July/August 2018: Pupil Saver
A grand setting for C minor
by Carmen Doubrova
Some students diligently practice their repertoire pieces, but are less enthused about scales and exercises. Fortunately, long ago, I discovered Ballade from Betty Colley's early-intermediate collection Styles for Piano (Kjos). This piece is a brilliant study of the natural minor scale.
The C-minor key signature might seem daunting at first, but any student who has mastered the C-major scale should find it easy to add the three flats required for the parallel minor. For an aural lesson, have the student play Ballade without any flats; the minor version is definitely more captivating.
In the right hand, an ascending minor scale serves as a motif throughout the piece, while the repetitive left-hand pattern spans an octave. Crescendo and diminuendo signs aid the student with phrasing and expression. As seen in measures 1-4, the first section of Ballade should be a quick study for most students, and it is not complicated to transpose it to other natural minor keys.
The excitement picks up in the middle section. A broken-chord pattern marked cresc. poco a poco alternates hands, eventually leading to octaves and chords. This grandioso section sounds impressive.
The tension builds even further with accents, a ritardando, and a fermata lingering on a G-major chord. At measure 30, we finally have the raised seventh of the harmonic minor, and measures 29-32 expertly set up the return of the C-minor motif.
At measures 37-40, the flashy coda once again uses the ascending motif, but this time in a hand-over-hand pattern spanning four octaves while flooded with pedal. A "boring" scale has been remade into a dramatic show piece.
There are many other wonderful pieces in Styles for Piano. Though written over thirty years ago, this collection of nineteen miniatures still has a fresh and sophisticated sound. My students past and present tell me that the Ballade is one of their favorites.
Thank you for this article. I cannot find Betty Colley's early-intermediate collection Styles for Piano (Kjos) or the Ballade. Can you suggest a source?