Every piece students play creates an opportunity to make an emotional impression on themselves and others. Experiencing a variety of well-chosen literature helps students to further their studies more artistically and joyfully. Teachers often wisely select literature based on students' technical and musical needs. By also considering a possible personal connection to the composer, teachers can deepen students' relationships to the music they play and stimulate additional joy and musical growth.
When considering this connection between students and the composers of their pieces, the demographics of the piano world support taking a closer look at music written by women. Seventy percent of piano students in a large 1997 research study were female.1 A 2005 survey of MTNA members indicated that roughly 84% teach piano and 86% identified as female.2 While a 2014 study by WQXR's Q2 Music found that only 15% of composition faculty at American institutions are women, a wealth of high-quality music by women is available for teachers to program with their elementary and early- intermediate piano students.3 On a personal level, I understand that I am not a natural choice as an authority figure on this subject, but as a husband, son, nephew, uncle, teacher, and musician, I am passionate about promoting a world where people of all gender identities can freely pursue their dreams and have their music proudly and eloquently heard.
This article will introduce music written by women in five broad categories. The first two relate to the beginnings of piano study: music from method books and related material, and music that provides an introduction in one way or another. The next section is music by composers from exam curricula and festival lists. Next comes music for subset populations. The last category introduces other important collections and composers. Organizing the music in this way offers teachers multiple and varied opportunities to incorporate excellent music written by women.
Teachers are likely familiar with the compositions of Jane Bastien, Frances Clark and Louise Goss, Katherine Fisher and Julie Knerr, Nancy Faber, Helen Marlais, and others, due to their method books. Prior to publication of these modern method books, similar authors, such as Hazel Gertrude Kinscella, Louise Robyn, June Weybright, and others, merit discovery and recognition today.4 Florence Price wrote a number of pedagogical works, some as far back as the 1920s, for use with her beginning piano students. These recently published pieces show remarkable care for properly paced growth and development, as evidenced by the variety of simple rhythms, clever titles, and early incorporation of pieces on only the black keys. Price also wrote wonderful intermediate level character pieces. For example, The Old Boatman is an ideal substitute for Franck's The Doll's Lament, with its singing G major melody and chordal accompaniment.
Closely connected to method books is music written specifically to supplement them. Paula Dreyer's Little Gems for Piano is a companion to Irina Gorin's Tales of a Musical Journey, but these twenty rote pieces work well with any method book, due to their beautiful sounds and valuable incorporation of beginning technical gestures.6 Pam Wedgwood has an innovative series entitled Up-Grade! She wrote these pieces to bridge the gaps between levels of a particular method book or simply for fun at other times.
The first time that students have a particular experience or hear a particular sound is a formative moment. A number of women have written pieces that can provide introductions
in one way or another.
In Gifts of Asia, Emilie Lin arranges folk songs from China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, creating a valuable opportunity for students to discover music from this part of the world. In addition to well-known songs such as "Sakura" from Japan and "Arirang" from Korea, one of my piano students from China recommends the "Dance of Youth" (青春舞曲) folk song from Xinjiang Province.
Glenda Austin's Splattered with Fun! provides an introduction of a different sort. Each of the fourteen late-elementary solos utilizes a different white key major or minor key signature, improving students' familiarity with a wide range of keys and perhaps opening a door for teachers to discuss the Bach Inventions. The one-page "Midnight Chase" thrills students with off-beat right-hand chords and a snaky chromatic left-hand melody.
For students who like to "play around" at the piano, Nancy Telfer has an introduction to alternative notations in her collection I'm Not Scared. "The Friendly Ghost" has the student playing tone clusters and short glissandi to create a pleasant spook.
Dianne Goolkasian Rahbee has also written a number of elementary level pieces with unusual notations in her Pictures and Beyond series. Her "Folk Dance" duet provides an additional introduction to meter with its use of a 7/4 time signature. A student could first learn the primo part, then switch to the secondo part later in their piano studies to see how much their ability to play in this unusual time signature has improved.
Finally, introducing students to less tonal harmonic languages in the early stages of piano study may help them acquire a more refined ear for all music. Though more widely known for her works for woodwind instruments, Katherine Hoover also wrote a cycle of six pieces entitled At the Piano in 2004. The set closes with a wonderfully poetic selection entitled "Good Night."
EXAM CURRICULA AND FESTIVAL LISTS
To their credit, the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM), Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM), and Trinity College London all include a significant quantity of music by women in their curricula. Additionally, several of these composers have separate repertoire collections for teachers who choose not to use these programs.
Trinity College's piano syllabus has music by Anne Terzibaschitsch, Kerstin Strecke, and Jane Sebba. Teachers can program one or more of the thirty-eight selections from Terzibaschitsch's expansive Piano Dreams as supplementary material beginning around the same time as the student's second method book. The last piece in this book, "Christmas," bears a resemblance to Burgmüller's "Limpid Stream," Op. 100, No. 7, with the right hand playing both melody and accompaniment in G major over left hand quarter notes.
Similarly, the early levels of the ABRSM curriculum feature music by Carol Barratt, Janina Garscia-Gressel, and Heather Hammond. Fresh contemporary sounds abound in Hammond's Cool Piano: Funky, pieces for grade 1–2, which are a bit more difficult than the Terzibaschitsch works described above. Students and parents will bob their head to the groove in "Ready to Reggae," especially with the addition of an appropriate rhythm background.
The first few levels of the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) also contain a large quantity of beautiful music worth investigating. Some of the music connects to students' life experiences, such as Christine Donkin's "Jumping in the Mud" and Janet Gieck's "When I Grow Up". Fascinating conversations with young beginners are bound to begin when choosing between titles such as "Teacher," "Trucker," "Artist," and more. Other music draws inspiration from nature, such as Teresa Richert's "Off to Camp!," Linda Niamath's "In My Garden," and Anne Crosby Gaudet's "Freddy the Frog." A third group of music draws on literature in one way or another. Yvonne Adair's Little Dog Tales is a miniature Peter and the Wolf, with short narrations preceding titles such as "Any Rabbits About?" and "The Lost Bone." June Armstrong's Enchanted World depicts stories and creatures from Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne.7
Teachers are no doubt familiar with composers on the National Federation of Music Clubs repertoire lists, such as Melody Bober, Mary Leaf, Carolyn Miller, Eugénie Rocherolle, Catherine Rollin, Wynn-Anne Rossi, and Wendy Stevens. Chrissy Ricker's Expedition to Everest and Jennifer Eklund's End Game use catchy, contemporary sounds. Many of Eklund's pieces offer backing tracks to further heighten student motivation. Romanza by Angela Marshall, from 2014, is a bit more traditional but already a hit with early intermediate students.
MUSIC FOR SUBSET POPULATIONS
Students and parents often enjoy music that relates to key elements of their identity. For instance, some Christian students will appreciate the opportunity to learn well-known songs by Naida Hearn and Darlene Joyce Zschech, expertly arranged for elementary-level pianists in Alfred's Play Praise: Most Requested, Book 1. The pieces have teacher duets and performance tempi to facilitate playing them with others in worship services.
For students who are going through a tough phase in their piano studies, Kathryn Mishell composed an outstanding three-volume series entitled I Want to Quit Piano But My Folks Won't Let Me: A Coping Book for Piano Students. Each piece has an entertaining title, such as "Practicing with a Cat on the Piano," from Volume 1, as well as amusing illustrations and short introductory paragraphs written for students.
Diane Hidy states that her Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) students were the inspiration behind the compositions in Attention Grabbers.8 The music omits measure numbers, superfluous rests, and key signatures. Stem directions remain the same within melodies and pick-up notes are placed next to their subsequent measure, all in an effort to reach students who might struggle with these visual concepts.
OTHER REPERTOIRE COLLECTIONS
Much of the music described so far dates from approximately the last thirty years. There are also a number of older gems to rediscover or keep programming. John W. Schaum compiled twelve educational compositions by women together in one book fifty years ago. One excellent piece from this collection is Olive P. Endres's "A Frog in the Fog." Audience members will no doubt raise an eyebrow when they hear the flat major VI chord that plays a prominent role in this piece.
Though published in 2014, the Belwin Contest Winners series, Book 1, contains fifteen original piano solos originally written between 1956 and 1991. Women composers represented are Bernice Frost, Louise Garrow, Martha Mier, and Betty Sutton. Garrow's "Swans" will challenge students with its three-bar phrases in 3/4 time, but the graceful hand crossings and pleasant sonorities will motivate the student to work for a beautiful performance.
In a recent Piano Magazine article, Carmen Doubrava notes that Betty Colley's Styles for Piano from 1982 "still has a fresh and sophisticated sound."9 Written four years later, original harmonies and clear patterns will leave teachers feeling the same way about the thirteen late- elementary pieces in Elvina Pearce's Expressions collection. One of the best of the set is "Night Song."
Moving closer to the present, there are a number of first-rate elementary repertoire pieces in Australian composer and teacher Elissa Milne's Very Easy Little Peppers from 2004. Students who love fast tempi will especially love these exciting pieces.
Many compositions originate from commissions, where an organization or person pays a composer to write something. San Antonio piano teacher Dr. Charles Goodhue commissioned Elisenda Fabregas's Miniatures for the Young in 2004. "Baby Jellyfish," from Book 1, combines a modal melody and a four-note ostinato for evocative sounds.10 At least thirteen intermediate-level works came from a celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Lucy Moses School of the Kaufman Music Center.11 The rapid downward five-finger patterns in one of these pieces, Bun-Ching Lam's "Spring Roll," from her Album for the Young, takes after similar figures in Kabalevsky's "A Little Joke, Op. 27, No. 13."
The numerous effective elementary and intermediate works of Karen Tanaka merit special mention for their deep care for connecting with children's imagination and concern for the environment. The Zoo in the Sky features pieces with titles drawn from the constellations, a real astronomy lesson for students and teachers. Tanaka states that these pieces are between Beyer, Op. 102, and Czerny, Op. 849, in terms of difficulty, and in general, each of her books progresses from simpler pieces to more challenging ones near the end.12 The "Mountain Gorilla" and the "Red-faced Parrot" are just two of the twenty-five animals in the Children of Light book. Our Planet Earth is a collection of twelve pieces plus three interludes featuring Lonesome George, the last known Pinta Island tortoise. All of the books benefit from exquisite illustrations.
Last, but not least, are "jazzy" pieces that students frequently love. Martha Mier's Jazz, Rags, and Blues are well-known to many teachers, with "Ragtime Do-Si-Do" an outstanding choice. Teachers will appreciate that Elena Cobb's Higgledy Piggledy Jazz contains lead sheet symbols above both the written notation and improvised sections. Valerie Capers's joyful "Sweet Mister Jelly Roll" is available in William Chapman Nyaho's remarkable Piano Music from Africa and the African Diaspora, Volume 1, or in the original Portraits in Jazz collection.
This article only begins to demonstrate the remarkable diversity and substantial quality of piano music written by women for elementary and early-intermediate students. Students will enjoy studying this music in the contexts described above or in other ways. For example, teachers can organize a studio recital around music by women or help students research the topic for a school history or social studies project. Young students, with some help, could also interview living composers and share what they learn with the music teaching community.
In addition to learning more first-class music and providing a closer connection between student and composer, further study of music by women expands the pedagogical goal of variety for which many teachers strive. Seeking out this music and other music like it will lead teachers to find more great music that connects with all students at all phases of their musical growth. Teachers can further enlarge the corpus of outstanding music at all levels by encouraging and commissioning women to continue the tradition of great composers like Bach, Schumann, Bartók, and others of writing less advanced, high-quality music. Doing so will ensure that one day, beginning and early-intermediate piano music, like the world itself, will include more music by people of all gender identities.
LOCATING THE MUSIC
At the time of writing, most of the music in this article is available for purchase either through major publishers, such as Alfred Music and FJH, composer websites, or online distributors, such as Sheet Music Plus. Some of the more difficult-to-find pieces can be found from the following:
• Florence Price's The Old Boatman is located in the Florence Price Collection at www.williamgrantstill.com. Her Piano Teaching Music is at www.classicalvocalreprints.com.
• Katherine Hoover's At the Piano is available at https://www.presser.com/shop/at-the-piano.html.
• Elvina Pearce's Expressions is available at https://www. stantons.com/sheet-music/title/expressions/EL03283/.
• Bun-Ching Lam's Album for the Young is available at http://www.subitomusic.com/.
1. Robert A. Duke, Patricia J. Flowers, and David E. Wolfe, "Children Who Study Piano with Excellent Teachers in the United States," Bulletin of the Council for Research in Music Education. Vol. 132, (Spring 1997): 5
2. 2005 MTNA Member Survey, September 2005, Loveland, OH: Beyond Data, Inc. https://www.mtna.org/downloads/Learn/MemberSurvey2005.pdf; Chat Twedt, "Prospective Male Piano Teachers Are Like Volcano-Prone Golf Balls." Cerebroom (blog), July 9, 2012, www.blog.twedt.com/archives/1739#fn-1739-1.
3. Alex Ambrose, "Her Music: Today's Emerging Female Composer," WQXR New York Classical Music Radio Station (website), August 20, 2014, www.wqxr.org/story/ her-music-emerging-female-composer-today/.
4. Hazel Gertrude Kinscella, Steps for the Young Pianist (New York: G. Schirmer, 1919); Bernice Frost, Beginning at the Piano: A Preparatory Book for Class or Private Instruction (Boston: The Boston Music Company, 1937) is based on folk-tunes of many countries; Louise Robyn, Technic Tales: Fifteen Links in a Chain of Foundation Exercises for the Standard Forms of Piano Technic (Boston: Oliver Ditson, 1958); June Weybright, Belwin Piano Method in Five Books (New York: Belwin Mills, 1964).
5. Author warrants that he obtained permission from each publisher to reprint musical excerpts used in the article.
6. Paula Dreyer, Little Gems for Piano (Oakland: Piano Play, 2017).
7. View a video performance of "The Forest" from this set online at http://claviercompanion.com/ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s0GYk2fhp6k)
8. Diane Hidy, Attention Grabbers, (San Diego: Kjos Music, 2012): 3.
9. Carmen Doubrava, "A Grand Setting for C Minor," Clavier Companion. Vol. 10, Issue 4 (July/August 2018):42.
10. View a performance of this work on the online at ClavierCompanion.com. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7tzDng6o0s)
11. Cheryl Seltzer, email message to author, May 30, 2019. Other composers commissioned
for the "New Women's Piano Pieces" project were Elinor Armer, Lisa Bielawa, Alexandra Du Bois, Anne Farber, Gabriela Lena Frank, Annie Gosfield, Dina Koston, Tania León, Ursula Mamlok, Beata Moon, Joan Tower, and Tzipora Jochsberger. I am grateful to Ms. Moon for sending me a pdf of her piece, Waves.
12. View a performance of Lisa Bielawa's Midtown Passacaglia online at http://claviercompanion.com/ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCWXIcIuLTI). Special thanks to Lindsey Robb, Assistant Director of the Rivers School Conservatory, for help obtaining this permission.
13. Karen Tanaka, The Zoo in the Sky: The Piano Pieces for Children for Small Hands. (Tokyo: Edition Kawai, 1996): 3.