Archives for category: piano

A preview of our lunchtime concert on Wednesday 7th June 2017 at the Emmanuel United Reformed Church on Trumpington Street, Cambridge UK. Mifune Tsuji (violin)
and I (piano) will be performing memorable tunes from the films and beyond. Please stop by if you’re in the vicinity! It’s a free entry with a retiring collection for the church.

 

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In the summer of 2013, my husband and I went to the finale concert of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival, held at the Long Barn on the ground of Childerley Hall. The performer was Kathryn Tickell and her new band “The Side” and it was their first ever concert. So, it was quite special. Although I didn’t know Kathryn Tickell, my husband, being a Geordie, did and told me about her and introduced me to her music. The whole experience at the concert was a very energetic, uplifting and moving one. Two tunes from the concert particularly stayed strongly in my mind, Yeavering and The Return. I remember I was captivated by hearing what inspired Kathryn to write these pieces. As we walked through the Childerley Hall ground to head home, I was humming this tune, and asked my husband ‘what’s the name of this song again that I’m humming now?’ – I’m very terrible with names; on first hearing, it usually doesn’t go in to my memory system, also true for the numbers… And he said, ‘The Return‘. I remember saying that this tune is so hauntingly beautiful, I’d like to arrange it for piano solo at some point. Well, it was three years ago and I finally managed to do something about it. It took me somewhat longer than I expected to complete it. Because as I explore where this tune took me, I find myself more and more going around in a circle… I had to stop for a while, then came back to it with a fresh approach.

According to Kathryn’s story, this tune was written “in anticipation of an eventual return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the North England (for an exhibition).”

So, my main focus was to find a way of achieving a sense of long journey that the Lindisfarne Gospel took before it finally returned to where it was originated. And also to make a use of what piano can offer. By that, the obvious choices were to use wider ranges of pitches, various styles of accompanying bass part and to apply modulations to close and/or distant keys. After a meticulous editing over a long period, out came my piano solo version of The Return that I’m finally happy with. I’m now pleased to announce that my piano solo arrangement of The Return is ready to share in public after having managed to secure a permission from the Kathryn’s music publisher to arrange and publish it.

I write lots of piano solo arrangements, often by my students’ request, but sometimes I came across such music that prompts me to do so for my own pleasure and share with the public. Kathryn’s The Return was one of such. For this reason, I wanted to make it special, knowing that my husband being from the North, and it means something for me and him too. I’ve decide to create a music video. One visual artist came into my mind whom I worked with before once. I knew in my mind she’d understand what I was hoping to achieve. I’m very grateful for her visions and senses and I’m quite happy with the visuals that she created for this purpose. I hope you enjoy as much as we did in making it.  Finally, thank you Kathryn for giving us such beautiful music to share.


The sheet music is avalable from my web site.
The audio is available from my bandcamp page.

Everyone remembers the craze that went around (still going around, I suppose…) this particular song.  It was two years ago now. I thought I wouldn’t be surprised if my students would request this pop song at some point and they did.  But this girl wanted to sing whilst accompanying herself on piano.  She was 11 years old at the time and was about early intermediate level.  After a numerous testing, out came a version that she happily performed in the concert, dressed up just like Elsa.

After a while, I looked for way to share this in public legally.  I’d hoped be able to include it in my ongoing piano song book projects for youngsters, so I went through a legal way of requesting for a permission to arrange and publish.  It was turned down, of course.  But then I discovered SMP Press’ ArrangeMe scheme this year (for more details, please read my blog post explaining about it).  So now I’m happy to announce that it’s legally available to the public.  I hope there will be more youngsters singing and accompanying themselves this uplifting song!

Sheet music is available from SheetMusicPlus.

Happy self-accompanying!

In addition to writing many teaching materials for my pupils, I often write many piano solo arrangements of known songs by their request.  But I sometimes come across music myself that I deeply fall in love with and haunt me around long enough to urge me to write an arrangement for it, so that I can play it on my piano.  One of which is Joni Michell’s A Case of you.

There are many musicians who cover this deeply moving song and I’m not surprised… I am one of them. I have three favourite versions of this song; Joni’s original, her 2000 jazz version with this mesmerizing arrangement by Vince Mendoza and Prince’s cover version. I was deeply moved by all three. I spent every minute of writing (and laborious editing!) this arrangement with an outpouring of affection towards this song. I hope you too enjoy playing this arrangement as much as I enjoyed arranging it. As always, thank you Joni for giving us many, many beautiful songs.

Here’s the demo recording of this arrangement. I’d like to record it again to create an video to put on YouTube some time in the future, just I did with Both Sides Now (https://yukiestpiano.wordpress.com/2012/11/15/368/), but hopefully a better one. Until then…

The sheet music for this arrangement is available from the Joni Mitchell’s official web site for free download.

I assume many music teachers have their own favourite mnemonic device or landmark notes system to help the students to memorise the notes’ positions on the stave (staff). For piano players, it’s important to be able to read the notes up and down across the great stave (staff) seamlessly. Some years ago, I came up with my own landmark notes idea to introduce a couple of chosen line notes across the great stave (staff), so the learners can use these notes to find other notes around it on the piano by reading intervallically without necessarily knowing the letter name for all the notes on the staves. That means they can focus on learning to play melodic or harmonic patterns rather reading and seeing each individual note.

Here’re the landmark notes I’ve chosen and added the mnemonics to them:

landmark-notes

The order of introducing these notes that I often go for is:

  1. Middle C, G clef G and F clef F
  2. BirthDay notes (middle line note in the treble=B and middle line note in the bass=D)
  3. Ground G (as in the ground floor) and Fly away F (to emphasise the highest line in the great stave; you can fly away from the top line!)

Additional landmark note: Dangling D in the treble stave (this characteristic feature seems to stick in children’s mind well, so it’s a popular one to use)

Once the learners have gone through enough drills (or any helpful games!) to exercise reading these individual notes, they can exercise writing melodic patterns on a manuscript paper. For example, choose one landmark note, such as G clef G, then go step up twice (from line note to space note and then to line note again), throw in a couple of skips here and there (from line note to line note or from space note to space note), etc.

Having said that, depending the age, some learners need repetitive writing practice just going up stepwise and skipwise so that they can see clearly what stepwise/skipwise motion is on the stave.  Young aged children tend to take time in this.

When the learners get comfortable with various melodic shapes, here’re some extended ideas I often use; Word search.

  • BAG and FED are the first ones to introduce because they cover every single note on the piano except C (C on the piano seems to be everyone’s favourite, so is easy to spot!).  And also because it’s a stepwise motion, finding them on the piano is also simple and can be used as a reminder for the key names on the piano (I’m not in favour of using ABCDEFG to memorise the key names. You can guess why!)

The first position for BAG I’d use is starting on BirthDay B and then going descending stepwise.

For the first position for FED, I’d go for either starting on F clef F or ending on Dangling D. The decision is usually made depending on which landmark note is more in the learner’s memory and how well s/he understands how the melodic patterns work.

  • Then, usually progress to some other words, like EGG, DAD, BED, FACE, BAD, ACE (ACE is a useful one to introduce as a landmark chord because it covers skipwise intervals from the Middle C), etc.

Exercise form can be either reading the notes then playing them on the piano or playing first, then write the notes down or placing the notes on a notation board if teachers have one (very useful tool to have – I have a magnetic one of my own design).  For some words, finding the notes on the piano can be a little tricky, so I often leave that part of exercise out.  But generally children enjoy ‘spelling out’ the written notes to find the word.  They seem to  find it a good enough impetus not to dislike this game although it sometimes takes them time to find the word!

Although these type of exercises are useful and should be important part of the lessons, they’re more meaningful when they’re linked to what students are learning or going to learn. I often have them find a chosen landmark note(s) or a word (such as EGG, etc.) hidden in the music that they’re learning or are going to learn rather than starting from the first note in the music. Some of my students are very good at finding FED in the music because in their mind, it has got a characteristic shape. This sort of pattern search game always leads to finding repetitive patterns in the music; a very useful exercise to learn about a musical form eventually.

What I have shared in this post is just one part of various ideas that pop up as we work through reading exercises in the lessons. I hope you take something from the ideas here and expand them and turn them into your own.

Stay creative!

 

 

 

Yesterday was a revisiting experience for me and also for my husband. It was the annual Alumni event at one of the colleges in Cambridge. I’d been invited to perform a couple of times in the past but this year’s Alumni was somewhat special since it was the last event presented by the retiring Master whom we’ve known some years. It’s been several years since we last visited the college. We saw some familiar faces but somewhat older as you can imagine. Some transformation around the college, we’ve noticed too! The Alumni event usually ends with a mini concert followed by the Alumni dinner. For this concert, I asked the violinist, Mifune Tsuji to join in. Over the past years we’ve been building up our favourite repertoires, and we picked a few for this event. The theme for the Alumni concert was ‘Music Without Frontiers’, exploring eclectic selection of music from around the world. Our programme started with my piano solo, playing G. Allevi’s Downtown. Followed by Miyagi’s The Sea in Spring, Piazzolla’s Libertango (The CelloProject version), Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Then, two piano solos, playing Grieg’s Arietta and Debussy’s Arabesque No.2 followed the highlight of our programme, my transcription/arrangement of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango for violin and piano, recently published from the Piazzolla’s original publisher, Bèrben. It was our public premier performance and we managed to record it but the microphones position was not ideal since the room was very small and the audiences’ seats were close up to where we were performing, there were only two obvious spots for them. Either the piano side or the violin side; we definitely didn’t want to put them in the middle to distract the audiences’ view. Since the piano lid was fully open, my choice was to take the violin side. Although, the recording condition wasn’t ideal, I think it captured the momentum of our performance. Both the violin and piano parts are mostly truthful to the Piazzolla’s original but we allowed ourselves to have some rooms to put our own stamps on it. It was well received and again I think we created a very good programme to keep the audience engaged to the end.

In the past, I’ve come across with quite a few discussions in various forum sites regarding the violin and piano version of Piazzolla’s Le Grand Tango. It’s originally written in C minor for the cello and piano, and Sofia Gubaidulina did a fabulous virtuosic arrangement for the violin and piano that are well known amongst the violinists who fell for the charm of Piazzolla’s music. Having played the Gubaidulina’s versions with the dynamic violinist Mifune Tsuji on several occasions, my desire to perform this piece in its original form started to grow. As I was making an attempt to arrange it in its original key for the violin and piano, I discovered a couple of problems; some of the notes in the violin part go lower than A below middle C; tonal balance between the violin and piano is not quite right; those who are used to play the Gubaidulina’s version in D minor have to relearn the whole thing! So, I’ve decided to maintain Gubaidulina’s choice in key. As a result, I had to apply a compromise to the modulation after the slow middle section (missing from the Gubaidulina’s version) so that the second libero e cantabile section is played in the subdominant key (G minor) rather than staying in the same key (D minor) as the first libero e cantabile section. If I were to keep the modulation as the original, the Piu Mosso section ends up starting in A minor, which is a perfect 5th higher than the Gubaidulina’s version. This simply was not going to work! By compromising on the modulation, the Piu Mosso section now starts in the same key as the Gubaidulina version. This new arrangement is now available from Bèrben Edizioni Muscicali, Italy. Catalogue number: 5810. Or from the SheetMusicPlus online shop in the USA. I’m happy to announce that Mifune Tusji and I will be giving the premier performance of the piece on 27th September 2014, at the Alumni event at St Edmunds College, Cambridge. I hope that this new arrangement will find its usefulness and deliver the essence of the piece that Piazzolla originally intended. Piazzolla-Le Grand Tango

—update 1— Following the premier performance of the above work, I’m giving away 3 copies (sheet music) to the musicians who may be interested in performing it in the future. Please send me a message. All I’d ask of you is a postage (by paypal) and to share the information of this work. Thank you. NB: Permission to give free copies away is granted by the publisher, Bèrben s.r.l.

—update 2— Two copies are given to the violinists from Hong Kong and Finland, so far.  One more copy is available. (as of February 2015)

—update 3— The last copy went to the violinst from Poland.  Thank you all again for your interest in this new version.
15th February 2015

—update 4— A few more online shops appear to have it in stock.  Here are those I’ve found recently:

Japan
Academia Music

Swizerland
MusikHug

Italy
Birdland

USA
The Juilliard Store