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Summer 2019: Pupil Saver: Dramatic Chords and Incomparable Views

Rebecca is in her senior year of high school. She is a lovely person who is a talented artist and is also a good pianist. Rebecca leans probably more toward art than music, thus her playing level has stayed around late intermediate to early advanced. Finding music for her that sounds difficult and appealing is often a challenge.

At her most recent lesson I learned that she had a senior capstone project to complete for her liberal arts class: it could involve any medium, such as writing, art, music, photography, movement, and even electronic mediums. The more we talked, we both began to realize that she was able to create a project that could include her two passions: art and the piano. Going to my "motivating bookshelf" I pulled out Dennis Alexander's "The Magnificent Cascades," from The Great Northwest. This would be the perfect piece to pair with her artistic talents! We read Mr. Alexander's description of the Washington Cascades: "This magnificent setting has incomparable views of prodigious snow-capped peaks and rolling alpine meadows . . ." His narrative rings true, and I can validate it, as I am a Washingtonian. To use my mother's own words: It is God's country. 

This piece is appealing in so many ways. It contains bravura moments, like the opening, and also lyrical passages that speak to Mr. Alexander's incredible ability to write beautiful flowing lines. The piece opens with fortissimo octaves in the lower register, followed by majestic chords in the upper register. This pattern sets the tone and feel of grandeur, greatness, and expansiveness.

 Evolving out of this is a section featuring a lyrical melody supported by an arpeggiated left hand. Later there is a short section of syncopated chords in the right hand. A gradual climax leads to strong, declamatory chords to close the piece. In the lesson we mapped out notes and choreographed the opening octaves, and tackled the chords in measures 2-4, working on the crossover of the left hand. We practiced the left hand arpeggiated patterns, focusing especially on the fingering. What evolved over the course of the next few weeks was truly amazing! In her lessons, Rebecca also showed me pictures of her artwork that she was working on. For her senior capstone, she planned on playing The Magnificent Cascades while her artwork would stream on a screen above her.

This collection, The Great Northwest ("The Magnificent Cascades," "Travelin' the Oregon Trail," "Many Glacier Arioso," and "Appaloosa Spirit") is worthy of study by any student. The diversity of styles is appealing and and builds musicianship skills and musicality.

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