Vendetta

Vendetta has been on the AMEB Grade 4 piano syllabus for over 10 years now, and in the current (2012-14) period is a Grade Five piece in the Trinity College piano syllabus (as well as featuring on other syllabuses, such as NZMEB, ANZCA and Guild). I’ve been promising teaching notes for some time – so many apologies for the very long delay!

Vendetta is a tango.

I don’t know that I thought about the tango angle particularly when composing the piece, but tango was exactly the right emotional energy I needed the night Vendetta was composed. This was back in the mid-90s when I was juggling piano teaching, various universities studies, writing and producing music theatre, working as an accompanist for a glamourous gospel singer, doing some quite random recording gigs and goodness knows what else – I can’t really remember.

But I do remember – most distinctly – writing Vendetta.

My boyfriend at the time had recently decided he needed a break. A relationship-break kind of break. Kind of. I’m not sure what he wanted exactly, other than the chance to date other young women while still maintaining some kind of relationship with me. Think some kind of Sex and the City storyline from which we are all supposed to draw a moral about What Not To Do In Relationships. Well, we [should] all know what not to do in this case, but I wasn’t quite sure how not to do it, so the night I wrote Vendetta my sort-of boyfriend was on a date with one of my sort-of friends.

That should pretty much be all the teaching note you need.

BUT, in case it’s not, I’ll spell it out: I wrote Vendetta quite intentionally to have something better to remember the night for than simply remembering it as the night my boyfriend went out on a date with someone else. I wrote Vendetta to make the night considerably more worthwhile for me than it was going to be for him.

And it seems that I succeeded in that ambition, which just goes to show young women everywhere that these stories do sometimes have happy endings. [Ah, yes, there's the moral.]

Oh. No. I didn’t end up with that boyfriend. Goodness me, no. Not that kind of very sad happy ending. No. You don’t want to end up with those boyfriends, girls, trust me. The story of who I ended up with comes many chapters later in the book.

But back to the music: Vendetta is a tango.

These days, with various tv dancing shows aimed squarely at family audiences, many of our students have a bit of an idea as to what tango sounds like and looks like, and there’s really no excuse to not use the internet to get a really good feel for authentic tango, both in the sense of the dance and of the music.

As to the notes: Vendetta is in A minor. Worth keeping in mind when you play the first left hand broken chord: there’s no F sharp! I only mention this because some clips of performances YouTube seems premised on the belief that this piece begins with a B minor chord (with an F sharp) rather than a B diminished one (with an F natural). One of these days I’ll get some recordings of myself playing these pieces up on YouTube or iTunes or SoundCloud, but til that day reading the music accurately will tell you all you need to know.

Pedalling: First, don’t even attempt to learn this piece unless you know how to pedal properly! You’ll have enough else to be preoccupied with without learning to pedal being on your to-do list!

Second, I’ve shilly-shallyed in my decision-making regarding the pedalling in this piece, and you can find two published editions (the original Pepperbox Jazz 1 – yellow cover – and the Faber Music-published Pepperbox Jazz 2 – deep orange cover) with conflicting pedalling instructions in the opening sections! What it really comes down to is your piano and your performance venue. If the room has a very dry acoustic, you should pedal more; if the room is very resonant, pedal less. Once you get to bar 19 you should probably start pedalling no matter what the room sounds like, but do use your own judgment! It’s about making a successful performance, not about slavishly following instructions!

Rubato: feel free to stretch the time here and there (it may well help create a kind of wicked charm in your performance!), but always, always maintain the tango character of the piece.

Touch and tone: don’t be too gentle with this piece (see back-story above) – the melody should announce more than coax, and when you pull the dynamic back the mood should still be intense. It is not a love song! Enjoy the part writing (when the right hand has two parts), and work to create separate sounds for each of the parts, even if played in the same hand. This is very challenging for a Grade 5, let alone a Grade 4 student, but working towards this goal will produce a more brilliant performance.

As always with music at this standard of difficulty, change the fingering to suit your own needs – the fingerings indicated might well reflect what worked for my students at the time of publication!

And for those teachers and students who like to know about modulations, rest assured – this piece does not modulate at all, and don’t let an examiner tell you otherwise. It’s A minor from beginning to end.

Any other questions? Please do feel free to ask me anything you like in the comments below…

17 thoughts on “Vendetta

  1. Oh Elissa, what an absolutely fabulous story. Thank you so much. I love this piece so much that I just have to start using it straight away. I have some beautiful teenage girls about Grade 9-10 at school that would absolutely love this. What an absolutely wonderful and positive story for our young girls – piano lessons ain’t just piano lessons, right? And a wonderful outlet for all those pent up teenage emotions – perfect. Thank you Elissa Date: Fri, 21 Sep 2012 14:24:34 +0000 To: sharvey_music@hotmail.com

  2. Hi Elissa,

    Thank you for the insightful post! I was wondering if you’d consider writing a post about being a composer? In particular, how you managed to draw attention to your work and become a feature within the exam repertoire across the world, and what advice you’d give you other composers who have similar goals? It’s one thing to compose piece which our own students enjoy, but it’s another thing all together to get those pieces out and about and seen and heard by the right people!

    Thanks!

  3. I just love the…..”this is not a LOVE story! ….(this is a VENDETTA!) Awesome story, even though you had to go through it at the time, you can always look back and have a laugh!

  4. Hi Elissa,
    Sorry to be commenting off-topic, but I couldn’t find a way to contact you except to leave a comment on your most recent post – I’m from the U.S. and was wondering how to find your “Getting To” and “New Mix” series? They are not listed on Amazon and are not to be found anywhere on Google. Is there a way to look at them or would they just need to be ordered internationally from my local music store? I am interested in the “P Plate” series too and found the website for them, but am hoping there’s a way to look inside all these books somewhere online before I purchase. Thanks so much.

    • Hi Emily, I suspect you’d need to order any of these books in from an Australian store, in fact. P Plate Piano is published by the Australian Music Examination Board and they don’t wholesale their books outside the Australian/New Zealand market. The Getting to and New Mix books are published by Hal Leonard Australia, so similarly these books are only distributed to stores in Australia and New Zealand. My best suggestion is that you send me a message via facebook (I have a completely public profile there) and we can work out the best purchasing route for you to take… :-)

      As for looking inside the P Plate books – there are some videos of me going through the ideas behind one piece from each of the three books, so you do get a good sense of the inside of the books in regard to those three pieces just by watching the videos. But for more sense of the other inclusions in the books you can look at the P Plate Piano channel on YouTube, or just search for P Plate Piano: teachers have been uploading their students’ performances of a number of pieces from the series, so there are a reasonable number there.

      Finally, in regard to P Plate Piano – I’ve written two blog posts about the composers in P Plate Piano Book 1 and in P Plate Piano Book 2 (I never did get around to writing the blog post on the 3rd volume!). So there are a few ways to get a feel for the contents before making a decision either way regarding a purchase.

      As regards the contents of the Getting to and New Mix books, I’m not sure what there is on the net… I’ll have to get back to you on that!!

    • Now, this is easier. My Little Peppers and Pepperbox Jazz books are published by UK music publisher Faber Music, who are distributed in the US by Alfred. Any good local music shop will be able to order these in for you. Alternatively, you can purchase any of these titles via Amazon or via bookdepository.co.uk – the prices on bookdepository are insanely cheap – cheaper than I can them from the publisher with my composer discount! Ha!!!

  5. Nice back-story! And a tango is very appropriate for the atmospheric effect – I do recall watching tango performances where there is one male continuously swapping between two female dancers – or vice-versa! Tango = Tangled!

  6. Dear Elissa,
    I bought Vendetta in the Pepperbox Jazz 1 in 2002. I notice it is now published by Faber. Is the Faber edition the same as the Pepperbox Music edition, except for some pedal changes? My student wants to use it in the AMEB exam.
    Thankyou,

    • Hi Jan

      In January 2006 the two Pepperbox Jazz books (book 1 had a yellow-gold colour cover and book 2 had a dark green) were republished by Faber Music (purple and orange covers). The pieces were completely reorganised (and some new pieces, including duets, were added) so that book 2 had the harder music, and that’s where you’ll find Vendetta now. It’s almost exactly the same (minor pedalling changes) but either version is fine for an AMEB exam! Vendetta was listed in the syllabus way back in 2001….

      Thank you for raising this question, and all the best to your student!!!

  7. hi!!! i m a student in grade 8….. taking grade 5 examinations ,and i just wanted to tell you that i just love vendetta!!! thank you for ever creating such a wonderful piece!!.i m really enjoying it!!… thank you elissa!!!;)

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