Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ackerman Music Opens New Store

Ackerman Music opened it's fourth UK store in Brighton and I was there to enjoy the event. Read the full story on Music Instrument Professional's website:

Here are some pictures from the event.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 2010 Europe Mini Tour

Having been a life-long fan of the music of both Grieg and Nielsen, as well as a fan of contemporary Danish cinema (for example Festen, Italian for Beginners and Breaking the waves) I was very pleased to get the chance to do a workshop for the first time in Denmark as well as a conference in Norway.

I flew to Copenhagen from London and then got a train cross-country to Esbjerg, a town in the west of Denmark. The music dealer in Esbjerg was Søren Storm, a former professional violinist who started Aarhus Music a couple of years ago and is, I’m sorry to say, the only specialist sheet music dealer left in Denmark. Here he is (and he is as cheerful and enthusiastic as this picture indicates!)

Denmark, like other Scandinavian countries, has a very effective network of Music Schools - Søren was a graduate of this one in Esbjerg - and the workshop was held in a lovely room on the third floor of the local Music School. I did my usual two-part presentation – introducing Microjazz and other Boosey & Hawkes materials in Part One, introducing American Popular Piano and the whole idea of teaching improvisation in Part Two.

The audience of local teachers were very warm and receptive and were inevitably impressed by my video clips (taken from Youtube) of students playing my music – an Inter-city stomp performance by an 8 year old in China, a very spirited performance of Joshua fought the battle of Jericho (from Concert Collection 2) from a 7 year old in Malaysia. I got warm applause for some of my live performances too – for Jingo from the Rock Preludes Collection and Joy to the World from the Concert Collection in particular. Teachers knew of my material, but were interested to find how much music has been written post-Microjazz. Here is some of my Danish audience during the break, at which point we were all pleased to have (herbal) tea and cakes and a chance to chat informally:

American Popular Piano intrigued the teachers – the use of improvisation in teaching has become of great interest to Danish teachers and the video clips of students playing duets from APP with their teachers were also very effective in demonstrating the virtues of ensemble playing and of the use of contemporary popular styles to encourage better piano playing.

At the end of the Danish presentation, I was taken straight to the airport (no, it’s not what you think!) so that I could get a flight to Bergen and then a transfer to Stavanger, both extremely attractive Norwegian cities. That evening I met the organizers of "Skolemøtet I Rogaland", an annual conference in the Stavanger area for both primary schools and Music Schools. It included 15 whole day workshops and 49 half-day workshops. I was one of the whole day workshops and in fact gave 3 presentations, again one about Microjazz, another on American Popular Piano and a third on Unlocking Popular Styles. The last one mentioned helps to make it easier for teachers to identify modern popular styles by looking at drum and percussion parts, bass parts and piano parts, all based on pieces from American Popular Piano. Roland Europe are including Unlocking Popular Styles in their new range of HP pianos and the APP website also features a very easy-to-follow version of the presentation, with lots of sound clips and music examples. Here are some of my Norwegian audience, again very warm, supportive and enthusiastic:

My music was familiar to many of the teachers – indeed, one of them had even sent to Canada for the Connections series (not presently available in Europe) and was amazed to actually meet a composer whose work he had used successfully for many years.

When I went onto the improvisation materials and APP, one of the teachers, formerly from Romania, proved to be a wonderful improviser and he proved how effective improvisation on the pieces from APP can be. We also had a lively discussion about the best way to start students improvising, which will probably continue on-line! Here he is playing, to the delight of the other participants:

Isn’t that a great look of concentration?

My third presentation, Unlocking Popular Styles, included lots of audience participation and was enjoyed by all. The teachers all took note of the websites that represent my work –, and

I then flew back to the UK for a couple of days before getting the Eurostar to Paris, where I put in a guest appearance at a Paris music fair called Music & You. It was held at the Grande Halle de la Villete. The entrance to the music fair pictured below;

The fair showcased the full range of musical instruments, including woodwind and brass, acoustic guitars, accordions and of course keyboards, synthesizers and electric guitars. Sheet music publishers and distributors were also there. It was very noisy, especially with a rock guitarist playing opposite the Schott stand more or less on the hour! However, we had relative quiet during the time I played, using a Roland piano and the new backing tracks from the Microjazz Collections, as well as pieces from MicroRock, the Concert Collection 2 and Latin Preludes. Here I am beside, erm, a big picture of myself on the stand:

A number of teachers came to speak to me during the course of the afternoon and I was pleased to find quite a few already familiar with Microjazz. This was a lot more informal than the sessions in Scandinavia, but it did indicate that with the right material you can literally draw people in aurally. I will do a workshop in Toulouse early in 2011 and also hope to back in Paris before long.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Christopher Norton Festival, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

I visited Fredericton, New Brunswick on the Connections tour back in 2007 and met Wendy Beardall, who has been President of the Fredericton Music Teachers Association (FMTA) and who continues to be a positive and lively presence in this delightful town on the St John river. Wendy invited me to come back to preside over a Fredericton-based Christopher Norton Piano Festival and opted, along with her enthusiastic, nay visionary committee, for a 3-day event.

Day 1 started with a “Meet Christopher Norton” event sponsored by the local high school. Music students from Fredericton High School and Leo Hayes High School came and heard me talk about my work as a composer and heard me play a number of pieces. Here are some of the entirely typical teenage audience:
This went very well and at the end of the session there was some spare time, so I selected 10 students from the larger group and got them to come on stage, where there were coincidentally 10 keyboards set up. Before they knew what was happening I was teaching them a chord progression (Stray Dog Blues from Microrock) and then getting them all to have a go at improvising on it.
This led neatly to what was the “official” second session of the day – a group of 10 students from FHS came up on stage and played Clean sweep from American Popular Piano Level 6, then went through the Improvisation Etudes based on that piece. We got some very good results and everyone had a chance to shine during the course of an intense but rewarding session.
The entire afternoon of day 1 was work with other improvisation groups, ranging in age from about 9 years old through to late teenagers. All of the pieces used were from American Popular Piano. The students seemed to enjoy this a lot and a number of the most confident players came to the grand piano and did their solos on a much louder instrument, the others all playing along on the relatively quiet keyboards.

Day 2 was masterclasses from 9 am until nearly 5.30. The students were grouped by age and I was very impressed by the overall standard, as well as by their willingness to try my suggestions out, in public! The youngest group were all so good I chose every one of them to come and play in the evening Gala concert.
There were groups of students throughout the day, each one an older age group than the last. The final group was in many ways the bravest – adults, some of whom had come back to the piano relatively recently. Here is one of my adult students at work:
And a testimonial from one of the adult students:

Thank you for a beyond-fabulous experience with my students this past weekend in Fredericton, New Brunswick! I haven't played a piano solo for over 15 years - but you quickly put me at ease! Every student left feeling excited about the piano, the music and the fact that they met someone they can look up to! My son is still telling everyone about his weekend with Mr. Norton. It's something none of us will forget any time soon! - Irma Mulherin

After a break, during which we got photos of the individual master class participants onto a Keynote presentation ready for the Gala Concert, we repaired to the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in the city centre. The children performed brilliantly and the capacity crowd were enthusiastic and both moved and astounded by many of the performances. I played along on a second keyboard, something the students had not heard before the concert. I’ve done many concerts of this kind now, but this was definitely one of the best – there was a lot of audience participation and a really joyful atmosphere was in evidence throughout.
Day 3 started with a breakfast with some of the local teachers, then a session called How To Incorporate Improvisation Into Lessons, which was held in the home of Margaret MacDonald, the local FMTA President. This proved to be very useful, as it was quite hands-on and it seemed a fitting end to the weekend, as it reinforced many things that had come up in the group improv sessions.

My thanks again to Wendy and Megan Woodworth and the committee for organising the event so well, to Fredericton High School for the use of the school hall, to the Fredericton Music Society for the use of the Church of the Nazarene for masterclasses and to Tony’s Music Box for the loan of the piano for the concert. It was a very positive event and will definitely be repeated.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hornchurch, Essex; Organized by Advance Music

Advance Music is one of the biggest suppliers of printed music, musical instruments and accessories in East London, Essex, Kent, Barking and the southeast of England. This, unusually, was a Sunday morning workshop and it was held actually in the store. A good-sized and enthusiastic group of teachers turned up for a 9.30 am start and were treated to a game of two halves – a presentation on the Microjazz series and related Boosey & Hawkes books, as well as a presentation called Unlocking Popular Styles, which featured American Popular Piano.

Advance Music had an impressive display of my music for people to look at:

All of the teachers knew about Microjazz, but many were unaware of the Microstyles Collection, the Concert Collections and the Preludes Collections. I played pieces from these, as well as from the new “Micro” books (MicroLatin, MicroRock and MicroSwing)

I also showed clips culled from Youtube of my pieces played by students from China, Canada and the Czech Republic – this was of course of great interest to the audience.

I played some easier pieces from the Microjazz Collections, like Struttin’ and Intercity stomp, I then got splendid help from a teacher with the repeated left hand part of In the Bag from the Microstyles Collection. I played Dreaming On from the Rock Preludes Collection (a set piece for Grade 5 for the ABRSM this year) and I finally played some more difficult pieces, like Turkey in the Straw and Joy to the World from the Concert Collection. Here is me in my usual “blissed out” performing mode – yes, my eyes are closed!

I also told teachers to visit and also to look at my new Youtube channel – The Pianist magazine profile and series of articles on popular piano styles was also mentioned (

Lots of books were perused and bought during an excellent morning tea break, which included delicious shortbread (I can vouch for that!)

In Part 2, I gave a quick over-view of American Popular Piano, then launched into Unlocking Popular Piano. This was a live version of what is now available to peruse on - 20 popular piano styles “unpacked”. I had the teachers clapping, “drumming” and vocalizing drum parts and this practical approach helped many of them to understand what the styles feel like to play as well as to listen to. Here is part of the audience, very attentive!

I also touched on the difficulty in the modern world of keeping piano students motivated and how important it is to try to give them music they can relate to and to encourage improvisation without too much theory getting in the way, at least in the early stages. This was the first time the teachers in Hornchurch had ever heard of American Popular Piano, so it was quite a lot for them to take in, but I felt the essence of the series – learning to enjoy playing through using contemporary popular styles, ensemble playing (including tracks) and step-by-step improvisation – was clear by the end of the presentation.

Thanks again to Colin Freeman at Advance Music for being prepared to put this event on. I hope to get back at some point and see how teachers are getting on with all these new ideas!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Summer Sizzle, Mt Forest Ontario

Summer Sizzle, 10 years old in 2010, is a growing piano pedagogy symposium for teachers and students sponsored by CNCM ( Held in the peaceful country setting of Mount Forest, ON, Summer Sizzle helps bring music and culture to rural educators and musicians while offering urban professionals a chance to further learning in a relaxed environment. Over 200 participants attend this annual event, which offers several specialized workshops led by international experts, launches new Canadian pieces with composers in attendance, hosts public concerts showcasing visiting composers, guest experts, teachers and students and boasts a full music trade show.

Summer Sizzle includes a complete three-day Keyboard Kamp for students aged 8 to 21.Keyboard Kamp offers students master classes taught by experts ranging in subject matter from composition to overcoming stage fright.

This was my third year at Summer Sizzle and I had a very full programme – master-classes with many students, group improvisation classes and a Gala Concert, as well as two presentations to teachers.

I felt the students had really come on – there was lots of expressive playing and the understanding of contemporary popular styles seemed to have come on by leaps and bounds.Here’s a group of my students after a master class:

The improvisation groups went very well – the students enjoyed playing in ensemble, liked trying to create their own melodies and were ready to try ideas out. Here’s a group at work:

And the concert was, as they often are, a moving and sometimes startling affair – children played with great conviction and with real feeling. The audience could tell something special was happening. There were standout performances – Jingo from the Rock Preludes done as a tight two piano piece (the student and me) a beautiful rendition of Beguine from Latin Preludes and a sleek version of Positively swinging from Connections being particular highlights. Here’s a student at the concert:

What a look of relaxed concentration! (The student, the student..)

I really enjoyed meeting other Canadian composers at this event – the three women representing Red Leaf Pianoworks(, Clifford Crawley, Remi Bouchard and Tyler Sydenberg. I feel like an honorary Canadian – and how often do you hear anyone say that?

MTAC, Los Angeles and Yamaha Music Camp, Banff and MYC Convention Banff

MTAC (Music Teachers Association of California) holds a convention every year in late June/early July. The venue alternates between Northern California and Southern California – this year it was in Los Angeles. The convention features presentations by internationally and nationally known artists and lecturers, materials from well-known pedagogues, master-classes for all instruments and voice, and a showcase for outstanding students at all levels.

I was there with Novus Via Publishing, representing the American Popular Piano series ( I spoke to lots of teachers about the series, particularly the Improvisation aspects. There was strong interest and of course some of the teachers were already “in the programme” and were telling me how they have been getting on with it. Scott (McBride Smith) and I did a presentation on APP together, which is always fun. He is tall…

Two other highlights of the MTNA conference – I had to stand in for Philip Keverin and comment on compositions from MTAC student prize-winners. I found this fascinating – the pieces were quite sophisticated and of a good length and the performances of them were very competent indeed. A tendency to be over-complex was noted and the language was often Prokofiev/Shostakovich in influence, but without those composers’ willingness to state a simple tune without continual embellishment. I think the young composers found my comments useful and the audience was certainly willing to admit that there were certain longeurs in the pieces as well as some really stunning moments.

The other session was a re-working of a session I first did at Summer Sizzle in Ontario last year, called The Norton Code. This was a quick guide to “spotting” popular styles, with all of the examples culled from American Popular Piano. I got the audience to take part in various ways – being a giant beat-box being one of them. I had an excellent sight-reader and player helping me – Joanna Ezrin (sister of a famous Canadian record producer) and the session created a great wave of interest that meant the APP stand was suddenly very busy! Sound clips and sheet music from that presentation will go onto www.americanpopular shortly.

And so to Canada, where I took part in a bi-annual Yamaha music camp for young composers aged 6 to 15 years. I ran sessions for children and teachers on how I compose and how they might get better results with their own compositions. I also did some work on improvisation. The students were lively and great fun to be with and I think they liked having someone from such a different stylistic world. Here are some of my young students:

On the 10th July there was a concert featuring the students performing their own compositions. Many of these were semi-classical, but performed very well (and quite impressive in length) At the top end there were a number of stunning compositions that really were amazing from composers and performers so young.

Next to Banff, where I was at the bi-annual MYC (Music for Young Children) Convention. I wasn’t there to present this time – I had been commissioned to write a piece to celebrate the retirement of Frances and Gunars Balodis, the founders of MYC. Last time I saw them, I was at their lake house in Ontario and after dinner they sang a touching duet together. I wrote a piece for the final Gala called At the Lake, which incorporated me and Olivia Riddell (their daughter) on two pianos, David Riddell (their son-in-law) and Frank Berg (an MYC co-ordinator) on Roland Lucinas, 3 percussionists and a choir stationed at the back of the hall, who came in near the end singing the chorus of the song I had heard at the lake house. It came across as a low-key and indeed heartfelt tribute to Frances and Gunars and the 30 years they have worked on building up MYC. Here are Frances and Gunars after the performance:

I also went to a gig in Banff by Danny Rebel and The KGB, with Fabulous LoLo, a Canadian singer (aka Lorraine Muller aka The Queen of Ska), who sang with the Kingpins, a ska band from Montréal, for many years. It was a great gig at Wild Bills, a country and western-themed pub round the corner from the Convention.

The MYC network is big, with over 24,000 students and 9000 teachers spread across 3 continents. I have a piece from APP, London Waltz, in one of their publications and I have realized that their programme dovetails nicely with APP. So I hope to spend more time with MYC teachers and students in the coming years.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ontario/Manitoba Tour – Toronto, Ontario

The final event on this Canadian mini-tour was in Toronto. The superb organizers of the entire tour were Simon and Liselotte Jongedijk.
Liselotte was also responsible for the Toronto event and it was another two full days of improvisation groups, master classes and a Gala Concert.

In addition, on the morning of day 1, I co-presented, together with Clarke MacIntosh - President of Novus Via Music Group, publishers of American Popular Piano (, at the Music for Young Children ( teachers’ meeting for the Central Ontario area.
Clarke kicked off with a talk about why and how APP – as it has become known – came to pass, with references to the history of the RCM in Canada and his time at Frederick Harris Music. I then took over and talked about how MYC activities, with their emphasis on group work and composing, can move seamlessly to the Preparatory level in the APP series. I got some teachers to come up and did simple group improvisation work with them, which they enjoyed and related to very well. Here are the MUSICA-MYC teachers who were all present at that event - MUSICA Music School, along with Novus Via Music Group, was the promoter of this Spring 2010 Tour, with generous assistance from Music for Young Children in Kanata, as well as local sponsors at each of the various events; you can see Frank Berg, Central Ontario Area coordinator for Music for Young Children, standing in the background:
After lunch, I made my way to the Salvation Army North Toronto Community Church on Eglinton Avenue and enjoyed nearly two days of improvisation groups and master classes, with a superb final Gala Concert. The Gala concert included an impressive performance of Samba III from my Latin Preludes Collection by 6 year old Catharine He, which, accompanied by live drums, can be seen at:

Here is a group of young Improvisers at work on Rockin’ in the Aisles:
Here I am playing a duet with one of the younger performers.
And here’s a picture of one of the outstanding student performers in Toronto (and indeed of the tour), Shikara Fahie, who performed Rainforest from Connections 3. This is Shikara’s third year in the Norton event in Toronto. Good hand position there Shikara!
As in other centres, a few of the Toronto students brought me their own compositions for constructive criticism. I was happy to include some of those compositions in our Gala Concert.

The entire Toronto event – master classes, improvisation groups and Gala Concert - was professionally filmed by Lennox White of Otima Media Productions ( and will be cut into a soon-to-be available DVD (details from More information will be posted on this website when the DVD is ready. Apart from capturing some excellent master class and Gala Concert performances as well as some great attempts at improvisation, the film will also feature many of the students being interviewed about their experiences as newbie improvisers and these interviews will also be part of the final cut.

Comments from Toronto:

From Matthew, a student:
The Christopher Norton Improvisational Class was enjoyable because you got to make up your own tunes. It inspired me to want to write my own compositions. I was nervous at first of making mistakes, but there were lots of people in the group. Christopher Norton was very funny, although not everyone got his jokes... but I did! The Master class was also fun because I made no mistakes! Christopher Norton was helpful and encouraging. He almost made me want to practice more!

General comments:

The master classes at all the events raised a number of issues that are worth listing here:

1. Make sure you have all the right notes and the correct rhythms under your fingers before you come to a Master Class! Aim to play your pieces in time and aim for accurate articulation and always make a nice sound!
2. Try to play with curved fingers rather than straight fingers.
3. If a piece includes pedaling, try to pedal the left hand first, with as much of the legato as you can manage “in your hand”. Then play the right hand melody without pedal, with fingers doing as much of the work (in legato terms) as possible. Only then put hands together.
4. Use a graceful down up movement of the wrist to play 2-note slurs.
5. Use a flexible wrist and judicious arm-weight to both shape phrases and to create round-toned accents and staccato.
6. Don’t try to reach for the next position when playing something like a staccato ragtime left hand part. Use the dropping on one note to act as a springboard to a drop on the next note, however far away it is.
7. Don’t look at your left hand if it’s playing an accompaniment figure – it will always be in danger of being too loud!
8. Aim for the physical movements you make to be reflected in the sound you make – so no unnecessary sliding of the fingers after you’ve played or sudden jerks upward of the wrist. And no twisting of the wrist to get to a black note!
9. Try and incorporate playing by ear, improvising and composing into your regular practice sessions.
10. Aim to perform confidently in public – this is achieved in part by making use of every opportunity to perform in public.

There’s a start students!

The whole of this tour has been most rewarding, with the double emphasis on playing better and improvising proving to be a potent
and congruent combination. I enjoyed meeting many of the teachers in the various centres and look forward to seeing many of the same students next time I am invited to your cities and towns.

Tour managers Simon and Liselotte Jongedijk of MUSICA Music School in Leaside, Toronto, cannot be congratulated enough for their vision of how it might be and for their ability to then carry it through triumphantly.
Should you wish to host a Norton event in Ontario next year (in late April/early May) please do not hesitate to contact Liselotte Jongedijk at

Au revoir Canada – I hope to see you all again soon!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ontario/Manitoba Tour – Kingston, Ontario

The event in Kingston, Ontario was extremely well organised by Brooke Woboditsch, an RCM graduate who has gradually embraced progressive ideas about teaching improv and who also plays popular piano and saxophone herself.

Her delightful daughter Jasmine was one of the most enthusiastic participants at both an improv session and a master class:
The master classes were a joy, with well-prepared students playing with great enthusiasm and immediately raising their game. One aspect which made Kingston very special was the presence of two gifted young brothers, Alexander and Leonid Nediak, who not only played very well (Leo, aged just 6, played Hot Day from Connections 8, a Grade 8 piece) but who also performed their own very striking compositions. Here’s Leo in action:
From time to time I hear really artistic performances and Kingston was no exception – Emma Dignam played a deeply felt and beautiful-sounding version of Waltz for Elaine from Connections 8. The audience were captivated by her expressive performance:
An innovative aspect of the Kingston event was a master class for adult performers, who were surprisingly nervous but acquitted themselves very well. The local organizer, Brooke, (second from the right in this picture of the Teacher Workshop) also participated in the adult master class later on in the day.
And here is one of my adult students in Kingston:The mixture of activities in Kingston was great – improv groups alternating with master classes, classes for students and for adults and some student compositions. Here is the youngest improv group in action:
Once again, the Gala Concert was a pleasure to host and a delight for parents and teachers in attendance. Here’s one of my youngest students being tutored in preparation for the concert:

Isn’t that a wonderfully concentrated look on his face?

Here’s a link to a newspaper article on the event (front page!): px?archive=true&e=2566049

Comments from Kingston:

From a student – who claims to be Christopher Norton's no. 1 fan and who drove 2 hours to attend the workshops:
Dear Mr Norton: I really appreciated being able to play for you and the people at the concert. I missed the time that you came to Ottawa. I wish that all I played were your songs. My biggest wish is that I wish to play all of your songs by the end of my life. The point is that you are my favourite composer and I wish that you would never stop writing songs. Sincerely, John
From Brooke, the local organizer:
The event has come to an end and I must say it surpassed my expectations. Mr. Norton was inspiring to me, the students and to those teachers who were able to come and watch the workshops. The most surprising part for me is the inspiration that came from the performances of some of the students. What a treat it was to hear so many wonderful performances.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Manitoba/Ontario Tour - Peterborough, Ontario

Peterborough was a new stop on this tour. In prior years, students from Peterborough had chosen to travel to events in Toronto, Sunderland or Kingston. The local organiser was Karen Lander, a member of the Peterborough Branch of the Ontario Registered Music Teachers’ Association (ORMTA), whose calming presence helped to make this event a particular pleasure.
Day One began with a teacher presentation grandly entitled How Do You Work Improvisation into Lessons? Starting with references to great composers of the past who were also great improvisers (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt…) I outlined the benefits that improvisation can bring to both teachers and students. I then took a very simple (one-note!) idea and showed how easily it can be extended into a longer piece. Various teachers came up and invented new ideas on the spot for me, which I then continued, even completed, with input from the whole group. I also introduced the idea of starting a piece with a rhythm or with a chord progression rather than a melody. We then moved onto some American Popular Piano pieces that have associated Improv Etudes and I got the group to do the various clapped and played ideas that almost inevitably lead to improvisation.
The teachers who stayed on for the student improv sessions immediately found the whole process much more comprehensible and engaging, as they saw students grappling with exactly the same concepts with which they had just been grappling. Here are some of the student groups during very happy and productive Improv sessions:
As in the other venues, apart from the group improv sessions with keyboard groups, there were master classes and a final Gala Concert, which had a really special atmosphere as a result of all the work that had preceded it – the audience were amazed by the combination of happiness and concentration in the performers.

Comments from Peterborough:

From students: This was great, this was awesome, we would definitely do this again.

From a Peterborough parent:
The Gala showed what the children accomplished with this remarkable composer/teacher and musician in such a short time. It was great to see the way he addressed the different levels of students and the general format of the workshop/Master Class and gala was excellent. There were many happy parents and students at the end of the Gala and many pictures taken and many books autographed by Christopher. That is an indication of the respect and enjoyment the children and parents had for the man and the workshops.

From Peterborough Teachers:
I was happy to see how easy it would be to use the resources I already have in my studio to improve sight reading and ear training as well as improvisation. It was a very constructive workshop for teachers.
The highlight of the Norton Improv workshops was to be present and see what the kids learned in the workshops. He took them from just learning the rhythms into a fun way with rhythms, an easy entry to making up their own little compositions, and improving their musical memory in an easy and fun way. I can hardly wait to get started with these new ideas. I did not see one sad face leaving any workshop.

From Karen, the local organizer:
Thank you for planning and promoting the Christopher Norton tour, and for giving Peterborough the opportunity to host this event. We are very proud to have offered such a unique and inspiring experience to local music students.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Manitoba/Ontario Tour - Sunderland ON

Sunderland, Ontario was the first “return” visit of the tour – during last year’s master class tour, Sunderland was one of the one-day venues (you can see the report on it in the blog archive) but this year Sunderland offered the new format of a two-day event. The local organizer once again was Kim Schneider, who did a great job this year as well. Here is a picture of Kim in her studio, together with her children, Liselotte Jongedijk (one of the tour managers), and me:
We started the two-day event off in a very different way – more than twenty djembe drummers, the R H Cornish Public School “Mini Explosion” Group from Port Perry (in fact the full Grade 4 French Immersion Class with their teacher Suzanne Garriock) were waiting for me and we had a workshop involving all of the drummers. They played for me first, making a great sound and also looking fantastic in their colourful costumes:
The drummers were led by a rock-solid djinn djinn drum player throughout, and after everyone played together, four drummers each provided a rhythm for the others (now split into four groups) to follow. Once I had the procedure clear, I got them to create 4 rhythms to Toledo from American Popular Piano Level 2, one of the pieces being used for improvisation work. At the Gala Concert, Toledo was played as the final piece, with the drummers and the keyboard group all playing together. A great sound! Here is the drumming group on stage, practising for the final concert.
Once again, some good work had gone in on solo pieces for the master classes and we had some assured, accurate and expressive performances at the Gala Concert. Sunderland was the first full two-day event, so there was a fully rounded experience for the young performers, thinking hard about piano playing and piano technique one day, starting to improvise the next. I felt the combination of activities was very good for musicianship – students were starting to think about the sounds they were making, but were also more aware of playing with other people and with having an aural image of what they were about to play. The effect on students’ enthusiasm for music and confidence as performers was sometimes quite dramatic.

Here is a picture of some of the students improvising during the Breakfast Time improv group in Sunderland:
Kim Schneider’s son Dillon received a private piano lesson with me as a 10th birthday present – which he seemed to enjoy very much!

I was also pleased to see quite a few teenage boys performing, often very well. Look at the concentration on this student’s face during one of the master classes:
Congratulations to the many students who took part in this event, and to Kim Schneider for mounting such an extravaganza and for giving us the opportunity to stay in a delightful early nineteenth century log cabin B&B.

Comments from Sunderland:
From Wells (14-yr old student): “When I got to the Town Hall my sister's class was pounding away on the keys and I was amazed at what I was hearing and seeing from about eight spectacular young musicians. The minute I saw what Chris was doing I knew I had made the right decision. Chris is not only an amazing composer but also one of the coolest guys I have ever met. Chris gave me a new insight on piano. He showed me new techniques and some great improvisation tricks. The Chris Norton workshop was an absolutely amazing experience and I will definitely do it again.”

From Gareth (student): “This spring, at my piano lesson on a Tuesday morning, I learned that I was going to attend an improv class and a master class with none other than Mr. Norton. I was very excited.
For the master class, I spent a few weeks preparing one of Mr. Norton's
songs. Several weeks later, I travelled to Sunderland to attend the class. When my name was called, I went up onto the stage with Mr. Norton. I played my song for him, he gave me some really useful tips, and then he asked me to play it again. The second time round, Mr. Norton played with me - it was great.
I was then asked to perform at the 'gala' concert that night, which really
put the icing on the cake on an amazing day. Mr. Norton accompanied
everybody, and it was so interesting to see how the partnership and
support he gave made people's playing come to life even more. Thank you, Mr. Norton, for making it all so much fun and so worthwhile.”