Vendetta: backstory and teaching notes

Vendetta: backstory and teaching notes

Vendetta

 

Vendetta is a tango.

I don’t know that I thought about the tango angle in any conscious way, 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 glamorous 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 (Vendetta has been included in many piano examination syllabuses, including AMEB Grade 4, ongoing, and Trinity College London Grade 5, 2012-14) 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: A warning is in order. 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. And a confession: 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 a. your piano and b. 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…

Can You Use the Same Pieces When You Try For An Exam A Second Time?

Can You Use the Same Pieces When You Try For An Exam A Second Time?

In response to google searches asking “can you use the same pieces when you try for an exam a second time?”:

So, you (or your offspring) have failed a piano exam and you are wondering if you can just polish up the pieces you’ve already kind of learned and give the exam another go, hopefully with a substantially better result. The answer is usually yes, with the following proviso:

Has the syllabus changed? The ABRSM syllabus (for example) changes every two years, and while there is a cross-over period worked into the system you might find that the pieces in question will lapse before the next opportunity for an examination. The AMEB syllabus changes at infrequent (and irregular) intervals, and at the moment there are two different syllabuses running concurrently for the Piano for Leisure exams. So check the syllabus to see if the pieces are still current.

So long as your pieces are still on the syllabus you are free to present them for examination as many times as you like. The exam boards don’t keep Big Brother-like track of you and your repertoire selections, so the examiner won’t peer at you in your next exam, asking “how dare you bring the same pieces in for examination as you did last time?” The examiner doesn’t even realise you failed last time, when you last sat an exam, or anything at all about you (beyond your age and gender, usually).

There are, however, some educational angles you might want to consider before reworking the pieces that didn’t produce a pass result in your exams.

1. It can be discouraging (and boring) to work on the same piece for a very long time. It seems counter-intuitive, but it can be faster to learn a brand-new piece than to keep struggling on with a piece you didn’t perfect for your exam the first time.

2. Your repertoire selection the first time around may have contributed to your failure. Every piece has its own set of challenges; look at the skills required to perform each piece and select a piece that is already within your ability.

3. Maybe the whole exam was too hard, and rather than simply sitting the exam a second time you should spend a year learning a range of new pieces, and once you’ve done that you won’t want to return to the old pieces anyway.

The only time it’s a good idea to use the same pieces when you re-sit an examination is when you are over 14 years of age and the only reason you failed is because you just didn’t do any real practice. In other words, you didn’t properly learn the pieces in the first place. Treat the first, failed exam as a test-run (pun not-quite-intended), and simply continue preparation for the ‘real’ exam.

Under the age of 14 just get on with exploring the world (and the repertoire of the piano) some more, and don’t get hung up on sitting exams. Sit your next exam when you are truly ready, and don’t get talked into sitting an exam that is too hard for you, or that you don’t want to take. But for goodness sake, don’t keep playing the same old pieces, being reminded of your bad examination experience!