Wednesday, February 22, 2012

IRMT Conference, New Zealand

I have been a guest of the IRMT (Institute of Registered Music Teachers - in New Zealand before. This time I was already in the country prior to the “Beyond Microjazz” tour of Australia but my invitation was originally via Rosemary Miller, a wonderful piano teacher and composer based in Christchurch who can safely claim to have been my first composition teacher.

I was very pleased to be sharing the billing at this conference with Graeme Humphrey. Graeme, a fellow New Zealander, has been a Professor of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music since 1974, and has been actively involved in adjudicating, examining and teaching around the world. He is also active in seminars for teachers in the United Kingdom and abroad, and maintains a substantial private teaching practice with pupils of all ages and stages. He has a particular interest in piano duets and we, along with typesetter Andrew Jones, have created a website called, that predominantly features music for four hands. A number of excellent anthologies have been produced, some of which include new compositions of mine. Graeme did a session on duets before I arrived at the conference.
My first session was called Music for Ensemble and followed on from Graeme’s session quite naturally. I began by talking about Two at a Time, the series of duet anthologies that Graeme and I have helped to create. We played together and I also got a number of teachers to join us in an expanded keyboard ensemble. 

I then talked about the ensemble aspects of American Popular Piano, ranging from Preparatory pieces to Level 6. Finally, I presented Microjazz ensemble pieces, including an on-the-spot percussion ensemble (done by the audience divided into 10 parts) created to accompany a 6-hand arrangement of Tip Top from Microjazz Collection 1! I drew people’s attention to the Microjazz Trios Collection before we finished with an SA and piano version of Joshua fought the battle of Jericho from my new choral book In the need of prayer with the full group.

I think teachers felt that the session had a definite cumulative element, with more and more performers taking part as the afternoon progressed. It was a great way to involve everybody, including a violinist and cellist.

The second session was called Getting Started, Keeping Going and was exploring improvisation. I started by talking about why some students improvise before teachers try to teach them how to do it! The reasons for this include:

: They’ve heard (or seen) music they’d like to play and try to work it out
: They’ve started to write their own songs
: They play in church
: They have jazz-playing parents (the best reason!)

This is all great, but teachers can feel left out and may need to start to explore simple improvisation ideas themselves if they are going to be able to comment usefully. American Popular Piano is a good way to start this educative process. 

We all agreed that there are a number of reasons why teaching improvisation is a “good thing” for all students – encouraging listening skills, improving time playing, even discovering the individual “voice” of the student. 

I then took the teachers through the various steps we use in APP – learning a piece, identifying its key and which notes are used, clapping a beat, clapping a (given) rhythm, playing the rhythm on the key note, then on more notes….I was ably assisted by one of the teachers, who started off doing the simple tasks required of her and ended up improvising beautifully:

I used pieces from a number of APP levels and it was clear that the methodology was useful for a variety of situations, including group lessons and for instruments other than piano. As with the subsequent Australian tour, there was a hunger for an improvisation method that actually “works” and this seemed to be one that does!

I was also pleased to meet up with Richard Mapp, a very fine New Zealand pianist who I knew as an undergraduate at Otago University and with Roy Tankersley, who I taught with at Tawa College in the late 70s. And of course there were many familiar faces among the teachers as well.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tour of Australia and New Zealand - January 2012

I toured Australia a number of times in the 1980s, initially introducing myself to Australian teachers, subsequently promoting and explaining List E, a popular music syllabus created by the AMEB (Australian Music Education Board – that strongly featured Microjazz, Microstyles and the Rock Preludes and Latin Preludes. Having established my name and material in Australia, I left it until 2012 to return – yes, over 20 years! In the meantime, the AMEB had continued to use many of my pieces and other examination boards, notably ANZCA, NZMEB and the St Cecilia Music Examination Board, had also made extensive use of my compositions in the intervening years. So when I returned to Australia I was hardly an unknown quantity. The tour, masterminded by Gina Wake from Hal Leonard Australia, was grandly called “Beyond Microjazz”. It showcased American Popular Piano, a series new to most Australian teachers, Connections, the 8-part series originated by Frederick Harris Music in Canada in 2007 and Microjazz and other Boosey & Hawkes books written since around 1990.
Teacher numbers were strong throughout the tour, which started in Melbourne on January 17th, in a striking old church in Hawthorn. 
Every presentation on this tour was a full day presentation, starting at 9.30 and finishing at 3.30. First up each day was a session called “Simply the easiest way to improvise”, featuring American Popular Piano. This was always the most challenging session for teachers in theory, but the amount of audience participation and the simplicity of approach meant that participants were hugely enthusiastic and anxious to give it all a try back home. Here is one of my many “students” braving it on stage, this time in Canberra:
The Sydney presentation was at The Kings School in North Parramatta. I was delighted to have not only Elissa Milne, my co-presenter on the July 2011 tour (and an excellent composer herself) in the audience, but also her mother, a first-rate Australian (but originally New Zealand!) piano teacher. Here’s a picture of me and Elissa at the Sydney workshop:
The next part of the tour was in Queensland – Brisbane, Cairns and Townsville. I must at this point pay tribute to the sterling work of the dealers who bravely and ably supported the “Beyond Microjazz” tour. In Brisbane, Masson Music was the host dealer – here I am with John Masson, the owner:
Cairns in Queensland is amazingly far north (look at a map of Australia and see what I mean!) I had a small but very enthusiastic audience here:
Next stop was Townsville, which proved to be a delightful city. I was reminded by a teacher there that I had come to Townsville in the late 80s. She had her notes from that presentation with her (!) and said “see you on the next one” as I was leaving! As with the other venues, I tried to find audience members who could participate on stage and was pleased to find an enthusiastic young student to act as a demonstrator, Daniel Kelso, who is also a budding composer:
As I mentioned, Part 1 of each presentation was dedicated to American Popular Piano and the teaching of improvisation. Part 2 was called “making the Connection” and showcased the Connections series. A number of Connections pieces have already been selected by both the AMEB and ANZCA examination boards, so teachers were already interested in the series. If a number of keyboards were available, I often got a group of teachers to come and play a chord each of Samba Band from Connections 3 before getting them to improvise simple rhythms to a backing track. Here is such a scene in Launceston (Tasmania)
Part 3 of the presentations was the springboard for the tour – “Beyond Microjazz”. This involved a whistle-stop tour through Boosey & Hawkes publications that have appeared since 1990, with a particular emphasis on the Preludes series, the Concert Collections, The Easiest Way To Improvise and the new Micro series. I had quite a few video clips from Youtube of performances by students of this repertoire, which proved to be a very effective way of demonstrating how accessible the material is.. 
In Adelaide I was honoured to have Keran Bailey in the audience – he’s an excellent Australian educational composer who is also well represented on examination lists. Check out
Perth was HOT! Here’s the temperature indicator in the car on the way from the presentation to the airport:
I was amazed to hear that people had flown in from Darwin for the presentation, not to mention a dealer from Townsville. And I was delighted to meet Martin Lamb, a musician and mathematician who I knew from New Zealand in the early 70s (yes, folks, I’m that old!)
There was a nice postscript to the Australian tour – I did one final presentation in Auckland, New Zealand. This was hosted by KBB Music and I was pleased to meet, for the first time, my cousin Leith Milson’s daughter Catherine and her piano teacher mother:
Leith is a jazz player based in Tauranga – I spent all my summer holidays with his family when I was a child. So there is music in the family after all..

The big tour finally ended, but I’m back in both Australia and New Zealand in October 2012 to be at a conference in New South Wales, but also to run a number of Christopher Norton Piano Festivals in Australia and New Zealand. These will enable me to work with lots of students and teachers, doing both group improvisation and masterclasses, using the repertoire presented on this tour. See you all soon!