts. For example, in the case of Mozart, Book 1 talks about Mozart as a child prodigy, Book 2 mentions the interesting historical pianoforte dueling contest between him and Clementi, and Book 3 talks about his importance and popularity as an operatic composer. The biography page is followed by a page “About the Music,” giving helpful hints on the characteristics of the pieces and technical skills required to play them. This series is perfect for Intermediate level students participating in judged festivals/auditions/assessments that require standard literature from the Baroque and Classical periods. I hope planning is underway for a similar series covering the Romantic and Contemporary composers!
Mastering the Piano by Lang Lang Piano Academy
Well, Lang Lang definitely needs no introduction! Arguably the most controversial of all famous classical pianists, love him or not, his influence and superstardom can not be denied. This new series contains 5 books, from Level 1-5. Warning: the levels DO NOT coincide with standard US pedagogical leveling! Level 1 (labeled as Early Elementary) is actually more like Late Elementary in my opinion, while Level 5 (labeled as Intermediate) is more like Late Intermediate to Early Advanced. Each book contains 8 units that aim to develop key aspects of piano technique, including specially devised exercise and studies that focus on a specific technical area. If you are a fan, there are lots of stunning photos in each book, showing his amazing fingers and famous posture, as well as commentary and guidance from the pianist himself.
What I do like about this series:
- The selections are “uncommon” – there are some famous pieces that everyone knows, but there are lots of lesser-known pieces that you do not find in other series, including arrangements of music from other cultures. For example, here are the titles from Level 1: Lantern Song (Traditional Chinese) * Canzonet (Christian Neefe) * Hopscotch (Richard Harris) * Mission Impossible (Pam Wedgwood) * Allegretto in F (Johann Georg Witthauer) * Simple Gifts (Joseph Brackett) * Twilight (Richard Harris) * Cuckoo (Emil Breslaur) * Chasing Tails (Alan Bullard) * Minuet in C (Domenico Scarlatti) * Ode To Joy (Ludwig van Beethoven) * (Allemande (Ludwig van Beethoven) * The Elephant (Camille Saint-Saens) * Lullaby (Johannes Brahms) * Mo li hua (Jasmine Flower) (Traditional Chinese) * Embrukoi (Traditional African). Highly unusual but interesting for a “Level 1” book wouldn’t you say?!
- The commentary is very “personal” – it is as if though Lang Lang is sitting next to you and talking to you. There are numerous quotes and “messages from Lang Lang.” For example, in Book 2 Unit 1 Exploring the keyboard: “In this unit I would like you to start moving all around the piano keyboard with more confidence. We’re going to get used to traveling smoothly and swiftly and playing high up and low down.” “Keep a soft, curved hand position and relaxed arms and shoulders even when you are moving quickly around the keyboard. Have fun!”
- As he says in the Introduction of each book, you do not need to work through the units progressively. One can “Pick and choose what you would like to focus on depending on your own individual needs and tackle the units in an order that suits you.” There are also additional supporting materials from langlangpianoacademy.com
One can sense Lang Lang’s passion and drive in this series. He has inspired millions, and I look forward to using this series with some of my students, especially the ones that love him or have heard him in concert. I know when they see Lang Lang say “I was always told to curve my hands and fingers – as though there was an egg under my palm. This is a wonderful posture for making sure the power flows directly to our fingertips” – it will carry a little more weight than when I say it!
All of the above new resources can be purchased on the Alfred website.