Thursday, October 11, 2012

Christopher Norton in Christchurch, New Zealand 10th October 2012

Christopher Norton workshop in Christchurch, New Zealand, 10th October 2012

I was pleased, right at the very end of my Australasian sojourn, to give a presentation to the Christchurch branch of the Registered Music Teachers Association (
My presentation was organised by my first composition teacher, superb piano teacher and life-long friend Rosemary Miller Stott (

My brief was broad – to talk about ensemble music and improvisation and to conduct a masterclass on 2 Rock Preludes that have recently been listed by the ABRSM (Sierra and Sturdy Build)

The ensemble section of the talk featured the Two At A Time series, published by, American Popular Piano and Microjazz. I was helped by various members of the audience, all gamely sight-reading in public. Here are some of them hard at work:

I pointed out the virtues of playing duets (especially how it cultivates the notion of listening to another part as well as your own) and of starting with very easy 5-finger student parts allied to musically interesting teacher parts. People enjoyed the on-the-spot music-making and could see lots of potential for teaching and for student concerts.

I also talked about adding backing tracks to the equation, using tracks from the APP series as well as the relatively new tracks from the Microjazz Collections.
With video clips from all over the world as well as our in-house renditions, this was a very enjoyable session. I finished with a reference to Microjazz Trios, finishing with the by now infamous Canadian and Italian versions of Free’n’easy from YouTube.

The improvisation session was using APP Repertoire and Etudes – I gave a quick overview of how the teaching of improv works at the early Levels. The audience were very interested in this and many will go away and explore the material with a view to using it themselves.

Near the end I did a masterclass with 2 teenage boys – both had started learning Rock Preludes quite recently but they certainly had the notes and overall style well in hand. I was able to concentrate on technical matters – fast staccato octaves, ff chords in both hands, genuine legato etc. The audience could hear what a different sound could be produced by analyzing some of the mechanics involved. Here is one my two students at the piano:

The audience included people I have met on other occasions, including my other favourite Christchurch couple – Colin McLachlan and Christina Sell McLachlan.

And one family who came included a non-piano playing mother who enjoyed being asked to play the piano in public for the first time:

This was a very happy occasion – just the right mix of people came: teachers, students, general music fans… and it felt like a genuine exchange of ideas had occurred. I have already had some nice feedback from this session on the Christopher Norton – Composer Facebook page.

Christopher Norton
Christchurch, New Zealand, 11th October 2012

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Christopher Norton at Otago University, Dunedin 8th October 2012

Christopher Norton at Otago University Music Department, Dunedin, New Zealand 8th October 2012

Dunedin is my old home-town – I went to school there (Otago Boys High 1966-1969) and did my first music degree there from 1970 to 1974. And I met my wonderful wife there, also a music student. So it was with great pleasure that I agreed to give a talk about my life and work to students and staff of the music department at Otago University.

The present head of the music department was there – Graeme Downes. He is in a very impressive Dunedin band, The Verlaines ( and is an expert on both rock music and Mahler!

The person who invited me was Anthony Ritchie (, an associate professor in the department, and a very fine composer himself. His works number over a hundred, and include three symphonies, two operas, seven concertos, choral works, chamber music and solo works.

Also present were three generations of my family – my 85-year old mother (still bemused after all these years by what I do!) my younger sister and her daughter Jessie, who is a composition student in the department currently.

The students and staff were given a brief description of my life as a composer, including my beginnings in Dunedin as a schoolboy writer under the watchful eye of Rosemary Miller and later in the department with Jack Speirs and Don Byars. I had lots of video clips and played as well and I think it was deemed to be a stimulating, even enlightening session. Here are some of the fresh-faced and eager audience members:

And a French horn player who played in my Octagon Overture (see my blog about this event at is pictured here. And yes, that’s my mother on the left..

The current Mozart fellow, ( )Robbie Ellis ( was also there and quizzed me about whether a full-time composer might have to be really a part-time composer and a part-time marketing person (I agreed!) He played some duets very nicely with me.

Thanks to Anthony Ritchie and the students and staff for providing such a warm welcome – I hope to keep in touch with you all!

CN Christchurch, New Zealand 9th October 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Townsville, Queensland 2nd & 3rd October 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Townsville, Australia, 2nd, 3rd October 2012

I have fans around the world, but I also appear to have a much smaller number of hard-core fans. One of these is Heather Smith, owner of Townsville’s The Keyboard shop ( who is a Yamaha dealer and a dedicated exponent of all things midi. Heather happened to be on holiday on Perth when I presented on my January tour and she saw me there. She was instantly converted to American Popular Piano as a course and has relentlessly pushed it ever since, claiming it is without doubt the best method on the market, full-stop! She organised the Townsville event and it was the biggest Christopher Norton Piano Festival of the tour, with over 70 students and quite a few teachers participating.

Each Festival has been subtly different – this one was very different from the others in one crucial respect: the students had prepared their 2 pieces and at least the first Module of each accompanying Improvisation Etude. But that was it – no solo pieces for the masterclass. So I either got them to play one of the APP pieces they had prepared or I asked them to play something already in their repertoire. So we had quite a mixture of pieces, including the Batman tv theme, computer game music, Jessica’s theme from The Man from Snowy River and Chopin’s Minute Waltz! This gave me more time to work on improvisation and I was delighted by the response of the students and the almost 100% success rate. By success rate I mean that every student created their own ideas and repeated, varied and extended them.

Here are 2 of the improvisation groups at work:

The concert was a sell-out and all of the participants enjoyed a chance to play music they liked in a non-competitive context.

CN Christchurch NZ 9th October 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Gold Coast, Queensland 29th, 30th September 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Coomera, Gold Coast, Australia, 29th, 30th September 2012

Coomera is on Australia's Gold Coast (,_Queensland), where a large (over 70 students) 2-day Festival was very well organised by Ashleigh Miles, a local teacher with over 80 students of her own! This Festival was held at Saint Stephen’s College and I was amazed when I arrived to see 12 sparkling, new Roland pianos set up on stage, supplied by Linda from Gold Coast Pianos (

Over 2 days, I did 2-hour sessions for Preparatory Level students, then Levels 1,2,3,4,5 and 8. Every group had a one hour improvisation group, followed by a one-hour master-class.

There are so many highlights it’s difficult to know where to begin! I managed to get every single student to come up with ideas of their own (and repeat them) to play well in an ensemble and to think about what they could do to make their piano playing more fluent, their phrasing more elegant and their attitude to piano playing more positive.

I’ll put a picture gallery up on Facebook (the page to look for is Christopher Norton - Composer) but here are some of the master-class participants mid-flight, as it were:

And here is one of the improvisation groups – what a magnificent sight!

Yes, that’s the composer in shorts! It was the Gold Coast and it was pretty hot…
The Gala Concert was in the same magnificent venue and was thoroughly enjoyed by both performers and audience.

CN Christchurch, NZ 9th October 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Brisbane 27th September 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival at Masson Music, Brisbane, Australia, 27th September 2012

My last tour of Australia included a presentation at Masson Music in Brisbane (www.massonmusic.comand this was the venue for the second Christopher Norton Piano Festival.

This Festival was a one-day event - this meant students from more than one Level working together for both improvisation groups and master-classes. This sounds like an awkward idea, but in fact it worked surprisingly well to have some students work on a Level 1 piece while Level 2 students watched and listened (and then the other way round...)

There were around 25 students spread across the day, so it was easy to give each student individual attention, especially during the improv group work. Every student played their 2 "improv" pieces with the rest of the group from their Level, with backing track, and every student also got to play both set rhythms and their own completely new ideas.

As the picture indicates, one teacher had her students smartly kitted out in yellow tops and by some strange co-incidence everyone else wore white tops, so a bit of friendly team rivalry developed! Fierce concentration was in evidence from some of the very young players, especially during their master-class:

There was a very impressive age-range in evidence – from as young as 7 to late teenage and we heard a number of very spirited and accurate performances during a very intense day. It was great to see quite a number of Level 8 students doing demanding pieces and Improv Etudes, as well as performing Latin and Rock Preludes to a very high standard.

The whole day was held upstairs at Masson Music, who were able to provide a very impressive array of keyboards for the event. And at the end of the afternoon the room was opened out and we gave a concert to an enthusiastic audience of parents and teachers. The Gala Concert featured confident solos, tight ensemble pieces and a demonstration of some of the improvisation ideas worked on during the day.

Brisbane, 30th September 2012

Friday, October 5, 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Sunshine Coast 28th Sept 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Warana, Sunshine Coast, Australia, 28th September 2012

And so to the Sunshine Coast – what a great name for what is a lovely part of Queensland! I stayed at Mooloolaba, right on the beach (hey, someone has to do this stuff!) and found my way, via my trusty GPS, to Kerry’s Keyboards in Warana for another one-day Piano Festival.

Kerry’s Keyboards, as the name implies, is a keyboard shop, so all of the students had superb Yamaha pianos to play on.

Once again, I had “mixed” groups and once again it proved to be fine as an idea – improvisation group work can be quite intense, so students were quite pleased to be able to have a break to observe during their session. We had just one Prep Level player, who did very well and thoroughly enjoyed her place in the sun.

Students had also prepared pieces and Improv Etudes from all Levels (1 through 8) and we really created a fine sound in the store. Here are some more students from the intermediate Levels:

The master-classes were a delight, with many well-prepared students eager to learn and quick to respond to suggestions about technique or interpretation.

And some teachers who took part really enjoyed the improv and proved to be superb improvisers.

Having had a very enjoyable day making music and discovering their own musical “voices”, the students (and I) were amazed and delighted when we got to the venue for the Gala Concert, which was a beautiful private home with a room big enough to seat an entire audience. There’s a photo on my Facebook page (Christopher Norton – Composer) posted by the teacher whose home was the concert venue. Do check it out. It was a lovely end to a very positive day for me and for the students.

Brisbane, 30th September 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival Adelaide 24th & 25th September 2012

Christopher Norton Piano Festival in Adelaide, Australia, 24th and 25th September 2012

During my tour of Australia last January I promoted the Piano Festivals concept and as a result I returned in late September for my first Piano festivals tour of Australia. The organiser for the inaugural event, a 2-day Festival in Adelaide, was Lesley Beale, a local music teacher who has over 70 students! She was a calm, unflappable presence and everything about the event was well thought out.

Both days had the same pattern – I first worked with 12 students (all at the same Level) on improvisation for an hour, using 2 American Popular Piano pieces. I made sure that every student had a chance to create something distinctive to them and a chance to feel good about their own ideas. The students also enjoyed working in a keyboard “orchestra” and ended up playing and listening much better both as individuals and as a group.

After a short break, we then went to a master-class, where the same students got to play a prepared piece on a grand piano kindly lent by a local piano dealer. Sometimes with the rest of the group played along on their keyboards if a particular point needed emphasising in a practical way. I was at pains to be positive and affirming of the students’ efforts and we all saw some real progress in technical and musical terms.

Then the whole process started again with another group of students at a different Level. We had students at Preparatory Level, Levels 1-4 and Level 6.

During the master-classes, I made a quick note of performers who felt “secure” musically and technically, with a view to them being included in the concert at the end of day 2. There were quite a few duets on offer as well as lots of solos. Many students, particularly the younger ones (the youngest student was 5 years old) had chosen American Popular Piano pieces that had a teacher accompaniment, which I played.

By the end of day 2, we had a list of performers for the concert. We also invited every improv group to be part of the concert, playing an ensemble piece as an item, but also doing some improvisation on stage.

The large and enthusiastic audience was treated to a display of musicianship and piano playing that encompassed all of the Festival participants. A great time was had by all, even the performers!

 Go to Christopher Norton -Composer Facebook page to see Cynthia (5 years old) play Song of the Steppes from American Popular Piano Level 1 on video.

September 2012