As I write this blog entry, I realize that it was about a year ago that I joined this wonderful Music Teachers Helper community. My first article here was “Time to plan the Holiday Recital” – it is that time of the year again!
Over the years, I have come across a great variety of holiday music for students. My favorites include: Music for Little Mozarts Little Mozarts Perform the Nutcracker, Famous and Fun Christmas by Carol Matz, Christmas Jazz, Rags & Blues by Martha Mier, and Especially Popular Christmas by Dennis Alexander – all of which feature fantastic arrangements of some of the most popular holiday classics. They are carefully graded to suit different student levels, musically appealing, and provide a good deal of pedagogical merits.
While I always enjoy teaching holiday music to my students and playing the teacher duet parts, every now and then I want to play those beautiful, familiar tunes, too! There are countless Christmas songbooks out there, but many of them are collections for voice/guitar/piano. I am not a big fan of these fakebook-style anthologies – the piano part is usually not very pianistically written, either it is too simple and boring, or it is awkward with big leaps and stretches. I want pianistic, musical solos that sound sophisticated, have a bit of an improvisational nature, do not sound juvenile, and are “showy” enough to play for friends and family! This year, I have found three books that fit the bill!
Jazz improvisation is not my forte, but after playing through this book, I feel like I have taken a crash course on improvisation! Every piece in the book contains a written-out improvisation solo, so even if you are not a jazz musician, you can “fake” it by just learning the notes as written! The amazing thing is, after a while, you can not help but experiment with your own improvisations! This book contains some of the most well known of all holiday music, you can not go wrong with the following titles: Angels We Have Heard on High * Away in a Manger * Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella * Deck the Halls * God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen * It Came Upon the Midnight Clear * Jingle Bells * Joy to the World * Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming * Silent Night.
This book comes with a CD, performed by the composer. This is helpful if you are not familiar with some of the sacred selections. The CD also contains PDF files for bass and drum parts, with guitar chord symbols, should you wish to play the arrangements in an ensemble setting. I find the harmonies here to be very original and refreshing, and there are also plenty opportunities to hone my improvisation skills further! A prominent feature in many of the arrangements is the walking bass line in the left hand, which can be omitted if playing with a bass. Titles: Sing We Now of Christmas * The First Noel * O Little Town of Bethlehem * Jingle Bells * What Child Is This? * God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen * Silent Night * Go, Tell It on the Mountain.
This book contains some of the most timeless and memorable popular songs for the holiday season; if you are tired of Jingle Bells and Silent Night, this one is for you! The piano writing here is more “classical”, and there are many showy, pianistic figurations – extended arpeggios, scale passages, hand crossing, white key glissandos, black key glissandos, and even a black key double glissando! The arrangements here are sure to impress any party crowd: The Gift * Grown-Up Christmas List * Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas * I’ll Be Home for Christmas * It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year * Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! * Let There Be Peace on Earth * The Little Drummer Boy * Sleigh Ride * Toyland.
All three books are for advanced piano solo. After playing through all the arrangements, I have become more fluent in jazz harmonization, improvisation, and rhythm. I have even surprised myself a few times while accompanying students during lessons – those 7ths, 9ths,suspensions and chromatics seem to want to take over, and I find my fingers reharmonizing the more traditional duet parts! We are sure to have a jazzy Holiday Recital this year!
While you shop for holiday music for your students this year, don’t forget to try something new for yourself, too! If you have a favorite holiday music collection, please share in the comments below!