, but not my vocation
, is piano teacher
. It is an honorable one that has been around as long as there have been pianos--about 400 hundred years. Since the Italian Cristofieori invent
ed the thrown hammer
. That is the technical innovation
separating the piano from its predecessors. There were teachers of music before that time, of course, but their instruments were the clavichord
, and organ
Unlike them, I have certain advantages--I think they are advantages. When new students arrive, I show them the piano, how to sit at it, what the black keys are, and how
they help to read the keyboard. And then we get the book.
For absolute beginners, I have the Bastien series for children as young as 5, except if they are French speaking. Bastien translates all of its children’s series into French, and even has a Parisian distributor--but not the series for 5 to 7 year olds. I think this is strange. So I had to get the Alfred translation of its English edition for the 5 year old Francophone that I teach.
For adult beginners, there is the Alfred series, both in English and French. Its quite amusing really. The topics covered are identical. The graphics are identical. The layout is only changed to accomodate the different space requirements of French, and the Do Re Mi.
Its curious. I have taught students from all over the world, and one thing stands out. Those from places the English have conquered--North America, Scotland, Ireland, the British Commonwealth--use the alphabet system: A B C E F G. Not surprising, I suppose.
And places France has conquered--Lebanon, Vietnam, Quebec, France itself, of course--use the sol-fa system: Do Re Mi Fa So (or Sol) La Si, for C D E F G A B C, respectively. But the origins of this system go back to the Latin beginnings of European art music itself, in the Church. They are the first syllables, of the first words, in each line of a Latin anthem. Please don’t ask!
Now, the pieces in these progressive method books, so-called because you must begin at the beginning, and progress through every single piece to the end, are not the most exciting for the student---or teacher. They are written by one or a few authors. And even if there are a few gems, no composer can sustain this for page after page, after page, after page, in the short time they have to produce these series.
Consequently, I am so happy to 'graduate' into what we call the Conservatory, or "Con," books.
The Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto is not the only institution that sends out itinerant examiners, but it is the best known one in my part of the world. More than that, through Frederick Harris Music it publishes series of repertoire, studies, and technical tests books. There are other publishers, but Harris is the official one.
These books are not progressive, but graded, from "Introductory" through Grade 10, then on to the Associateship of the Royal Conservatory of Toronto, the coveted ARCT. They are the most convient, least expensive collection of the widest range of pieces available. But they are all at the same degree of difficulty, more or less. Arranged in "Lists" that group by era and genre, they provide works by all the greats, known and lessor known, from throughout the Common Practice Period--from the time of J.S. Bach and his contemporaries, including Telemann, through Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Kabalevsky, Bartok, to the Canadians, including my own favourite Pierre Gallant. This is, of course, not a complete survey.
Unlike the 'progressive method' books, the "Con" books are expected not to contain arrangements of the pieces, but the original pieces, as exactly written by the composer. Yes, there will be some fingering, the execution of ornaments--but the work is what the composer intended.
Reflecting on my 'trials and tribulations' with books, I can only wonder at how teachers fared in the time before printing. Even during the incanabula, there was not yet
an established tradition of music publishing, even though music was being written. How did Bach do it?
Well, Bach prepared his own books, or rather notebooks, because it was all written out longhand. Bach was not only a composer, he was also a
teacher, of his own children in particular. It is a little bit like Shakespeare, though unlike Shakespeare, we do have manuscripts that come to us from Sebastian’s hand. (He
apparantly like to be called Sebastian.) But like Shakespeare, these notebooks are the work of a lifetime, added to, and taken from--fiddled with for a long time.
Now this causes some interesting problems. Unless he tells us, we cannot know the source of the pieces in the notebooks. I was most interested to see the annotations, in
current "Con" editions, to the pieces I studied as a student. What was then credited to Bach, is now only listed as 'attributed to Bach,' or less, as anonymous. What has modern scholarship brought?
Several of these notebooks are standard sources for works in the "Con" books. From Bach we have the Anna Magdalena Notebook, not for a daughter, but for his wife, and the Wihelm Friedemann Notebook, for one of his many children.
From Leopold Mozart, Wolfgang Mozart’s father, we have, of course, the Notebook for Wolfgang, containing, by the way, a marvelously cheerful "Humouresque in G Major," that is my pleasure to teach to many of my students.
In some ways, these Notebooks are akin to the progressive method books growled at above. They were designed by teachers, who just happenned to be parents (or a
husband), to bring a loved one into the practice of music.
And it is that very unique intention that puts them apart from the mass targeted products of today.
Thanks to pseudo_intellectual for the conversation that got this writeup going.