Piano Explorer - Stephen Baron
Music to motivate beginners Piano teachers are always on the lookout for new and inspiring music for their students, especially those at the earliest stages when establishing a solid foundation is of vital importance. Yet truly stimulating material can at times be a little thin on the ground. Which makes Pauline Hall's hugely successful Piano Time series, which has just been completely revised and updated, and Stephen Baron's Piano Explorer so warmly welcome.
From the outset, Baron's Piano Explorer series takes the young pianist (approximately Grade 1-3) into a world of musical discovery. Interesting both rhythmically and harmonically, the challenging pieces in the series (you need a confident youngster to play some of the trickier pieces in Book 1, for instance) offer an early insight into pianistic techniques from pedals and crossing of hands to unusual time signatures and harmonics. These books will most definitely, as the blurb states, 'awaken the ear and incite the musical curiosity of every beginner'.
Stephen Baron is Head of Piano at the 'Colourstrings Centre' in North London, where he is in charge of a group of piano teachers being trained in this interesting system of education which includes musicianship classes in the Kodaly principles prior to, then parallel with, instrumental teaching.
Baron's four Books of original piano music include 26 solo pieces for beginners covering black keys, jazz idioms, whole-tone scales, a further 14 pieces with pairs in each of the modes, 10 Duets and six Trios for Six Hands as well as the novelty of a Duet Piano Concerto. Each book is earmarked for the use of piano beginners but, in reality, the range extends to about Grade 3 level. Baron certainly knows how to exploit the instrument and enlist pupils' enthusiasm with this stimulating collection of solos and ensembles which covers so many aspects of piano technique as well as developing aural awareness - the children learning to listen to their partners in the 'multipiano' repertoire. A most interesting and original collection, highly recommended to teachers in search of exceptional piano teaching material.
John York skims the cream off the top of a very full barrel
Nymet Music next - not yet one of those names that come to mind immediately but well worth investigating. Being smaller means their product gets less hype and costs more - that's only to be expected - but I'd recommend you check out Stephen Baron's series entitled Piano Explorer, four sets priced (vols one and three) £6.50 and (vols two and four) £4.99 - solo pieces, 4-hand duets, 6-hand trios, even a miniature concerto for the younger player, up to about grade three. All manner of contemporary thinking here, modal harmony, pedal effects, dissonance, melody, patterns, folk-song - a well-nigh limitless resource that should be tried out by teachers and pupils. It sets a standard to which other, bigger houses should aspire!'.
We featured one of Stephen Baron's duets in Piano Professional last year and Nymet has now published four books of similarly inventive pieces by him in the Piano Explorer series. Baron resolutely avoids the 'thumbs on middle C' approach, instead exploring the full range of the piano, using clapping, harmonics, uneven rhythms, pedalling, crossing of hands and various modes and styles to produce creative and attractive works for children (around Grades 1 - 3). The first two books contain solos, with the second using all the modes; book three consists of duets and trios, with melodic interest well distributed between all players and the fourth is an original 'duet piano concerto', cheekily attributed to Antonio Vivaldi Baron ... These books will encourage a more adventurous approach to both physical and creative aspects of piano-playing.
Four Songs - John Byrt
Songs of the Earth - John Byrt
St Magnus Variations - John Byrt
Pickers and Stealers - John Byrt
Variations on Puccini's 'Che gelida manina' - John Byrt
Betty Naughton's Up and Away in a Magic Balloon was a first-prize winner in the EPTA UK Composers Competition last year. Nine short pieces for students either side of Grade 1. These eschew middle C position, are imaginative in their use of the keyboard and their descriptive writing is bound to appeal.
A slim but noteworthy book came from Nymet Music. Betty Naughton's Characters in Tune offers, at only £5.50, five substantial and attractive pieces, each of which encourages good technical skills while inviting an awareness of character and interpretation. There's more to this than you'll ever find in those scrappy, old UMP and Pärt left-overs.
Time Pieces - Ira-Paul Schwarz
Music for a While - Neville Bower
'Musing' provides a gentle start to the proceedings - a song without words where the crotchet-quaver rhythms are not always a match for the composer's fastidious ear which has rather to call on his metrical organisation to impart interest as in the march, 'Parade', which follows in a quirky alternation of common and duple time. The third is a slow-moving Chorale which gives free rein to the composer's rich harmonic sense although not to be compared, even so, with the closing Chorale II in 5/4 time - a study in bell-like sonorities - which has something almost Coplandesque about its acerbically transparent harmonies and whose three closing chords, after a mighty peal of bells, is meant to evoke, so the composer tells us, the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral. The two Chorales frame a virtuoso 'Spree', all the more climactic for its sheer length and in being the only piece to be marked Vivo amidst otherwise predominantly slow tempi. For such an accomplished composer, it comes as a surprise to me at not having encountered his name before.'
Tunes - Henry Hardy