Piano Music for Students

June 27, 2012

This week I decided to go through some piano music to see if there are any pieces suitable to use in piano lessons. Naturally, I gravitated towards the New Music for Young Musicians series and have zeroed in on three pieces that I'd like to write about.

The first is Hope Lee's flower drum dance. This is a timely selection, as her piece Secret of the Seven Stars was selected to represent Canada in the chamber music category of ISCM.

flower drum dance has a folksy feel to it, and if the title didn't give it away, a percussive element. The opening measures are a barage of dominant seventh chords played in all registers of the keyboard. Following this, there's a delightful main theme that harkens to Debussy's Golliwogg's Cakewalk. I think what really pulled me to this piece however, are the dramatic changes in colour through the development section. Cheerful harmonies give way to tentative and murky sonorities. Tritone variations on the theme are supported by bristling staccato bass riffs. When the theme returns in its major key, it is supported by the bombastic chord motif that opens the piece. At about 2 minutes, this is a perfect piece for an advanced intermediate student. The piece is marked as a grade 8 piece, which I am assuming relates to the RCM grading scheme. There are a few tricky rhythms, and the development demands a certain sense of musicality to pull it off. But there is strong material here; quite a bit for a young musician to sink there teeth into!

Remi Bouchard's Romance sans paroles is a simple but elegant piece that is marked for a grade 5 level student. This is pretty much a melody and accompaniment piece, and students can really focus on bringing out the right hand over the often-much-busier left hand. There is not a lot of edge in this piece--to me it's got the calmest moments of Mendelssohn's Songs without Words for piano. There's a soothing effect to Remi's work, and I would even recommend this for adult students who are looking for something new but sounds familiar.

Mee-Noo-Noo Visits Earth by Peter Allen is the final piece I'd like to recommend, especially for students with a flair for drama and a sense of humour! (Unfortunately, there is no recording of this piece on Centrestreams, but you can listen to other pieces by Peter here.)

Peter is an established film and television composer (his resume is extensive), as well as a composer of concert music, and there is certainly a cinematic quality to this piano work of his.

The piece makes excellent use of minimal materials. A number of accelerandos, rallentandos, and tempo changes come into play throughout the piece. Sections butt up against each other half-hazardly. More than once, the player has to play a chromatic scale spanning the entire keyboard (chromatic scale technique and new piece in one!) Dissonant chords bounce cheerfully off one other in a smart-allecky way, a lot like Aaron Copland's Cat and Mouse or George Gershwin's "Spanish Prelude", Prelude No. 3. Though the piece is on the longer side in terms of content (86 measures), it is repetitive enough to accommodation shorter attention spans. I think what I love most about the piece is in measure 54, a very sweet melody pops out on a texture that, up until this point, was used as an angular quirky sort of music. Its unexpected arrival has an amazing feeling of release and joy, which gives way to a mysterious chromatic scale that dissipates into the atmosphere at the end.

Those are three selections that popped out at me when I was going through a number of the CMC's scores for young musicians. Feel free to post your selections below! Was there a favourite piece that you played by a Canadian composer? (For me and thousands of others I'm sure: Laryssa Kuzmenko's Mysterious Night. Is there a favourite that you use as a teacher? How do students respond to the Canadian music they play?