We ranged from a group of 7 and 8 year olds working from the Preparatory books to an individual class with a teenager, Bethany Super (pictured below left) using the Level 7 books.
The series of Christopher Norton Piano Festivals in Canada began in 2003 in Fort McMurray, Alberta and have ranged across the country since, most recently in Victoria (Vancouver Island) This year’s Toronto CN Piano Festival was organised by the person who has been the organiser of a number of these events – Liselotte Jongedijk. Liselotte runs the vibrant Musica Music School in Toronto (www.musicamusicschooltoronto.com) but is also a fantastic organiser of large-scale events. This Piano Festival attracted around 100 children, plus quite a few teachers and was a 2-day event, climaxing in a Gala Concert on the second day.
I alternated group improvisation sessions, using American Popular Piano, with masterclasses. The largest improvisation groups consisted of 11 players, each with a keyboard, including 3 superb new keyboards supplied by Roland Canada – thanks guys! Here’s one of the groups in action:
As can be seen on the video clips on the American Popular Piano website (www.americanpopularpiano.com) I did group exercises involving both beats and rhythms, then got students to play a set rhythm to a backing track on the keynote of the piece, then on 2 notes, then 3, 4 and 5 notes. They then started to invent (and try to remember!) their own melodies, initially in the set rhythm, then in their own rhythms. All of the students did well and could feel real progress during the sessions. Here’s another of the groups at work – an impressive sight!
The masterclasses were delightful and I was very pleased with the good sounds I was hearing, the accurate rhythm playing and the evident enjoyment of piano playing. Here are some great pictures of the students who took part in the masterclasses:
At the Gala Concert, which was attended by parents as well as students and teachers, some of the most secure performers played their pieces, with me jamming along on one of the Roland pianos. What was unique about this Piano Festival was that each improvisation group played as well, including some improvisation from individuals within the group. It was a happy and relaxed concert and a fitting end to 2 fun days.
Finally, a quote from a parent of two of the student participants:
"I really cannot thank you enough for giving ALL the kids this INCREDIBLE opportunity. Not only did they get to play with Mr.Norton, but they also learned such a unique gift —the Art of Improvisation. Our group from Cobourg had a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The kids laughed and played with Mr. Norton—UNBELIEVABLE! They were learning something and they thought they were just having fun - I cannot thank you enough for a wonderful weekend."