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.”