While there's no place like home, let's imagine ourselves in the magical land of film musicals...This arrangement by Dave Stapleton was specially written for the anthology and is going to be a popular choice for devotees of The Wizard of Oz and/or Judy Garland. It reminds me one of those pieces you'd find on an easy listening album, or something played in a cocktail lounge, but this isn't to trivialise the piece. It should tug at the heart strings if sensitively performed. A pianist's personality will shine through in their interpretation; one person's sense of rubato or their preferred 'cover' version of the song will make a difference. Some things to talk through with a student:
- observing all those accidentals!
- writing the lyrics in
- breathing the four-bar phrases
- knowing when right-hand chords are melody specific and when they are not (e.g. end bar 8), as this affects the weight applied
- where to change the pedal - some bars will require changes on every crotchet beat while most will be every minim beat
- ensuring that notes go down together when there are fourths/sixths/sevenths, for example in bars 17 and 18 and 28 and 29
- being careful with rubato - the lyrics should govern it
- feeling the end of bar 15 and bar 16 as a violin orchestral moment; bars 19 and 20 should have similar warmth
If I were to play this other than in an exam, I would repeat the first twelve bars as in the original song - why not make the most of it?
Do any of your pupils still insist on playing with a number 5 pinky as stiff as a frozen fish finger? All the other fingers are curved but this one insists on sticking out... It can only cause problems for control and isn't pretty either. Having gained one or two pupils beyond the opening grades who do this, I have come to the conclusion that it is either (i) habit or (ii) tension. The latter is going to cause issues of its own if it's not 'nipped' in the bud. There are some fun warm-up exercises that can be done to raise awareness of it happening; quite simply, we get the hands to walk like a hermit crab...
Start by curling the 4th and 5th fingers into the palm of the hand, so creating the hermit crab's 'shell' ... Use the crab's finger 'legs' to crawl up the keyboard (RH) or down (LH), where the pupil's fingers play 1,2,3 from C and tuck the thumb under to the next key starting position on D. Continue up/down an octave then come back 3,2,1 and cross 3 over. The 4th and 5th fingers should always be curled in. Do this slowly and deliberately.
The last exercise develops what we want to achieve - all five fingers curved with the wrist at the correct height, no tension in the forearm and a relaxed pinky finger. Let the crab 'dig, dig, dig the sand'. Hold down 1 with 2, then with 3 and 4 also; the 5th finger strokes the last key gently. The other four fingers should remain held down while the 5th finger 'digs'. In this way, the pupil will (hopefully!) develop better control over the joint in their 5th finger.
This, I think, is the most challenging piece in the selection for List C, where Chinese pentatonic meets Western tradition. The dragon lantern dance will be familiar to most pupils, hopefully through the study of Chinese New Year celebrations and some music composition using pentatonic scales. The first thing that stands out are the RH downward arpeggiations that meet the LH like a fanfare - they make a nice change!. Counting carefully and playing throughout at a slower pace will be essential before building to the molto vivo. Other things to watch out for:
- dancing with the phrases - let the wrist float off slightly between slurs
- passing the hands gracefully in the ascending and descending passages (bars 23/24 and similar)
- judicious use of the pedal where the LH has slurred passages
- two against three rhythms (bars 67 onwards)
- differences in dynamics between the hands
So, for Grade 6, what would my choice be from this selection? It's getting harder to choose, however:
A1 Bach Sinfonia B3 Grieg Liten fugl C1 Arlen Over the Rainbow