Autumn 2019: Pupil Saver: The Peacock by Olive Dungan
Olive Dungan's intermediate solo, The Peacock (a Poem without Words) was first published in 1953. I have found that students today still delight in this musical depiction of a beautiful majestic bird. Olive writes in the score, "The composer trusts that the pianist will create the magnificent and slow walk of the peacock and project its elegance and delicacy." Luckily, the Internet has plenty of peacock videos to aid students with their interpretation of this charming piece.
Dungan indicates that the opening section is "the strut of the peacock." Written in D minor, the liberal use of B-naturals clearly suggests the Dorian mode. Dungan wants a slow, even rhythm throughout. The left hand drone gives The Peacock an air of mystery, while the beguiling melody has a repetitive rhythmic pattern.
Students will need to count carefully, being especially aware of the tied notes, but what a great lesson for learning to subdivide each beat into sixteenths. The transitional "preening" section introduces another interesting repetitive rhythmic pattern.
The sextuplet and triplet rhythm look complex; encourage the student to feel the quarter-note beat. This "preening" section builds up to a key change to G minor, which leads to the dramatic middle section. While the rhythmic pattern here is easier, mostly quarter and eighth notes, this section is harmonically unstable. Accidentals and chromatic movement lurk everywhere. I suggest learning this section in smaller two- to four-measure chunks. Students will also gain much from analyzing the chords, and looking for patterns and any repeated passages. This is a reliable approach to learning any piece of music.
A caesura suddenly closes this section. Finally, the peacock returns to a bit of preening and strutting before the piece comes to a close. Dungan's The Peacock is truly a magical and stately waltz. I can imagine a confident peacock that loves to show off its feathers. Students will also love showing off their musical and artistic skills performing The Peacock. This piece can be found in Belwin Contest Winners, Book 4 (Alfred, $7.99).