Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Musiquest Piano Festival, Pune, India

I met Roxana Anklesaria-Doctor, the founder of Musiquest, at MTNA in Milwaukee in March 2011 and I expressed an interest in coming to India if an opportunity ever presented itself. She took my remark seriously enough to invite me, along with a starry cast of North American adjudicators, to take part in Musiquest 2011, a pan-Indian event that has happened bi-annually since 2007. 
Pune is the second largest city, after Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra. It’s known for various cultural activities, including classical music, spirituality, theatre, sports, and literature. These activities and many job opportunities attract migrants and students from all over India and abroad, which makes for a city of many communities and cultures.
This year’s Musiquest drew the biggest numbers yet - 164 student participants and 26 teachers from all over India. The students, ranging in age from 5 years old to adult, performed more than 650 pieces.

The participants in Musiquest were divided into Preliminary, Junior, Intermediate and Advanced divisions.  Additionally, this year’s festival featured two new divisions - Popular Music & Jazz (adjudicated by me) and Piano Ensemble.  Attractive prizes were offered, including a piano, a music scholarship to the USA, music books and cash prizes.
 The Festival was presented in a workshop format, with participants receiving instruction at the piano as well as written adjudications and participation certificates from the international panel of adjudicators.  The emphasis was always on motivation and positive criticism. 

I was honoured to be part of the international adjudication panel, pictured below - renowned teachers/pedagogues Gail Lew (USA), Scott McBride Smith (USA), Roxanna Anklesaria-Doctor (India), Peter Mack (Ireland/USA), Murray Nichol (Canada) and Mary Tickner (Canada)   Additionally, Peter Mack, Mary Tickner, Murray Nichol and I gave private lessons during the festival.  Each of the adjudicators  also presented one or more workshops for participants and for the professional development of the participating teachers.

 Prize winners were announced on the evening of November 26, 2011, following a dazzling recital by Dr. Peter Mack at the magnificent Ista Hotel in Pune.

The Honors Recital was held on November 27, 2011. This event featured the awards ceremony and all prize winners (and me!) performed to a very appreciative audience.
I was most impressed by the thorough preparation of the students – pretty much no grinding to a halt or memory lapses, good sounds being produced most of the time and, in my classes, a steady beat being maintained. I talked to the students about technical matters that would make the pieces feel better to play and that would make audiences feel more “drawn in”. Things like avoiding harsh sounds, playing with only finger weight when required, using arm weight to create orchestra-like effects - these and many other matters proved to be immediately helpful to the performers and immediately discernible sound-wise to the listeners. Here I am working with one of the young students:
 Students in India, like most parts of the world, are familiar with pop and even jazz styles, so they are often starting from a position of strength – they know what the piece should sound like right away. There was a relaxation and enjoyment about their playing of popular styles that made the adjudication a delight. And there were some outstanding performances – the winner of the overall advanced prize, 11 year old Aditya Deshpande, played a fiendishly difficult arrangement of Tico Tico na fuba by Marc-Andre Hamelin and the co-winner of the Adbvanced Popular Music division, Nadine Crasto, played an equally difficult piece by Percy Garinger, Cakewalk Smasher, with consummate ease.
I was also pleased to spend time with students who wanted to explore improvisation – in particular Marcus Daniel from Bangelore and Ron Cha from Assam. Here they are:

I also gave private lessons to 2 budding composers. Noshir Engineer from Bombay had written a fascinating programmatic piece called Encounter and Indusekhar Menon had penned a lovely romantic ballad called Guiding Light. For the latter piece, I improvised an altered version for him which he was able to take away on videotape.
My workshops were Unlocking Popular Styles and Getting Vertical  - for both of these, I had lots of participation from the audience and it seemed to entertain and inform in equal measure. 
I hope to get back to India to do some Christopher Norton Piano Festivals.  It was a great week, impeccably organized. And the food was fantastic! 

Here are some links for press coverage of the event:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pianist Event, Central London

As it says on their website, (www.pianistmagazine.com) you don't just read Pianist, you play it! Pianist contains interviews with top concert pianists, full-length features on current (piano) issues, CD and sheet music reviews, Q&As, teaching tips, readers' letters, concert highlights - basically all that one might hope to find in a leading music magazine. 
The added bonus comes in the form of 40 pages of specially selected sheet music, for beginner, intermediate and advanced pianists. A free tutorial CD comes with every issue, so that you can get to hear the pieces before playing them. Pianist is like having a piano teacher in your own home, whenever you need one!
Over the last year, I have written a series of articles for Pianist called Keyboard Class, which give tips on playing contemporary popular styles. I’ve written new pieces for these articles, as well as suggesting other pieces of mine, from Microjazz or American Popular Piano, that are in a similar style to the one featured. These articles have been very popular, providing as they do a range of different styles from the styles featured in the rest of the magazine. Pianist, with some prompting from Schott (my distributors) decided to advertise a live event, presented by me, for subscribers to the magazine. So we booked the concert hall in the basement of Schott’s central London offices and advertised the event. 
We got a very respectable number of people along, mostly keen amateur players. I started by playing some pieces:

 I then kicked off a discussion about why people might want to play popular piano styles. Social occasions, playing styles that are familiar, a desire to do something a bit freer…a number of good suggestions were made. I then demonstrated a number of simple “things you must know” in order to have some chance of being a popular (in both senses of the word) pianist.
 The audience were pleased to see that I was prepared to use some “students” (members of the audience) who enjoyed doing some chord playing with and without backing tracks. My first student hadn’t played pop styles before and I think still quite enjoyed the experience:
 My second student was very pleased that I’d referred to Someone like You (Adele) as an example of a pop piano style that was very accessible. And he was startled to find himself playing along with a heavy rock track within minutes of coming up:
 My third student was a more experienced player and she was able to use her reading skills to good effect. The event really was for, as the blurb says, beginner, intermediate and advanced players:
There was a Q & A session at the end and even some book signing. We (Pianist  and I) hope to do some other similar events around the UK in the new year, in conjunction with Roland, whose new range of digital pianos include a “Christopher Norton” button and lots of data supplied by me. 
It was great to actually meet some of the readers of the magazine and I was also very pleased not only to see the magazine’s editor, but also the publisher, all the way down from Leeds. Thanks to Pianist and Schott for making this happen – more please!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Frankfurt Book Fair

The Frankfurt Book Fair is an annual fixture on the calendar of book publishers and authors from all over the world – significant deals are done and major new releases promoted. I have been to the Frankfurt Music Fair many times, but this was my first visit to the Book Fair. Schott had taken a stand and I was invited to launch Rock & Pop Piano Basics, a new book on playing pop piano styles which is initially a German-only publication.  

On day 1, I gave a presentation on this book,  on the stand, which had been set up nicely with a grand piano and a great little sound system. No, I didn’t actually present in German (I hope that will come!), but the music styles and the look of the book attracted a good number of people to stop and listen. Here I am in full flight: 
The pop book looks like it could be very popular and will soon be available in French and English. My able assistant in Frankfurt, Cornelia Angelov, has already been playing from the book at home and has found it both accessible and effective for a relative non-pop piano player.
Later that day, I played, still on the stand, a selection from right across the Microjazz series. This was to encourage passing traffic to stop and created a nice backdrop to the quiet hum of the fair. Here I am at the piano, in what looks like some kind of reverie:

The following day I played at the beginning and end (and in the middle) of a panel discussion about the effect of music on intelligence. The audience found it engaging (the panel discussion I mean) and the musical interludes were well received, particularly a pop ballad from Rock & Pop Piano Basics.
This was a low-key event, but I think worthwhile for further raising my profile in Germany and also for drawing people’s attention to one of my largest (160 pages) new books. Thanks to Schott Mainz for asking me to do this and for being, as always, such gracious hosts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Aveiro, Portugal

Aveiro is a charming city on the coast of central Portugal. It is sometimes referred to as the Portuguese Venice because of its network of canals and its history of trying to combat the forces of nature (ie water) over the centuries.
I came at the invitation of Nancy Lee Harper, an ex-pat American who has lived in Portugal for nearly 20 years and does a great job as a music professor at the university in Aveiro. Nancy is impressively active as a writer (she has recently written a very well-received biography of Manuel de Falla and also wrote a glowing review of American Popular piano for the EPTA journal) and is also a very accomplished pianist. See www.nancyleeharper.com for more details about her work. Here’s a picture of Nancy:
The audience for my presentation included teachers at the university, visiting piano teachers (some had travelled quite a distance to be there) and many students ie teachers-to-be. It was a young and very friendly crowd. Some of them knew about the Microjazz series, but I would say that most were new to my work. I played some pieces first to let them hear the range of styles and the level of difficulty. I then talked briefly about how my background – classical piano studies and a classical music degree followed by high school music teaching – led inevitably to the creation of Microjazz. I then played some Microjazz pieces and also showed a recent Youtube clip of a Chinese student playing one of the same pieces. I then, with some help from various audience members, played pieces from the range of publications on offer from Boosey & Hawkes – Microstyles, Concert Collections, Preludes and the new “Micro” series. And of course some of the new Christmas pieces. Here are some of the ever-attentive audience:
I was pleased to see one audience member holding up all of the Microjazz Duet Collections – she and I played Rio from Microjazz Concert Collection together . I also played a Youtube clip of a piece for 6 hands, Free’n’easy (from Microjazz Trios) done in a hugely entertaining way by three Italian pianists. See for yourself at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKhmVO4F5m8
We had a good selection of books for people to look at and during the break. The music table was absolutely besieged by audience members.
The second part was devoted to American Popular Piano and the teaching of improvisation. I used quite a few audience members as “students” and this proved, as always, to be very effective. Using pieces from Levels 1, 2 and 6, from the series, I got students initially doing very simple things (with some help from the audience) and gradually got them to lose their inhibitions and come up with more sophisticated and stylish ideas, with their own “voices” emerging quite quickly. Here I am watching one of my new students playing:
Again, reaction to American Popular Piano and its methodology was excellent and I feel that this will be the beginning of its widespread use in Portugal. I hope to return before too long and there are plans to take in some other Portuguese cities as well. Watch this space!

Monday, August 1, 2011

National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy 2011

The Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy is a not-for-profit educational institution in Kingston, New Jersey.
The work of the Center is based on the philosophy of music educator Frances Clark (1905-1998) Frances Clark believed passionately in the transformative power of music-making in the life of every person - not just the young, the gifted or the privileged. What set Frances Clark apart from her predecessors was her recognition that the quality of musical experience is directly related to the quality of the music teaching-learning experience. Thus she placed singular importance on the preparation of teachers.
"There is music in every child. The teacher's job is to find it and nurture it." -- Frances Clark
The Frances Clark Center advances its goals and serves local, national, and international audiences through its three components: The New School for Music Study, Clavier Companion magazine (to which I am an occasional contributor) and the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy (NCKP) a bi-annual event for mainly North American music teachers. Papers on a variety of topics are presented and there are also publisher and composer showcases. It attracts a lively and well-informed crowd who attend most sessions and are delighted to have lots of professional input before the new teaching year begins.
I was at NCKP with Novus Via Music Group, publishers of American Popular Piano and I did my by-now-familiar mix of one-on-one demonstrations at the booth and a showcase on the series with my collaborator Scott McBride Smith.
I was pleased to see lots of familiar faces, colleagues from a number of countries, other music publishers and of course many teachers who I have encountered at Piano Festivals, at regional conferences and at presentations. Lori Frazier is a great promoter of midi in education for Yamaha USA (and a great fan of www.christophernortonmidi.com) Here she is showing me some of the finer points of the Yamaha piano I was using at the booth:
The response from many teachers to American Popular Piano indicated that how it works is becoming clear to more and more piano studios – using contemporary popular pieces to draw students in and keep them motivated, using Etudes (improvisation) and Skills books to help cultivate better listening and using the Technic books to create strong fingers and secure keyboard geography. This seemed evident in the main presentation – I had a 16 year old girl improvising from scratch and finding her own voice quite quickly and I had 2 delightful brothers play Walking in the Sun (from APP Level 4 Ensemble) in a secure and positively joyful way. Here’s a picture of the boys, along with 2 more siblings (there are 8 children in the family altogether!)
I was also pleased to spend time with Ellen Tryba Chen, who put on the recent improv event in Saratoga, California and with Jan McMillan, who was a lively presence at the conference in Wagga Wagga. It really is getting to be a small world! And we were greatly helped throughout by the sterling work of Isaac Holbrook, who recently stood in for me at Summer Sizzle in Ontario . And I should pay tribute to the tireless work of Clarke MacIntosh, the driving force behind American Popular Piano, the person who first thought of getting me and Scott McBride Smith together.
The major travel season is now over – subsequent reports will come from mainly European destinations, with a trip to India in the diary in late November.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


This tour was my first major tour of Australia since the late 1980s (if memory serves me right) and was arranged by Hal Leonard Australia. They distribute Microjazz and all other Boosey & Hawkers products) as well as the Frederick Harris Connections series, as well as American Popular Piano. The tour was called, appropriately, “Beyond Microjazz”.

Unusually for me, I had a co-presenter on this tour, Elissa Milne (elissamilne.wordpress.com) Elissa is a leading educational composer in Australia, published by Faber Music in the UK and a regular presenter for Hal Leonard in Australia. She is a dynamic presenter and a talented performer and it was a great pleasure to be in a double-act with her.

1. Rockhampton, 11th July 2011

We started the tour in Rockhampton, a city in Queensland, north of Brisbane. It was held at Green Brothers, a well-established music store in the city. This session was unusual in that we had keyboards for most of the teachers to share, so they were able to play along when I got onto the improvisation section of the presentation.

Don’t they look happy?

The presentation consisted of an introductory interview of me by Elissa, along the lines of “what have you been doing since you were last here?” and I then ran through recent (ie post-1990) Boosey & Hawkes publications before doing a presentation on American Popular Piano, ending with improvisation for everyone. In the second part, Elissa ran through the excellent new publications from Hal Leonard Australia - "Getting to Grade Two" and "Getting to Grade Three" (www.halleonard.com.au/cmsutil/file.php?file=edu_file_38.pdf) before I wrapped up proceedings with a whisk through Connections. The teachers found it all interesting and stimulating, at least according to the feedback sheets!

I also did a masterclass with local students, which was very enjoyable. One young performer played and after the masterclass asked for a photo. I did a double-take:

I was amazed to see my photo in the window of the shop, taken at the MTNA in Denver in 2009. And in 2010 the hosts of the event had flown David and Lesley Gereghty from Recreational Music center in San Diego to work with students – I did an event with Lesley and David in San Diego last year (see the blog archive again) Small world…

2. Brisbane 12th July 2011

This event was held at the AMEB (Australian Music Education Board) in Brisbane – see www.ameb.edu.au. The interest in the event was sufficient to warrant a repeat of the presentation and enthusiasm and excitement from the audience were high at both presentations. Sales were also strong – here are some happy buyers after the first presentation:

There were some younger teachers at the second presentation, who were full of questions and positively buzzing (Elissa on the far right):

3.Melbourne 13th July 2011
The Melbourne workshop was held at Pat’s Music in Oakleigh and was packed. Again, enthusiasm was high and the whole presentation was regarded as both entertaining and informative. As I always do, I used an audience member to help me with improvisation and the picture below is my “student” after she did her unexpected public performance:

In the afternoon, I did a very enjoyable masterclass with students at a local Yamaha music school. This went very well – I’m always pleased to work with students as well as doing teacher presentations. Here are 2 of my delightful young students:

4. Sydney 14th July 2011

The Sydney workshop was held upstairs at Music on the Move, the dealer who supplied music at Wagga Wagga. At this point I should pay tribute to the great work done by Gina Wake, the Hal Leonard Australia organizer of the tour, who was always alert to the needs of her demanding co-presenters and was always cheerful and positive. Here she is with John from Music on the Move:

The Sydney session was repeated and both audiences were really excited by the material. Here is a cross-section of one of the audiences:

All of the audiences on this mini-tour were pleased to hear that this was a taster for a bigger tour in January, involving day workshops and some days with students. I am very much looking forward to seeing many of these new Australian friends again in 2012 – it was heart-warming and humbling to hear the difference that Microjazz made to teachers in the 1980s and I hope that equally dramatic results will flow from the use of the new material in 2011.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Wagga Wagga

The APPC – Australasian Piano Pedagogy Conference – was held in Wagga Wagga this year and I started my mini-tour of Australia there. I haven’t been in Australia in a music education capacity for a very long time, probably over 20 years, so it was great to see to what extent my work there in the 1980s has continued to bear fruit.

The first session I did at the conference was a masterclass with students from Wagga Wagga and Griffith. They played pieces from Microjazz and Microstyles as well as Latin Preludes and I was able to guide them to better hand positions, phrasing and dynamics so that they all felt a little more assured as public performers. The idea that a technical solution can create a better musical result cannot be over-stressed!

During the Convention, I did literally dozens of one-to-one sessions with teachers, particularly on improvisation, using American Popular Piano, but also repertoire sessions on Microjazz, Connections and APP. I met New Zealand teachers who competed against me in the 1975 Christchurch concerto competition and a teacher who was at school in Timaru with my wife back in 1969! There was a lovely Kawai piano in the exhibition room, so I played with lots of teachers:
and interacted with students:

The main session for me was a Keynote Lecture entitled “An approach to teaching improvisation that works!” and it was absolutely fully attended by a very responsive crowd. I got 2 students to help me throughout, both local girls and the way they blossomed as improvisers on stage was a source of astonishment even to them. Here they are, concentrating hard:

This was a dramatic launch of APP in Australasia and its repercussions will be felt in the months ahead. Teachers here, as in California, are very interested in incorporating improv into lessons – they have just been waiting for a way of doing it that works for them as well as for the student. And the consensus seemed to be that they have found it at last. Here is the audience at the Keynote Lecture:

I was also delighted to find myself sharing a bill with Murray McLachlan, Head of Keyboard at Chetham’s School of Music and head of EPTA in Europe (and a great pianist!)

and also Dr Siaw-Sing Koo, a colleague from Singapore who I got to know in Oakland. I was also delighted to meet and hear Jovanni-Rey de Pedro, an outstanding pianist and clinician who alerted us all to the wonderful compositions of Friedrich Gulda. A rich and varied programme and lots of great conversations made this a memorable conference.

Saratoga and San Jose

The annual MTAC (Music Teachers Association of California) Convention is the largest convention for private music teachers in California. This year it was held in Oakland, a city I will always associate with Tower of Power, www.towerofpower.com, specifically their Back to Oakland album. But I flew in some days earlier than the conference so that I could do a 3-day improvisation camp with students from two private studios in the Bay Area.

Ellen Tryba Chen is a private teacher in Saratoga who was bold enough to invite me to her studio 2 years ago (see the blog in the archives!) to work with some of her students on improvisation, using American Popular Piano. Here she is :

The event went very well, so Ellen decided to do a bigger event this year, with students from her studio as well as students from the studio of another first-rate Californian teacher, Kathleen Goldbach.

We had 20 students, playing American Popular Piano pieces from Levels 1,2,4 and 5. Each group came together twice. The participants all really enjoyed playing together as an ensemble, using 2 grand pianos.

Each player was then able, through a steady accumulation of improv skills, to “find” their own voice and start to improvise in 2 contrasting styles. You should be able to tell how much fun the students of all ages were having from this photo:

At the end of the improvisation sessions, all of the students put on a public concert. This was held in the beautiful Sherman Clay Steinway showroom in Santa Clara, using 2 magnificent Steinway grand pianos, one signed by Lang Lang! With extended backing tracks creating a rich, full sound, the students all played very impressively in ensembles as well as each individual improvising at least twice. Chrissy Huang, who organizes concerts in this venue, was positively overwhelmed by the concert, describing as “the most joyful concert” she has ever seen there. She immediately set about organizing a much bigger event, a Christopher Norton Piano Festival that will include both improv and masterclasses as well as concerts, in 2012 - watch this space!

MTAC, Oakland, California

I was delighted to join my colleagues Clarke MacIntosh and Scott McBride Smith at this MTAC convention, ably assisted by Richard and Isaac Holbrook and Charles Hung. I did 4 presentations at this conference and the reactions from the audiences indicated that American Popular Piano is really starting to make an impact. The 4 sessions were:
1. Vertical harmony
2. 5 easy steps to improvisation
3. A showcase on American Popular Piano with Scott McBride Smith
4. An improvisation workshop
Vertical Harmony was a session on recognizing chords. I began by asking audience members to come to the piano and play major and minor chords, with all their attendant inversions. What I was trying to do was get the audience to “spot” which inversion and also to demonstrate how re-voicing a chord can make a world of difference. We moved to 6th chords, 7th chords and 9th chords and time ran out as we got to maj9/6, to the obvious disappointment of the crowd. They wanted more chords!
I will create a section on vertical harmony for the website (www.americanpopular piano.com) in the very near future.
The 5 Easy Steps To Improvisation was a very well-attended session and I had a 9-year old student on stage throughout, who demonstrated very assuredly each point that I was trying to make in regard to clapping a beat, clapping and playing a rhythm, using more and more notes in that rhythm and using new rhythms (and notes) as well as grace notes, pedal notes and chords. There was lots of audience participation and I’m certain that all of the teachers went away thinking “I could do this!” The feeling of sheer joy was there again and this photo from the Novus Via booth, which shows a student improvising with Isaac Holbrook, was typical of students’ reactions to improvising for the first time:

The showcase also went very well and the audience found the inclusion of a young student, again doing some simple improv, a very telling addition. Here is the young player in question, pictured with me and Scott at the Novus Via booth:
My final session brought 2 girls back from the Saratoga improv sessions. They played for the audience and were once again playing both expressively and in their own unique way. I also added a third player, a young student who had come to the booth the day before and been given an extended lesson in improv by the composer. She also did really well.
I did lots of playing on the stand and the picture below shows me at the piano, with the full range of APP books behind me. By the end of the Convention, the books were virtually all gone. We’re on our way!


My initial reason for visiting Minnesota was to take part in the wedding concert of Jon Michael Iverson and Pinar Basgoze. I first met Jon in 2007 at the MTNA in Toronto and he has become a good friend since and a great proselytizer for both Connections and American Popular Piano. See www.jonmichaeliverson.com and look for the Christopher Norton Project for a start!

Once it was established that I was visiting Minneapolis, I was invited to give a talk to the Minneapolis Music Teachers’ Forum – MMTF (www.mmmtforum.org) as well as do a number of activities at the MacPhail Centre for Music (www.macphail.org) and finally to do 2 presentations at the annual Minnesota Music Teachers’ Association conference (www.mnmusicteachers.com)

I flew in from London and after a short night’s sleep was (sort of) ready to start the presentations. First up was the MMTF – this was billed as a Meet the Composer event and I gave a talk about the variety of things I’ve done over the years as a composer, including my educational music series, but also referencing media music, ringtones, choral music etc. It was a small but enthusiastic group and there were quite a few questions and comments at the end. Here are some of the teachers who attended:

The event was very ably organized by Mary Jo Leier, pictured below.

One other person who came to the presentation was Nicola Melville, a New Zealand-born pianist who is now assistant professor of music at Carleton College, Minnesota, and is on the faculty of the Chautauqua Summer Festival. She has played my Rock Preludes a lot in concert and I was meeting her to discuss whether she might be able to make new recordings of the 4 books of Preludes and the 2 Concert Collections. Here’s a picture of Nicola – check her many activities via one of links above.

I then went across to MacPhail Center for Music, which is a community music school in a very impressive purpose-built building, with a fabulous concert hall and all the pianos and technological set-up that you could possibly wish for.

I gave a talk on all my materials to a group of the piano teaching staff – the presentation encompassed Microjazz and other Boosey & Hawkes material, but also Connections and American Popular Piano. Here I am at that session:

I felt there was a sophisticated appreciation from the MacPhail teaching staff of the pedagogical value of both the supplementary material (Microjazz and Connections) and the core material (American Popular Piano) being presented.

The following day was a public concert by 22 students, all playing pieces I’d written. It was preceded by a talk on what gets me started when I’m composing – I listed (and played examples of) 5 categories:

  1. starting with a known style – not quite pastiche, but starting with a style which has its own conventions. Examples – Boogie from Microjazz Collection 3 and Positively Swinging from Connections 4.
  2. Starting with a melodic idea – Stillness from American Popular Piano 4 and Stratford Air from American Popular Piano 8.
  3. Starting with a rhythm – Samba from Microjazz Collection 2
  4. Starting with a pattern or ostinato – Rainforest from Connections 3
  5. Starting with a chord progression – The moonlit sky from Jazz Preludes Collection

I then played short recordings of pieces by composers or bands that have been a particular influence on me – Beethoven, Nielsen, Prokofiev, The Jazz Crusaders and Steely Dan!

The student concert included some excellent performances covering a wide range of styles and difficulty levels. The stirling work of the 12 Minnesota teachers represented was very much in evidence. The venue was very striking:

This was the first event like this at MacPhail like this – a non-competitive composer-oriented concert - and we hope it could lead to a Piano Festival event or events in the not-too-distant future.

The following day I took a kind of mass master-class, with probably 25 students playing for me. Most of them played classical pieces (Greig, Schumann, Gurlitt etc) and some played some of my pieces. I gradually got a number of piano playing fundamentals into the open, such as the importance of knowing what the fingering is of a passage, the importance of projection and the negative effects of weak fingers when playing scale passages! It was a positive session and many of the students played more than once - I called them back to play again in order to illustrate a particular point.

Later that day was the wedding concert of Jon Iverson and Pinar Basgoze. Friends and colleagues from Minnesota and further afield played in a concert celebrating their recent nuptials. There was a great variety of music played, from a Bob Dylan song accompanied by bass clarinet and mandolin to a Fantasy on Carmen for 8 players at 2 grand pianos. I played a Latin Prelude and a new piece, a multi-time signature take on Hark the herald from an uocoming Christmas book. The whole concert was live streamed on the internet and various people watched it in other parts of the world.

On the Monday and Tuesday (June 6th and 7th) I was an presenter at the MMTA and gave a talk – Unlocking Popular Styles – as well as a product session, on American Popular Piano. The first talk was well received, partly because I had lots of audience participation, creating ad hoc rock bands, Latin percussion bands and samba bands to accompany me and a teacher who was brave enough to help me out on stage from time to time. Teachers are more curious about pop and rock styles than they care to admit and anything that can sharpen their awareness of styles is only going to be helpful.

The product session was very well attended indeed and I felt that the work I have done in Minneapolis (see the archived report on my Scmitt Music presentation) and the work both Jon Iverson and Andrew Hisey (my editor on the Connections series) have done have means that people know who I am and have tried some of the series out and have told other teachers that they work.

There was quite a rush to the music dealer’s stand after the session, by which time I was on my way to the airport and back to London.

Thanks to Jill Kilzer for being willing to add me to the programme at short notice. It was great meeting many fine teachers from Minnesota and I hope to see them all again before too long!

Christopher Norton

June 8th 2011, London, UK

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ackerman Music, Chichester UK - "Play with the Pros"

Ackerman Music, a UK music dealer with a number of stores in the south of England, bravely decided to run a day called “Play with the Pros”. This involved bringing 5 well-known educational music writers, myself included, to a school in Chichester for a day, with students and teachers offered the chance to have individual tuition or work in group situations.
The other “Pros” were John Kimber, James Rae, Pete Cooper and Mike Cornick, whose names and compositions are well-known to examination candidates and teachers around the world. I was stationed in the school hall:
and my brief was to do improvisation work with a miscellaneous group of instrumentalists. Flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets and trombone were represented, as well as some piano players and both electric and acoustic guitar. I used methodology developed during the writing of American Popular Piano, to good effect I think! We all began by learning a melody – Green Onions initially, then The Girl on the Beach (APP Level 1) and playing each piece as a group, always with backing track. Then, having established the key of the piece, I got the most confident improviser to come up with a catchy one-note (the key note) rhythmic idea (a riff) that all the group could play back. Once everyone felt comfortable playing this riff right through the chord progression, I suggested that the same idea could be played using two notes – typically the first note of the scale and the second. At this point each student was free to choose when to play either note 1 or note 2.
We got as far as using five notes, which happened to be a pentatonic minor or major scale, much to the satisfaction of the electric guitarist, whose hand naturally fell into a pentatonic scale shape.
Then the improvisation started – students were able to invent their own idea, using their own rhythms. But, and it was a big but, they had to be able to play their own idea back again! This is never easy, but it is an important step towards “believing” in your own idea.
We gradually added other techniques – an idea answered by a slight variation of itself, a question and answer idea (two ideas, one different from the other) use of arpeggios, use of repeated notes etc etc. Some of the more confident players stepped up to a microphone and played with the band in a more extended way, using various techniques that we had all tried out.
I also got the chance to show some of the piano players some useful voicings and improvisation tips:
It was a very enjoyable day and I think the students liked playing together as well as having the chance to start improvising in a very step-by-step way. I hope Ackerman Music are encouraged to do it again soon!