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9 minutes reading time (1717 words)

Jan/Feb 2018: First Looks New Music Reviews

Highly recommended

(S1-2) 24 Short and Easy Pieces, Op. 1, Alexander Reinagle.

Teachers and students enjoy Reinagle's pieces both for their charming writing and their accessibility to elementary students. Reinagle's biography, moreover, is a fun and interesting one that connects traditions of European classical music to life in the United States. Reinagle is thought to have been born in 1756, the same year as Mozart, in Portsmouth, England, but moved to the United States in 1786. He lived first in New York City, then in Philadelphia, and finally spent his last years in Baltimore. In fact, this same composer, who met and was influenced by C.P.E. Bach while still living in Europe, knew and was friends with George Washington. At the time Reinagle was living in Philadelphia (when that city served as the nation's capitol), George Washington often attended Reinagle's concerts, and the composer taught one of Washington's family members.

Individual compositions from 24 Short and Easy Pieces can often be found in anthologies and in various method books that incorporate some standard repertoire, but this edition from Schott provides all twenty-four pieces in one collection. They were written around 1780 for Reinagle's pupils in England and Scotland, and were intended for beginners. As a testament to how much pedagogy has evolved since the eighteenth century, Reinagle's original edition included a one-page introduction to music reading that included, among other things, staves, treble and bass clef notes, note values, and accidentals; then the student was supposed to jump right in (!).

The first several pieces are in C major, and notes fall within a five-finger pattern range, with values ranging from eighth notes through dotted half notes. The pieces are arranged in increasing levels of difficulty and progress to D and F majors. They include sixteenth notes and dotted rhythms, as well as expansion and contraction of the hand for bigger intervals and position changes. Students craving a rhythmic challenge will enjoy the last piece, Allegretto, in which the melody's rhythms frequently shift among eighth-note triplets, duplets, and dotted rhythms. All pieces are in major mode, and they are Classical in style, with a charming elegance to them. They are excellent works for early development of independence of the hands, articulation, phrasing, and simple voicing. (Schott/Hal Leonard, $12.99)

—Suzanne Schons 

(S3-4) Not Just Another Praise Book, Books 1-3, arrangements by Mike Springer.

Mike Springer's Not Just Another Praise Book series presents three volumes for the budding musician. This is the fourth edition of the series, and Springer provides a nice collection of pieces highlighting worship favorites from the twenty-first century. Each book comes with CD accompaniments at differing speeds. In addition, after purchasing the books, pianists can also download these audio files through a website link. The series is for early-to-late intermediate students, and each collection contains eight different tunes.

Springer does a great job selecting worship tunes that are popular and immediately recognizable. He upholds the original integrity and interest of the music at a simplified level, thus living up to the "Not Just Another" title.

Book 1 is for early-intermediate students. The pieces offer satisfying arrangements with simplified harmonies, but basic modulations also challenge the student. Standouts in this volume are "Come, Now is the Time to Worship" and "Here I am to Worship." Both pieces immediately sound familiar and are musically satisfying, with soloistic openings, interludes, and codas. A student could proudly perform any of these arrangements in a worship service with the congregation singing along.

Book 2 adds a few more syncopations and nonchord tones. Typical musical features are left-hand arpeggiated figures and octaves with right-hand melodic lines and chords. "How Great is Our God" remains close to the original, and offers some extended harmonies and syncopated rhythms as well. It successfully accommodates the musical and technical limitations of an intermediate student by eliminating most large jumps and accidentals.

Although the final book is for late-intermediate students, the reading does not feel that much harder than that in Book 2. The book does offer more rhythmic challenges, including syncopated rhythms with sixteenth notes. A highlight here is "Trading my Sorrows." Rock-like rhythms in the left hand, a variety of articulations, and sophisticated pedal indications provide many interesting pedagogical topics to discuss with the budding young church musician.

All arrangements are three-to-four minutes (with repeats), and each has lyrics for at least one verse. These books will satisfy the teacher looking for engaging praise music for intermediate students. Alfred, $9.99 each.

—Artina McCain 

Highly recommended

 (S4) The Book of Piano Magic, by Peter Rudzik.

Fantastical scenes—complete with fairies, gnomes, and spells— certainly spark the imagination, and composer Peter Rudzik's collection contains aptly titled pieces on these subjects. His magical piano landscapes depict imagery through chromatic harmonies and unexpected note combinations, all the while relying on catchy tunes and repetitive rhythms. Musical markings abound, including indications for pedaling, articulation, dynamics, and expressive timing. And, the artistic sparkling cover with a wizard at the piano is likely to pique a student's curiosity.

Each of the nine short character pieces (two-to-four pages each) has compelling musical imagery matched to a descriptive title, and most are in ternary form. Often, as in "An Ogre and a Mermaid" and "Playful Gnomes," there is a highly contrasting B section, followed by a nearly exact repetition of the opening A section. Other musical pieces are also incorporated, such as a waltz for a witch, "A Troll's Rag," and an Impressionistic "Beautiful Fairy." The titles befit the musical content, so much so, in fact, that one would suspect concrete imagery initiated the compositional process.

Rudzik's pieces, at a difficulty level similar to Beethoven's Für Elise and Bach's Two-Part Inventions, are ideal for late-intermediate pianists. Several pieces have left-hand melodies (used to depict the wizards and ogres) accompanied by right-hand triads and seventh chords. Accompaniment figures are predominantly chordal and use limited jump-bass patterns; arpeggio figures are confined to a single octave. The rhythmic vocabulary is basic, especially as compared to the pitch-related reading demands. There are several uses of parallel harmonic thirds in one hand, often chromatic in movement; for example, "Cheerful Pegasus" could be used as an etude in double thirds for the right hand.

"The Magical Secret Garden" is the most difficult composition of the set. The melody is buried in the texture, at the top of the left hand, and the right hand's running sixteenth notes are comprised of atypical chord and scale patterns. Thus, the pianist must have expert control of the texture and pedaling.

Due to Rudzik's harmonically adventurous style, accidentals pepper nearly every measure, and ,sometimes, a majority of notes. The key signatures complicate reading; frequent natural signs and the use of augmented and diminished intervals result in tricky processing from score to hand. Therefore, these pieces pose an initial challenge in accurate reading for most students, and time must be devoted to internalizing the atypical sounds. In addition, Rudzik's YouTube videos of his complete recordings have the tremendous potential to facilitate learning. The musical results are well worth the effort, and these pieces could help stretch a late-intermediate pianist's boundaries into coloristic, chromatic styles of music. (Red Leaf Pianoworks. Digital download available at Sheet Music Plus, $6.99)

—Sara Ernst

 (S4-5) Durand: Waltzes Opp. 83, 86, 88, 90, 91, 96, edited by Edward Francis.

As a pianist, it is always a pleasure to come across a score that is entirely unfamiliar. For many, such may be the case with the waltzes of Marie-Auguste Durand (1835-1921). Most pianists will already recognize the name of Durand from the covers of scores for many famous composers, for Durand was a founder of one of the principal music publishing firms in France. In its long history, the firm of Durand has issued many historical editions and, when their work was new, the nearly complete catalogues of Debussy and Ravel.

But with this new edition of Durand waltzes from Alfred Masterwork Library, we find the publisher himself was also an accomplished—though somewhat conservative—composer. As this edition's careful and very fine editor's notes indicate, these waltzes show the influence of Chopin's concert waltzes, and, after reading the Durand counterparts, one is inclined to think that they would serve very well as a primer before study of the Chopin waltzes. The Durand waltzes would also provide excellent sight-reading practice for students, since the chromaticism is sparce in these works.

Overall, this edition is very fine. The fingerings are sound, and, the pedal markings are respectable as suggestions for the developing student. And, again, the prefatory notes make for rewarding reading. (Alfred, $10.99)

—Jack Kohl 

This issue's contributors

 Susan Geffen is a Managing Editor of Clavier Companion. She is active as an educator, adjudicator, presenter, panelist, critic, and specialist in Recreational Music Making. As of August 2017, she is also a high school English teacher.

Brazilian pianist Alexandre Dossin won First Prize and the Special Prize at the Martha Argerich International Piano Competition and the Silver Medal at the Maria Callas Grand Prix. He currently serves on the music faculty at the University of Oregon. For more information, visit http://www.dossin.net.

Sara M. Ernst, Ph.D., teaches piano and piano pedagogy at the University of South Carolina. She serves as the V.P. of Conferences for SCMTA and is a member of the College of Examiners for the Royal Conservatory.

Jack Kohl a writer and pianist. He is the author of That Iron String (a novel of Man vs. Music), Loco-Motive (a novel of running), and You, Knighted States (an American Literary Descendentalist Western).

Dr. Artina McCain is an Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of Memphis. She enjoys an active career as a solo and chamber performer, educator, and lecturer. For more information, visit artinamccain.com.

Suzanne Schons teaches music courses at the University of St. Thomas and Valley City State University, and piano lessons at the K&S Conservatory of Music. She holds a Ph.D. in Music Education-Piano Pedagogy from the University of Oklahoma.

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