Saturday, December 4, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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 – www.christophernorton.com, www.americanpopularpiano.com and www.youtube.com/user/christophermicrojazz.
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
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.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
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 www.christophernorton.com and also to look at my new Youtube channel – www.youtube.com/profile/christophermicrojazz. The Pianist magazine profile and series of articles on popular piano styles was also mentioned (www.pianistmagazine.com)
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 www.americanpopularpiano.com - 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, 10 years old in 2010, is a growing piano pedagogy symposium for teachers and students sponsored by CNCM (www.cncm.ca). 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(www.redleafpianoworks.ca), Clifford Crawley, Remi Bouchard and Tyler Sydenberg. I feel like an honorary Canadian – and how often do you hear anyone say that?
MTAC (Music Teachers Association of California) www.mtac.org 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 (www.americanpopularpiano.com) 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 piano.com 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) www.myc.com 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
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!
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Monday, May 3, 2010
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:
Saturday, May 1, 2010
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.