Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Gillian Greig Music, Taunton, UK

Gillian Greig Music was started way back in the 1980s and the owner (Gillian Greig) tells me that I came and did a workshop for her over 20 years ago! We both agreed that we looked pretty much the same now as we did then….

Here is Gillian:
Gillian Greig

This was, like Truro, a small group, but there are always interesting people to meet and new connections to be made. One of the most interesting was another composer, Jonathan Lee, who is making a fine career in music and is definitely someone to watch. He and his sister were there and were very attentive and supportive.
The Lees

Once again, American popular Piano was presented and I was pleased to see some teenagers in the audience, one of whom played some ensembles with me (beautifully) and also did some great improvisation on The Girl on the Beach. It’s always good to see students as well as teachers at these events.
Students in Taunton

The second half was once again dedicated to all things Microjazz and Rock preludes and Microrock proved particular favourites . These 2 workshops in the west (Cornwall on the 11th, Somerset on the 12th) were intimate but very enjoyable events and I’m sure I’ll see more of some of the participants before long.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

City Music, Truro, UK

This was another workshop for private music teachers; I was pleased to find it immediately became an unofficial get-together for local teachers, some who hadn’t seen each other for some time, others who were meeting for the first time. The first three ladies to arrive were happy to get acquainted or get re-acquainted - they were surprised to find that they all taught other instruments besides piano – violin, recorder and clarinet…

Three Truro teachers

People were coming and going somewhat during this workshop – some came before teaching (or picking up their own children) others came after teaching. I had to ask people to summarise what they had just heard for the next person! As in Reading, it was a game of two halves – American Popular Piano in the first half, Microjazz and other B & H materials in the second half.
It was a glorious day – not a cloud in the sky – and I was able to enjoy wandering around Truro in the morning, including an uncalled-for but somehow necessary stop at Rowes Cornish pasty shop for, erm, a pasty. Here’s a picture I took of Truro Cathedral to show what a lovely day it was:

Truro Cathedral

The staff at City Music (who were great) and the teachers said it had been a very disappointing summer weather-wise and this was about the best day I could have picked to see Truro. Good to know..

Once again, teachers were very complimentary about the APP repertoire and very intrigued by the improvisation methodology. I used examples from three different Levels and I think began to sway the doubters!

The Microjazz-and-related-materials part of the presentation was notable for various things:

  1. Everyone knew Inter-city stomp!
  2. Joy to the world (Concert Collection 1) was a great hit
  3. The Preludes were new to the teachers – they were interested to hear that there are “concert” pieces in the repertoire

One teacher was keen on organising an in-service day for keyboard teachers. And there was an interest in my music for ensemble – Flexensembles and Microjazz for Ensemble..

There was also interest from the shop, a Roland dealer, in a return visit to talk about the Roland HPi-6 piano and the embedded Microjazz pieces in it. So I may yet get to have another of those pasties…

Another Truro teacher

This was once again a happy (and sunny) occasion and City Music are to be commended for arranging it – it was the first workshop for their sheet music manager. They said that they would like me to come back again, preferably when the weather is much worse (ie any time!)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Score Store, Wokingham at Leighton Park School, Reading, UK

This was a workshop specifically for private piano teachers and we were lucky to be able to use the concert hall (and Steinway grand) at Leighton Park School, a Quaker independent school set in rolling parkland not far from the centre of Reading (www.leightonpark.reading.sch.uk) Every teacher present was already familiar with my name and with Microjazz and other Boosey & Hawkes’ materials; none of them had come across American Popular Piano before. They had some initial questions about the series, for example:
Q: Why is the term “American” in the series’ name?
A: We have used a range of popular styles in APP with which America has become strongly identified
Q: How would you persuade a parent that 4 books per Level is a justifiable investment?
A: We hope that the usefulness of all the elements in APP across an entire year will prove to be in fact very good value for money!
Here are the some of the teachers who came to the workshop:
Teachers at the Reading workshop

I began by playing some APP pieces – I find that if people like the pieces right away, you’re in with more of a chance!
CN plays..

I then went on to give an overview of the present state of piano teaching and the difficulties faced by teachers trying to compete for students’ attention in the face of homework, sport, computer games and other activities perceived as more “cool” than piano-playing. There was some lively discussion about why students give up at various stages and we touched on the fact that students often play a range of music on the piano but listen to a completely different range of music back at home.. I then explained that APP is designed to use music in styles familiar to the student, but without sacrificing the fundamentals of good piano playing, sight-reading and ear-training.

I then moved through the Repertoire books, illustrating the 3 main categories – lyrical pieces, rhythmic pieces and ensembles – with some help from the audience as well as video clips of student performances. Here’s one of the teachers who was brave enough to come up and play for the group:
A teacher helps to demonstrate APP.

The teachers liked the Repertoire books, especially the fact that there are Ensembles, with teacher accompaniment and backing track, at every Level. But it was the Etudes books that really got their attention – a way of teaching improvisation that virtually anyone can feel comfortable with. I had a teacher improvising – she was actually quite an experienced improviser already, but she found the way APP keeps things very simple and ordered very useful. And the group agreed that the range of styles and the use of “authentic” left-hand voicings (generally in inversion) was both stimulating musically and applicable right away with students.

Another question came up – there was an ABRSM examiner there and she asked how the APP material (and approach) related to the ABRSM jazz syllabus. I said that there were inevitably overlaps (particularly blues pieces) but that the overall range of styles in APP is very different from the ABRSM syllabus – much more popular music than jazz style-wise. APP also progresses much more steadily from one Level to the next than any UK syllabus. I feel that APP is a good way of getting students (particularly at an absolute beginner level) comfortable with improvisation, so it is a useful way of preparing to work on more specifically jazz material.

We had a break at this point and the teachers looked at the books supplied by Score Store. Here are some enthusiastic teachers perusing the materials:
Teachers looking at the books

In Part 2, I did a quick overview of the Boosey & Hawkes’ materials, obviously referring to Microjazz (some teachers were new to the Microjazz Trios, for 6 hands) but also to Microstyles, the Concert Collections, the Easiest Way To Improvise, the Essential Guides, the Preludes Collections and the new Microswing, MicroLatin and MicroRock books. I played quite a few pieces, some with tracks and was able to get the teachers roughly up to speed with what I’ve written since 1983!

This was a very friendly and positive group and I’d like to thank both Score Store Wokingham (www.scorestore.co.uk) and Leighton Park School for hosting the event so well. I hope the teachers who bought APP sets to try out with their students will come back to the websites (www.christophernorton.com and www.americanpopularpiano.com) and let us know how they are getting on!

Some final pictures:
The range of books ...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Workshop at Chetham's School of Music, Manchester

Report on Christopher Norton workshop at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, UK, August 25th 2009

With 290 or so students aged 8 - 18, Chetham’s is the largest specialist Music School in the UK and the only Music School based in the North of England. The annual Summer School for pianists is now in its ninth year. There is no other summer school that manages to cater for adult amateurs, promising children and observers! All are welcome on the course - concert pianists, international young artists preparing for top competitions, and professional music teachers. I was invited to do a presentation at the 2009 Summer School and, as I expected, I addressed an interesting mix of students, teachers and yes, observers! Here’s a cross-section of the audience:

One person I spoke to was from Phoenix. Arizona (second row up) another was not a specialist music teacher but interested in getting a Venezuelan-style scheme youth music scheme going in London. There were also a couple of teachers who played in a piano duo. And lots of students, perhaps happy to do something a little less intense than the practicing and performing they had been doing the rest of the time!

I soon realized that some of the audience didn't know who I was, let alone anything about Microjazz, so I began by giving a mini-historical overview, including my own classical piano background in New Zealand and how Microjazz came to be, so to speak. I played various pieces from Microjazz, Microstyles, the Concert Collection and Preludes and as always included some fun audience participation. Here’s one of my “students”, still looking cheerful after coming up on stage with me

Then I got onto American Popular Piano and went through the basics of this unique piano course. This always requires some audience participation, an entertaining element (particularly for the observers) Here’s a student who helped me out on the improvisation front:

This really was a flying visit, as I had to get back to Leeds to celebrate my elder daughter’s engagement (see the picture at the top!) The mix of audience that Chetham’s Summer School creates is great – students who are looking for new repertoire, teachers who want to hear something fresh on the pedagogical front and amateurs who are just interested in the whole process of piano playing and teaching. It was a privilege to be a part of this year's Summer School.