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.