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.