December Music For Christmas: "Carol of the Bells" in Level 4A
Paul Potyen has arranged your new version of "Carol of the Bells." Sometimes referred to as the "Ukranian Bell Carol," it was originally written for chorus by the Ukranian comoser, Mykola Leontovych. It features a four note melody in the right hand which hardly changes throughout the piece--a perfect example of ostinato. Bells of various sizes accompany this figure, usually set to the words "ding, dong, ding, dong" in vocal arrangements. Gradually the bells get louder and lower and then gracefully taper off to a peaceful and quiet conclusion.
Just starting to play? Here's a holiday gift just for you:
Two mp3 files for every piece in the "First Pieces" level!
Now you can listen to correct versions as you play from your printouts! Either listen online or download the audio to a portable mp3 player. Every piece has a slow version and one at normal speed--pick the one that's best for you. And every version begins with clicks to tell you when the music starts and how fast to play.
Here's a great way to practice with an iPad:
Put your iPad on the piano's music stand.
Go to the First Pieces page.
Tap the leftmost green dot to display the pdf sheet music.
Go back to the "First Pieces" tab and tap a dot for mp3 audio.
When you hear the clicks, go back to the sheet music and play along!
November Music for Christmas: "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," version one in Level 2C, version two in Level 4B
Here is your favorite music, arranged by Karen Newby and myself, from Nutcracker Suite. Tchaikovsky called for a celeste for this dance, a small keyboard with a high delicate pitch. The celeste was a new instrument at the time which "Tchaikovsky had discovered in Paris. He wanted it genuinely for the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy to characterize her because of its 'heavenly sweet sound'." (from Wikipedia) Try to imitate this sound as you play!
More November Music For Christmas: "He Shall Feed His Flock," alto and soprano solos from Handel's Messiah in Intermediate Level 1
This beautiful melody transports you to a quiet and comforting place. Its slow tempo and gently pulsating 6/8 rhythms reassure you that all your troubles will be taken care of. How well Handel has set the words! The flock will never go hungry, the lambs will be protected, and those with young will be safely led. I have included the words in this arrangement for those who like to sing (the vocal range is perfect), and for those who might want them for inspiration.
October Music, 1: "Du, Du Liegst mir im Herzen / You, You are in my Heart" in Level 2B
In Level 2 I give you a sweet old German love song, dating from around 1820, though the composer and the lyricist are unknown. It tells of the heartbreak of someone whose love is not returned. Actually, "liegst" means "lie", in the sense of "resting in ones heart," but to say "you lie in my heart" might be misleading given that "lie" also means "deceive." So I translated this simply as "You are in my heart." Thanks to Thomas Keyes for these insights.
October Music, 2: "Hist Hvor Vejen Slar en Bugt / Where the Road Makes a Turn" in Level 3A
As a tribute to my Danish visitors I am including a song with words by their poet, Hans Christian Anderson. A nostalgic song, it describes a house at the turn of a road in which there live a mother, her son and their dog and cat. It is evening and quiet. Swallows twitter under the eves of the roof and finally the little boy falls asleep. A full translation can be found at Mama Lisa's web site. Thanks Mama Lisa!
September Music, 1: "Sailing, Sailing" in Level 3B
Just having come from the coast of Maine, I can still smell the salt water and see the waves splashing on the rugged coastline. I would love to have been out in a sailboat then. I loved the whale watching, though. I wonder what it would be like to see a whale from the little sailboat in this picture?!
Wikipedia tells us that this song was written in 1880 by Godfrey Marks, a pen name for the British organist and composer James Frederick Swift (1847 - 1931). Enjoy!
September Music, 2: "There's a Hole in My Bucket" in Primer Level
Henry and Liza just can't seem to understand each other! In this song Henry complains that there is a hole in his bucket, and Liza gives him all sorts of good advice about how he could fix it. So what's the problem? Something about fetching water makes this an absolutely impossible task for poor Henry.
I first heard this tune sung by Peggy Seeger on a record she made with her brother, Mike. Of course they are both members of that wonderful family of musicians, the family whose most famous member is Pete Seeger. This is a silly kid's song with some nonsense syllables thrown in at the end. Have fun with it and don't take it too seriously!
There are many theories of the origin of "The Wabash Cannonball". Utah Phillips states that hobos imagined a mythical train that appeared at the death of a hobo to carry his soul to its reward. Another theory states that the song is based on a tall tale in which Cal S. Bunyan, Paul Bunyan's brother, constructed a railroad known as the Ireland, Jerusalem, Australian & Southern Michigan Line. After two months of service, the 700-car train was traveling so fast that it arrived at its destination an hour before its departure. Finally, the train took off so fast that it rushed into outer space, and for all is known, it is still traveling through space!
July Music 2: "Rain, Rain Go Away" without staff lines, in First Pieces
This is my easiest piece written in the "no staff lines" notation used in so many piano methods. The idea is that the staff lines confuse the young student with too much written on the page. If you would like to pursue teaching with this notation, use the Alfred's Level 1A; or Bastien Piano Basics, Primer Level; or Faber and Faber's My First Piano Adventure. All are excellent piano methods.
"Rain, Rain Go Away" also appears in traditional notation on the same web page. Just look down a few pieces.
June's Music: The Dutch & Belgian Tune, "Op een grote paddestoel / On a Giant Mushroom" in Level Two
"Hallo" to our Dutch speaking visitors. I have noticed that this site is quite popular in Belgium and The Netherlands, so I decided to include a children's song in Dutch (much of Belgium speaks Dutch). "Op een grote paddestoel" is about a tiny gnome sitting on a giant mushroom. As he rocks back and forth the mushroom splits in two. Up go his legs as he falls to the ground. There is a singable English translation in the score. Enjoy this new Dutch tune!
"Šano Dušo" is one of many Balkan tunes with, to the Western ear, unusual meters. The time signature of 7/8, actually quite common in the Balkans, is organized in groups of 3 + 2 + 2 eighth notes. I have found that children are able to play this "irregular" meter surprsingly well, maybe because they have not been hearing Western "regular" meters as long as adults. To get a feel for the rhythms listen to these excellent native performers.
In any case, do not shy away from this piece. It has a beautiful melody with an exotic sounding step-and-a-half in its scalewise passages.
This tarantella is Number 20 of a delightful collection composed by Johann Friedrich Franz Burgmüller as his Opus 100. Also from this collection are two other pieces included on this site, Arabesque (in Intermediate Level One) and Ballade (in Intermediate Level Two), but all of Opus 100, comprising 25 pieces in all is worth playing through. "La Tarentelle" was requested on this site's facebook page by Cecilia Melacarne, from Italy, for her son about a month ago. Grazie, Cecilia, for the suggestion.
Remember the earthquake, tsunami and threat of radiation in Japan by playing or assigning "Sakura" this month. We can honor those who are far away and who are in need of our understanding by learning about their culture. There is hardly a better tool for this development of empathy than studying a peoples' music.
While this piece is not new this month, it is deserving of our attention. Monthly music for April follows below.
This song contains a simple and straightforward narrative of the Easter story. The second verse, not found in the sheet music, reads,
All in an Easter garden where water lilies bloom,
The angels gave their message beside an empty tomb:
"The Lord is here no longer; Come see where once he lay;
The Lord of life is risen indeed, for this is Easter day."
April Music, 2: "Go Down, Moses" in honor of Passover in Level Three
Three times this African-American spiritual repeats Moses' forceful words to Pharoah in Exodus: "Let my people go!" During passover generation after generation of Jewish children learn the details of how their ancestors were subsequently freed from bondage in Egypt. Often, along with the prayers, singing and story telling, concern is expressed for other people who were similarly subjugated, among them African-American slaves.
March Music, 1: The Egyptian National Anthem, "Bilady, Bilady, Bilady," in Level Three.
In February the people of Egypt peacefully overthrew what they saw as an oppressive regime. Their nonviolent protests have been an inspiration around the world, and it is with deep respect for the Egyptian people that I offer their national anthem as Music of the Month for March. After I completed my arrangement a colleague pointed out that the anthem may change as a result of the change in government. If so my work would be in vain, but I don't think that will happen: the protesters themselves proudly sang their national anthem
in Tahrir Square and at the Presidential Palace.
March Music, 2: "Spring" from Vivaldi's The Four Seasons" in Level Two
Spring is here! (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere). We celebrate with a Level 2 arrangement of the first movement of Vivaldi's violin concerto, "Spring." This is the first of four concertos in his popular set, The Four Seasons. The accompanying sonnet begins like this:
Springtime is upon us.
The birds celebrate her return with festive song,
and murmuring streams are softly caressed by the breezes.
In observance of Valentine's Day , February's music includes "For Michelle" written by Ken Allen who is a long time visitor to this site. Ken writes, "The piece was written in celebration of my upcoming 10th wedding anniversary. Michelle is a loyal, supportive wife, a great friend, and a devoted mother. She brought two beautiful children into this world, and works tirelessly to give them the best start in life. 'For Michelle' is my love for her written into music."
February Music, 2: "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton" in Level Four
Also in observance of Valentine's Day February's music includes "Flow Gently, Sweet Afton." Here Robert Burns writes of the small Scottish River Afton upon whose banks his beloved Mary has fallen asleep. He implores the gurgling stream and all manner of small animals to leave Mary undisturbed in her slumber. Burns goes on in successive verses to praise the landscape through which the Afton courses, but he is always drawn back to his Mary: "Flow gently, sweet Afton" he writes, "disturb not her dream."
Music for January 2011, 1 & 2: "Arkansas Traveler" and "Baby Bumble Bee" in Primer.
These two songs are identical except for their words and their ending. "The Arkansas Traveler" is an old time fiddle tune which performers punctuate with jokes: A city slicker and an Arkansas fiddler just can't communicate, with hilarious results. I chose to include an mp3 of me singing this tune instead of the usual video.
The "Baby Bumble Bee" has many verses (not on the sheet music) which get more and more improbable.
Music for January 2011, 3, "Little Swallow" in Level Four
"Little Swallow" is a Chinese song added in honor of the upcoming Chinese New Year, Februrary 3, 2011. I got the melody at my favorite site for children's music from around the world, Mama Lisa's World. About this particular piece, Mama Lisa quotes Wang Li: "'Little Swallow' is a children's song originally in a film called 'A Nurse's Diary' and has been very popular in China for about half a century."