The Australian Music Examination Board issues a new series of piano exam books every 5 or so years, and this year we’re up to the 17th such event since they started counting.
Like many piano pedagogy print music enthusiasts, I get really excited when a new series of examination books comes out: old favourites mingle with new discoveries, and the new material puts a whole new slant on the programs it’s possible to construct for presentation at examinations. Calling it something like Christmas Day isn’t putting it too strongly for some of us.
Series 17 had me even more excited than usual, however. This time I knew the syllabus consultant already, and knew that we had surprised and delighted ourselves by sharing a number of views on piano teaching and technique; David Lockett had been on the committee overseeing the development of P Plate Piano and I absolutely loved the experience of working with him on that project. How would he see the repertoire beyond that doorstep of Preliminary?! Would our tastes diverge as the degree of difficulty increased?
Series 17 had, for me, the overtones of a mystery novel.
One thing I did know: Salt and Pepper, my little mixed meter, white key/black key, staccato/sustain pedal, all-over-the-keyboard piece from Very Easy Little Peppers was being included in the Preliminary book. And I knew that the AMEB hadn’t realised that the piece came from Very Easy Little Peppers, because the copyright notice had come through to me as the copyright owner first (which would only make sense if the piece had been sourced from the Getting to… series where my original © ownership listing is still current).
Finally, the day and the Series 17 books arrived. Questions would be answered. Questions like:
What was the level of emotional maturity demanded by these pieces? Series 16 had had some truly delightful selections, but many of them were better suited to the middle-aged than to the bright young primary school-aged things lining up for their AMEB exams. Was the trend to cater for baby boomer intermediate students going to continue?
How would Australian composition be represented in this Series? There’s a lot of really impressive writing for student pianists in Australia – we punch above our weight, well and truly, in this compositional niche – and new voices are always coming onto the scene, including composers who are noted for writing for other forces. The current structure of the syllabus means there’s only room for a maximum of 2 Australian pieces per grade, with the likelihood of 2 Australian works being in one book increasingly unlikely the higher up the grades you go. Would that hypothetical maximum of 16-18 pieces by Australian composers be reached?
Would the grading of the pieces be continuing the grade-deflation trends of recent series? Grade-deflation – where a Grade 6 piece gets included in the new Series Grade 5 book, or where what once were considered Grade 1 skills show up in Preliminary repertoire. Teachers loathe grade-deflation, because it makes it harder for a student to accomplish a lower level grading. It’s like going to the shops and finding that your size 12 figure now requires a size 14 dress or a size 16 jacket. :) Would the Series 17 pieces feel ‘fair’ for each grade?
Would the pieces be an appropriate length for an exam program? The AMEB is the only exam board to regularly feature theme and variations formats in its examination repertoire – one such piece in Series 16′ Grade 8 book required 6 page turns to get through that one single component of the exam program! Which leads to the next question…
Would the layout be a pleasure to work from? Size of the score (not too big, not too small), placement of page turns, number of page turns, logical end-points to sections, sufficient space on the page for teacher and student annotations – these all come into play in this “do I want to work from this score?” aspect of the new book experience.
And maybe most importantly of all:
Would I like the pieces? Seriously. If we’re going to teach repertoire we want to like it. The kids only have to deal with it for one examination – for teachers it’s something they have to live with for years!
Oh, OK. There was one more question in the back of my mind: how many pieces would Series 17 have in common with my “Getting to…” repertoire series? The “Getting to…” books were designed to present 30 of the best pieces at each grade level, representing a broad cross-section of skills and styles, presented in a learning sequence that would encourage students to notice similarities and differences between their repertoire experiences. With the series now comprising 10 volumes of graded repertoire (more than 300 pieces) it would be weird if there wasn’t at least one piece in common.
I’m heading off to Melbourne tomorrow to be a part of the AMEB’s official Series 17 launch. I’ll be there with Sonny Chua and Elena Kats-Chernin and Larry Sitsky, as well as the crew from the AMEB and hopefully a whole lot of wonderful people from the world of piano pedagogy and music education. Answers to the questions above when I’m back!