EVC piano pieces in ABRSM, Trinity, LCM, RSL Awards Rockschool and AMEB exams

This guide with piano pieces by EVC composers that are currently featured in the major exam boards will be useful for teachers and students who are selecting a repertoire for the grade exams. Buttons include the links to pages where the books or single EVC pieces (digital) can be purchased. Each product page includes score previews and audio. 


Trinity College London

The March of the Druids

Piano Syllabus
Initial Grade from 2023

From Piano Grades are Go! by Victoria Proudler


Trinity College London


Piano Syllabus
Grade 1 from 2023

From Piano Grades are Go! by Victoria Proudler


Once Upon a Frozen Winter

Piano Syllabus
Grade 4, List C 2023-2024

From Ballads Without Words




Shark Soup by Sam Wedgwood

Piano Syllabus
Grade 4, List C, 2021-2022

From Sam Wedgwood’s Jazz Piano


Trinity College London

I’m Late by Nikki Iles

Piano Exam Pieces and Exercises
Grade 3, 2021-2023

From Piano Tales for Alice

Trinity College London

Wendy Bird by Nikki Iles

Piano Exam Pieces and Exercises
Grade 4, 2021-2023, additional piece

From Piano Tales for Peter Pan

order book grade 3


Trinity College London

Polka Butterfly by Elena Cobb

Piano Exam Pieces and Exercises
Grade 3, 2021-2023, additional piece

From Higgledy Piggledy Jazz 

RSL Awards Rockschool

The Cheshire Cat by Nikki Iles
Classical Piano Syllabus Grade 2
From Piano Tales for Alice

Lost Boys Blues by Nikki Iles
Classical Piano Syllabus Grade 3
From Piano Tales for Peter Pan

London College Music

The Cheshire Cat by Nikki Iles

Piano Grade 2 Handbook 2021

From Piano Tales for Alice


Dudes Keep Struttin’ by Heather Hammond

Piano for Leisure Series 4, Grade 1

From Grooves for Piano Dudes

Vick Bain Interview

Murray McLachlan in conversation with Vick Bain – the creator of The F-List for Music, an advocate and campaigner for equality and diversity in the music industry with over 25 years of experience in the business. Vick has been enrolled into the Music Week Women in Music Awards Roll Of Honour, featured in BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Music Powerlist and raised an important question on BBC World News + BBC One TV: “Why are there no women nominated for best artist in Brit Awards 2023?”


MM: Tell us about your earliest musical experiences and music education. Where did you grow up? Did your love of music manifest itself from childhood?

VB: I grew up in a very working-class household in the NE of England but I was always very aware of music around me; one of my earliest memories is playing in the garden, I was possibly three, and hearing Here Comes The Sun on the radio and just loving it, I have always experienced an intense physical reaction to music. Here Comes The Sun is a song with very childlike qualities so I can see why it so appealed to me but it’s very pertinent right now in the mizzly grey of March, we’re all just waiting for the sun to arrive around the corner. Then not long after that my Nana, who was a widow, re-married a lovely man called Tom, who had served in WW2 but was also very musical and he taught me all of his favourite marching songs and I never stopped singing from there. We moved around the UK a lot and some schools were better at music than others, but I always found the local church to go singing in and through my teenage years also joined local musical theatre companies and formed small singing groups with friends. I was always singing.

MM: I know that parental resistance to your wish for a career in music led to you leaving home in your late teens. Did this resistance deepen your determination and resolve to be involved in music and the arts?

VB: Yes, my Dad in particular was very resistant to my studying anything ‘arty’ and thus I wasn’t allowed to study an instrument formally, which is why I focused on singing. He was an engineer and had grown up in a lot of poverty so he was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to forge a meaningful career in music. He’s absolutely right of course, it’s a very precarious career path which is not easy or welcoming to those from working-class backgrounds but if you have music in your heart you have to follow it, don’t you?   Thus, I moved back to the North-East of England (because it was cheap), got a bedsit and became fully financially independent when I was 18, worked for a year then went back to college to study performing arts and music.

MM: Who were the most important musical mentors at different stages in your life and career from childhood onwards? Tell us about what you learnt from each one and how their influence impacted on you!

VB: Hmmm, because my music education was so patchy I wouldn’t say anyone during my school years, but when I got into higher music education, my two singing teachers who took me all the way through my ABRSM grades were wonderful and also my HND course leader Kevin Stephens and my BA course tutor Rose Furlonger. Both of them believed in me, which is sometimes all you need, and I’ve kept in touch with Rose for 33 years now.

During my working career there have been different influences, including my time being a Practice Manager for two inspirational women Katherine Clarke and Liza For, rebellious feminist multi-award winning architects showing me how to be successful as working Mums, again who I am still in touch with. Not so many years after I moved to London, I became a single mother of twins, so I had that as an added obstacle to overcome before I was truly able to get my career going and Katherine and Liza were instrumental in my getting arts management experience.  And in music I received real support from songwriting legend Simon Darlow, who was my first Chair at BASCA (now Ivors Academy) demonstrating to me the importance of having good Chair-CEO relationships!

MM: Tell us about your formal musical education after school. How did you cope having not had the opportunities at school that others benefitted from? How long did you take to do your BA? Were you given enough support during your course?

VB: When I auditioned to study a HND (Higher National Diploma) in Classical Music at Newcastle College that is when my lack of formal music education up to that point became really obvious. I was 21, I had just spent two years studying full-time for a BTEC National in Performing Arts, GCSE Music and Grade 5 in singing but others on the same course had been learning instruments since they were toddlers, playing in national youth orchestras and had Grade 8’s in various disciplines. So, I was by far the least qualified, but I must have made a good impression because I was accepted on the condition I get up to Grade 8 in singing and theory within an academic year, which I did. And obviously keep up with the HND work too, which was a joy because I loved it. I then completed a BA at Gateshead College, the first time they had run performing arts subjects as degrees there, pre The Sage, and was also the Student Union President and awarded Student of the Year, so I was pretty swotty, but again I loved it. In the end it took me 6 years to get my degree, it was tough as I had no financial support and my family were non-plussed as to what I was doing, but I was exceptionally determined and that attitude has helped through life.

MM: When did you realise that you had a passion and flair for organizing and leading projects? Did you direct plays, musicals or concerts at school or at university?

VB: That became pretty obvious almost immediately in my studying as somehow, I can’t really remember how now, I ended up directing almost everything I was involved with for 6-years. Occasionally I would demure and let someone else take charge but invariably they were sacked and I was asked back! So I directed and/or stage-managed dozens of theatre and music performances during that period, even while also performing in them, and thought that would be the direction I would go in, the business side. Perhaps because of my Dad’s influence I realised it would be almost impossible to survive solely as a musician, the competition was so intense and I didn’t have the financial resources to help me get going, but I wanted to be involved in the business side somehow, even if I didn’t have a clear picture of what that could look like.  

MM: When did you realise that the music industry was far from a level playing field?

VB: As soon as I moved to London, I knew it was going to be a long haul. I moved down from the North East after realising there was little work there and took a chance to know no one in London but I felt that was my calling. I immediately went to the local library and hand-wrote application letters to all the record labels and music companies I could find in the Yellow Pages. I did get a couple of responses, but they were all to make offers for unpaid internships. I was very puzzled because I hadn’t heard of this before, a week’s work-experience when you are studying yes, but months unpaid?! I hadn’t realised this was considered normal to get into the industry! How was I going to pay my (even at that time) extortionate rent? So, I hit against the financial barriers to entry almost immediately. I ended up working in a chain of second-hand record stores that advertised for music loving Oxbridge graduates, obviously I wasn’t Oxbridge but there were lots there who were!  

MM: When did you decide to dedicate your life to fighting inequality and campaign for more fairness and opportunities in the arts and music in particular?

VB: My time at BASCA, what was then the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors, was my first experience in a membership organisation that campaigned. I loved working for an organisation that wanted to make the music industry a better place; it matched the values that I had nurtured being involved with the Student Union movement a decade prior.

MM: In the early days of your work in diversity, did you encounter much resistance or were the majority of people and organisations you approached or worked with sympathetic?

VB: It’s always a topic that can hit nerves. When I sent out my first survey for my paper assessing attitudes towards equality and diversity in music, back in 2011, people would occasionally respond, if they responded at all, quite angrily and defensively. And you only have to look at the Twitter

comments below any of the BBC interviews or articles I am involved with to see that for most people the move towards equality is seen as being oppressive. I live in hope that is not the majority view, but it is definitely a vocal view.

MM: There is no question that women composers and performers have far more recognition and opportunities in 2022 than they did ten years ago. Do you feel that there is still a long way to go, or some way to go, before parity and equality of opportunity can be truly said to be in place?

VB: For sure we have made progress. But the research and statistics still show we have a long way to go. That’s not to applaud those publishers that have made a difference to women composers: I need to give a shout out to EVC Music for bucking the trend and actually running a female positive initiative which has been a huge success! When I was at BASCA I analysed the data for all of the winners of Ivor Novello Awards and found only 6% of those awards over a 60-year period had gone to women. But actually since 2010 it had only gone up to 10%. That is what got me interested in the pipeline for these awards, such as the Brits. The nominees and winners can only be chosen out of those musicians who are entered, and for The Ivors it was music publishers submitting works and for the Brits it’s the record labels. Out of that came my desire to understand who was on the rosters of these companies, who were they investing in and supporting professionally?

 The F.List

The F.List was created to help women and gender-expansive people in the UK overcome structural barriers by facilitating and providing profile and professional opportunities.

join now

MM: The 2019 report ‘Counting the music industry’ made a significant impact and was widely read and commented on. Tell us about how you work on projects as ambitious, time-consuming and complex as this? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of projects such as this one?

VB: That was my research into the rosters. For several reasons, not least including my health as I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, I stepped down from my role as CEO of BASCA and found myself with the time to do the research which I had been longing to do for a couple of years. I looked at the publishers first, it took two months of careful analysis of music publishing websites. I then realised I had to look at the ‘other’ side of the industry, the labels and artists, to get a complete picture of what was going on and that took another two months. I ended up analysing well over 300 companies, with tens of thousands of musicians to gender-identify. So yes it was painstaking work but I was extremely determined to complete it because I knew it would give us a view of the industry which we hadn’t thought to look at before. I was inspired by the incredible work of Dr Stacey Smith and her team at Annenberg University where they analyse the musicians involved in over a thousand of the most popular songs in the US every year but no one had thought of looking at the music companies and who they are supporting professionally. And the results of Counting The Music Industry, telling us only 14% of songwriters and composers and 20% of signed artists to labels are women revealed so much about where we actually were in terms of gender equality in 2019. I was definitely removed from some people’s Christmas card lists as a result of publishing that data!

MM: Tell us about f-listmusic.uk and your involvement with it.

VB: The F-List directory came out of that research. A few months after publishing it, in early 2020 we had the same old outrage of male-only headliners being announced for the summer festivals and people would helpfully make recommendations on social media for one or two great female acts they thought should be booked instead. And I thought, I probably have thousands of women in my research data, if I extract it and make it public it might be a useful resource for festival bookers. So I spent another few weeks extracting the details about the female musicians, and put it into a Google Spreadsheet. Then a fantastic BBC music journalist called Mark Savage wrote an article about it on the BBC News website and it all went a bit crazy for a few weeks. Until the pandemic closed everything down! I then decided to transform it into a WordPress website where women could create their own listings and it took off from there and there are nearly 6 thousand entries, just an incredible resource of talent!

MM: What aspects of the music industry still infuriate you today?

VB: I feel there is still a lot of lip-service towards equality. Reading the statements about the reasons behind the extraordinary gender pay-gap reports is a lesson in slick PR compared to actually, you know, promoting women up these organisations so that they close the pay-gaps rather than talk about it.

That there is also little in the way of real financial support for us women in music campaigners says a lot about how the industry really operates. Every fantastic initiative or not-for-profit I know of who has been set up in the past 10-years or so by incredible campaigners, mainly women, doing vital work, is mainly doing it out of love and no money. I have regular talks with other women who are doing this work on shoestring budgets and very, very little funding. There is occasional support for a project here and there from a corporate company, but most don’t give anything. Believe me I have tried and you just get ignored. And there is no national Arts Council funded organisation doing this work either, which is a huge shame for such an unequal profession.

So, if there are any enlightened music companies out there who want to make meaningful change – please let me know!

MM: What can be done further to make industry a fairer, friendlier, and more inclusive place to work in?

VB: Every music company that can, and there are a lot that can, should be working with and supporting gender equality in music initiative. That would go a long way to providing expertise and solutions!

There is also, I feel a lot being hidden behind NDAs, hiding hypocrisy and bad behaviour so we need to do away with those too. Or time limit them. There is actually a lot that can be done legislatively to improve working conditions for people in music, various aspects of the Equality Act 2010 to be strengthened or extended to make it a safer and fairer place.

The ISM has a very distinguished history and reputation though some would say that it has a conservative rather than a radical style of delivery. Do you feel this is unfair?

I think in the past 10 years the ISM has made huge strides in modernising; from changes to governance and board make-up, to more recently a well-needed name change to the Independent Society of Musicians, MUCH more 21st century! And to a beautiful and bold re-brand which better reflects the rapidly expanding (doubling in size) and younger demographic of the now over 11,000 strong membership! And I have to say anyone who has ever met Deborah Annetts, the CEO, knows she is a force to be reckoned with and I certainly wouldn’t describe her as conservative, which is exactly what you need in a CEO of a membership organisation.


Independent Society of Musicians

ISM is the UK’s professional body for musicians and subject association for music.

Visit website

MM: Which organisations, movements and groups do you feel are truly making a positive impact and changing the environment for the good in music today?

VB: Obviously I’m very proud of having been the President of the ISM this past year, it’s a fantastic organisation to be involved with, and I feel we make an incredible positive impact to not just our members but the whole sector too, with effective campaigning, advice and support. Obviously I also hope The F-List has made a positive impact in terms of visibility for female and gender expansive musicians too. And then a huge shout out to ALL of the organisations and initiatives who are listed here because they are all making the music industry a better place.

MM: What would you like the ISM to continue doing? What reforms, if any, would you like to bring to the ISM?

VB: Keep doing what it is doing! But obviously you can’t sit on your laurels, no matter how successful you are, you have to constantly reflect and respond. Hopefully the membership will continue to expand and diversify and appeal to musicians from all genres of music, not just classical music, though of course that heritage is incredibly important too. We’re just about to launch a new website so do look out for that, I think that will be another big step forward. And the research around discrimination and harassment is hugely important, it was an honour to help write the Dignity At Work 2 report and that is an issue the ISM has led on for years so it’s important it keeps doing that work too, I’m sure it will.

MM: Given the breathtaking scale of everything you do, how do you manage to keep energised and avoid burn-out and exhaustion? Do you have days off and fitness routines? Does your diet and lifestyle decisions help you to keep going?

VB: Ahh yes well, after having recovered from cancer I have to listen to my body a lot more, I definitely do not have the same energy levels as before and I need a good amount of sleep every night to function. So working from home (mainly) helps a lot with that, relocating to Cornwall means I get lots of good, healthy country walks and I have been a vegetarian / sometimes pescetarian for over 40 years so perhaps that helps too?! But it also means I sometimes don’t manage to do everything as quickly as I’d like (sorry it took so long to get this back to you!).

MM: What are your burning desires, hopes and ambitions for in the long term?

VB: My number one priority right now is to complete my PhD. I started it four years ago and have been doing it part-time all around my consultancy work and my not-for-profit campaigning work so it’s been quite the juggle. I’m hoping to focus on it fully for a year this September and hopefully that will take me if not to the end, quite close to it. You may not be surprised to know it’s exploring women’s careers in music, looking at both the barriers to career progression but also the things that help, that enable, too, so it’s fascinating work!

MM: What work in particular are you most passionate about?

VB: I always say ‘women in music’ is my favourite subject, so I think that is my answer in a nutshell.

MM: What projects and activities in the near future are you particularly excited about and looking forward to?

VB: The ISM Empowered Musician day on the 21st April is an event I am really looking forward to as we still don’t do much in-person and meeting at least 100 members, along with an interview with Debbie Wiseman, is something I am very much looking forward to. Also The F-List Gender in Music Research Hub conference at ICMP (Institute of Contemporary Music Performance) on the 24th May is also going to be another brilliant in-person event I am very much looking forward to.

🔗 Vick Bain Consultancy
🔗 The F.List


EVC Appoints Andrew Eales as a Publishing Consultant

7 February 2023 – Independent British music publisher EVC Music Publications (EVC Music) has announced the appointment of Andrew Eales as a publishing consultant. Andrew will advise EVC on the new exciting projects and titles planned for the near future.

EVC Music publishes over 40 titles, many of which can be found on the leading exam board syllabuses. The catalogue, which is primarily focused on the piano performance repertoire ranging from beginner to advanced level, helps teachers and pianists source music which really captures the imagination while simultaneously developing technique, giving genuine pleasure and promoting vision to encourage lifelong music-making for everyone.

The Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival at the Royal Albert Hall, supported by the media partnership with the International Piano magazine, is the EVC Music annual showcase where young pianists from across the world perform piano pieces by EVC composers.

All titles published by EVC Music are distributed by the leading music publisher Hal Leonard Europe (HLE) globally.

Elena Cobb says, “I know Andrew Eales as an expert in the field of piano education and am very much looking forward to working with him. Without a doubt, Andrew will make an invaluable contribution to our new books and projects.”

Andrew Eales says, “it has been exciting to watch EVC Music grow from a small independent publisher to become a significant voice in piano education. Alongside my own ongoing publishing commitments with Hal Leonard Europe, I am now very much looking forward to working more closely with Elena as an independent adviser who shares her commitment to education and enthusiasm for great new piano music!”

🔗 Interview with Andrew Eales

EVC Music titles are available to order: 

Musicroom UK
Musicroom Germany
Musicroom France
Hal Leonard Europe for trade
Your local shop

Call to Women Composers Results

EVC Music has released the names of the women composers selected for the new piano anthology inspired by Chopin’s Nocturnes. The age of the participants was between 15 and 84. The style of the piano works ranged from experimental to Romantic, revealing an untapped wealth of talent.

Elena Cobb:”The search is over, and we are delighted to announce the names of women composers whose works will be featured in the new piano anthology 22 Nocturnes for Chopin. The collection will be released in the Summer of 2023. Several composers who didn’t make a list were invited to work with the EVC on future projects.”

Andrew Eales, who chaired the Selection Committee of Rose McLachlan, Víck Bain, Anna Heller and Kathryn Page, said: “Making a final selection from the wealth of wonderful music submitted, which showcased such a variety of stylistic range and musical personality, proved to be a challenge of the very best sort!

The Committee would like to offer our thanks to all who shared their compositions, offer our congratulations to those who will be included in the 22 Nocturnes publication, featured on the Moving Classics site, and published by EVC Music in the future. And beyond those immediately selected, it will be exciting to see how all the composers who took part develop their careers in the years ahead!”

22 Nocturnes for Chopin

Katie JenkinsNocturne. Cerddoriaeth i Bronwyn Wales
Olga BermanNocturne Elegy DbUkraine
Alanna CrouchNocturne DbUK
Caroline TylerNocturne FantasyBmUK
Caroline WrightNocturne. Reflections DmUK
Marlowe CarruthNocturne Pregando F#mUSA
Helen WalkerNocturne. Like the NightEmUK
Wendy Edwards Beardall-NortonNocturne for LoraFCanada
Jennifer BowmanNocturneEbUSA
Charlotte ButlerNocturne, Moonlight on the Waves C#mUK
Lucy HackettNocturne, The Moth GmUK
Charlotte BotterillNocturne, Waves Collide with the Precipice FmUK
Dianna NeufeldNocturne For a Winter’s NightEmCanada
Nicole DiPaoloNocturne G#mUSA
Nitzan VardiNocturne, As They Come & GoEmIsrael
Agnieszka Lasko Nocturne, AutumnC#mPoland
Stephenie LeungNocturne, La ballerine solitaire EbmUK
Zoe RahmanNocturneFUK
Heather HammondNocturne, Thinking of Frédéric CmUK
Victoria ProudlerNocturne TristeAmUK
June ArmstrongNocturne, Sweet Sorrow BbmUK
Nancy LittenNocturne, Fred and Bertie’s Night-Time StrollFmUK


Moving Classics TV Feature

The following composers were selected for the Moving Classics TV feature by Anna Heller, the founder of the the resource.

Alanna CrouchNocturne in DbUK
Maria Gabriella CappellettiNocturne in Dm ,The UnresolvedAustralia
Charlotte BotterillNocturne in Fm, Waves Collide with the PrecipiceUK
Dianna NeufeldNocturne in Em, For a Winter’s NightCanada

ABRSM Pop Performer! Review

Motivation in the preliminary stages of learning to play an instrument can often be given more than an initial kick-start or impetus if the repertoire is chosen that the pupil loves and is really keen to play. If a student is a great fan of ABBA, then it makes sense that he/she would be really thrilled to be able to play one of their top hits by themselves.


Pop Performer!

Twenty graded arrangements (Initial – Gr 3)
ABRSM, distributed Hal Leonard
ISBN 978 178605112 (£12.95)


Certainly, the likes of Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is all around’ or ‘Be My baby’ from ‘The Ronettes’ makes more than a slight change from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook or Schumann’s ‘Album for the Young’ (not to mention Bartók’s Mikrokosmos!). And that is the point: Piano Lessons can encompass all kinds of approaches, and repertoire building can be made all the more varied, inclusive, and inspirational if pieces (‘songs’) are included that pupils love and want to make their own.

Within these pop anthologies there is a wide variety. ABRSM has done teachers a great service by dividing material into two stages (elementary and early intermediate). In the elementary collection the range of characterisation, colours and tonality is impressive. Justin Bieber rubs shoulders with Leonard Cohen and Billie Eilish. ‘We are the champions’ from Queen will surely be extremely popular, as indeed will ‘Imagine’ from John Lennon. The material could be rote learnt, or used as the springboard for further elaboration, with added pedal, extra low bass notes, repetitions at different ranges of the keyboard, or as a sketch for further improvisation and elaboration, with more confident and experienced players adding their own decorative flourishes


Pop Performer!

Sixteen Graded arrangements (Gr 4-5)
ABRSM, distributed Hal Leonard
ISBM 978 178601529 (£13.95)


The Grade 4-5 collection also lends itself to flexible learning and use. Pupils can add their own dynamics, articulation, and vary the speed at which they can play. Nothing to prevent them singing along with the music or contracting it to take out any difficulties that may prove awkward in performance. This is music to be used, enjoyed, and experimented with.

We will all have our own favorites- for me in book two it was ABBA’s ‘Dancing ‘Queen’- an excellent arrangement, though I missed the ‘signature’ descending piano glissando from the original 1970s hit: This is something I would unquestionably add if I every wanted to play the piece in a concert or to friends informally. Lots of fun and a great motivational resource for all kinds of students.

Why facial expressions matter?

We live in a most visually conscious age. Young musicians in the 21st century could be forgiven for assuming that image is everything. Instagram, TikTok, ‘my story,’ and YouTube …

All provide instantaneous imagery, giving the immediate communicative impact that, for certain ‘influencers,’ can extend to a global scale. Concerts and competitions are live-streamed, meaning that virtual audiences can come and go as they please.

In 2022 it is not enough to initially attract an online viewer- the challenge is to sustain interest so that the number count on the live listening display increases healthily through a recital or concerto. Quick clicks and flicks on our smartphones, iPads and laptops are all too easy… audiences are fickle, mercurially moving from one thrilling spectacle to the next.

So, what sustains a listener’s interest? There is no doubt that our socially media-obsessed, instantaneous era places a huge value on deportment, confidence, and gesture. Is there a gap between the non-musical general public and the cognoscenti?

Is there a populist demand that 21st-century performers show expression physically just as much through their facial involvement as through the sounds they produce?

To an extent, this may sadly be the case, and understandably so if listeners are using poor-quality phones to watch as much as listen to streamed performances. If the sound quality is not state–of–the–art on a mobile device with intermittent/poor Wi-Fi, it is understandable that visual stimulation becomes much more significant.

Though we should never lose the fact of the obvious- that music is about sound- it is fascinating to consider facial expressions, even grimaces from performers and ask what, if anything, they add to an interpretation. Are they harmful? Why do some artists indulge in more than others?

Why are some people irritated or even offended by particular facial approaches when others are perceived as sensitive, in keeping with the spirit of an interpretive approach, or simply not noticed?

In many respects, these questions bring up a generational divide. In lessons, my old teacher Peter Katin was fond of quoting to me from his colleague, the great violinist Ida Haendel, who once said to him, ‘Musicians should be heard and not seen!’

But that was in the last century before social media existed. Sure, there has always been an excellent need for performers to have ‘presence,’ confidence, deportment and authority in their body language and delivery, Haendel was a past master in this respect- but I cannot help thinking that there is something of a generational divide when it comes to ‘emoting’ visually via facial display during concerts.

Think of how Rubinstein presented himself in performance: Perfectly straight back, relaxed demure, authority… and a straightforward, honestly concentrated facial expression that gave little away. Here he is in Saint-Saëns’s G minor Concerto, letting the music speak simply: His playing unfolds without any extraneous gestures. What we get instead is regal conviction: Truth, power, and supreme authority.

Perhaps nothing could contrast more strongly in visual terms to this than Lang Lang’s filmed rendering below (given early in his career) of the cadenza from Rachmaninov’s third concerto. Listen without watching, and you will undoubtedly be swept along, bowled over, by the extraordinary excitement and communicative urgency he imparts to literally every phrase.

But if you watch as well as listen, you cannot fail to be struck by the remarkable physicality on display. The body language and the facial changes are certainly more strongly projected and imparted than many seasoned concertgoers are used to. Does this make the playing less ‘great’ than if Lang Lang had taken a more contained approach?

Just how gesture affects interpretive approaches is a fascinating, contentious, and possibly mysterious phenomenon. Years ago, I conducted a series of recorded experiments with a cameraman and an acting tutor to see what differences could be established via more ‘extrovert’ projection of phrasing and more reserved physicality.

We used Rachmaninov’s second concerto and quickly came to the conclusion that, in musical gesture, the eyes truly are the window of the soul. Any actor or singer will know instantly what I mean: When you want to focus and get ‘in character’ for a particular line, set of words or mood, you can channel your resources most effectively by allowing your eyes to project the sadness, excitement, expectation, unhappiness, longing, joy… and everything else.

Facial expressions that have conviction and authenticity are usually triggered from the eyes. I think it was Michael Caine who once commented on false smiles from non-winning Oscar nominees on awards night: It is hard to cover up feelings of disappointment for the cameras if you smile without engaging your eyes in an apparent display of happiness.

But it’s not quite as simple as the sincerity of approach when it comes to serious recreative music-making at the highest level. In performance, musical phrasing, structure, control of the line… and intensity in keeping with that line are everything. Music is the art of moving forward to a point and then moving back again.

The organic line, the inner thread, the continuous intensity that drives masterpieces forward… These are the crucial aspects of interpretation. Audiences may not all be trained musicians, but they can sense when a performer is powering with concentration, and all cylinders are burning towards the music’s essence. Audiences know when they hear authenticity.

Performers have a duty to enthral- but the wonder and excitement indeed have to come from within the musical argument, the dynamic movement forward that empowers excellent works of art.

If gestures enforce, compliment, enhance and empower the melodic line, then they will emerge as authentic and convincing. If facial expressions and mannerisms are cosmetically added-on as extra decorative extras that do not necessarily have anything directly to do with the musical shape, then they are distractions.

They will appear irritating, inconsequential… even comically inappropriate and clumsy. On the one hand, we have performers like Leonard Bernstein, who may be OTT at times in terms of physical demonstrativeness but constantly channelling animalistic resources as a service to the music.

On the other, we have inexperienced entertainers who may compensate for not feeling the shape of a piece by indulging in a gesture for gesture’s sake, who may try to emulate other great artists by attempting to ‘copy’ gestures and mannerisms, and who will ultimately fail to exude any absolute truth, no matter how superficially ‘impressive’ they may well be.

Let’s conclude with a performance from the 1970s of Beethoven’s last sonata from the great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Though Richter was not renowned for facial expressions, far from it, in this remarkable film, his body movements are far from still. It is as though he is subtly enhancing the characterisation by emphasising the phrase structure, and the line of the music, via physical involvement.

Nothing is exaggerated, but there is unquestionably real unity between heart, mind, body, and spirit in this performance: I would urge all young musicians to constantly value and search for the line in their performances and to bring intensity, power of expression, and physical projection from this direction rather than any other one:

Interview with Wayne Marshall OBE

Kinderszenen: celebrity musician remembers his musical beginnings and childhood development

A new series of interviews with renowned musicians and composers in which they reflect on key experiences, influences and memories that had a significant impact on their future musical careers. Every musician is constantly on an artistic journey of discovery. Every day marks a new beginning- but the very first steps are crucial. This first interview brings fascinating insights into the early musical beginnings of that wonderfully vibrant, positive, and multi-talented internationally renowned musician Wayne Marshall.

British conductor, organist and pianist Wayne Marshall is world-renowned for his musicianship and versatility on the podium and at the keyboard. He served as Chief Conductor of WDR Funkhaus Orchestra Cologne 2014-2020, became Principal Guest Conductor of Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in 2007 and is a celebrated interpreter of Gershwin, Bernstein, and other 20th-century composers.

Plans for the 21/22 season include his debut at the Edinburgh International Festival with special Rodgers and Hammerstein gala concerts featuring Danielle de Niese and his conducting debut with Munich Philharmonic, Seattle Symphony, and the Osaka Philharmonic Orchestras. He will also be conducting Bernstein’s Candide at Opera de Lyon in December 2022 as well as returns to Orchestre de Paris, BR Munich, Tonkunstler Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic, North Netherlands Orchestra, Bern and Lichtenstein Symphony Orchestras and concert performances of Porgy and Bess in St Gallen.


Wayne was born to parents originally from Barbados and spent his childhood in Oldham, Lancashire. He began piano studies at age three and heard organ music regularly as a child through Sunday church services, which initiated his interest in the organ. From 1971-79 he was a pupil at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester.

Later Wayne continued his music studies at the Royal College of Music, where he held a Foundation scholarship whilst also working as an Organ Scholar for St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. He did post-graduate studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Vienna from 1983-1984. Still, this interview focuses exclusively on his childhood years up to eighteen and musical studies in Manchester and Oldham. It was wonderful to talk to Wayne last month. I began by asking Wayne about his earliest musical memories.


MM Tell us about your family and earliest memories. Were your parents and siblings also music enthusiasts?

WM My parents emigrated from Barbados in 1957, and both my sisters, Melanie, and Louise were and remain passionate about music. From my earliest memories I recall my mother playing the piano at home. Both of my parents sang in the church choir. Sadly, my mother passed away in 2016, but my father is still very active in singing in choirs. Because I was born in the sixties, there was no Internet, no mobile phones. All entertainment was either done by radio or television or live performance.

And that was how it was. And we were very fortunate because my parents took us to many concerts and shows in Oldham and all really saw this is always a fascinating story. We were definitely a musical household, though it was not until I attended Chetham’s and brought home a ‘cello and a violin that there were any instruments there other than with keyboards! We were a very strong church-attending family too. Every Sunday was spent in the church right across the street from where we lived. The services always included lots of music.

MM What is your first memory of making music?

WM I started playing the piano by ear at home when I was about three and continued with no professional guidance until I was about eight. I did not read music. I remember that my father eventually came home one day and announced that I would have piano lessons!

That was absolutely fine by me. I also remember my first concert with my older sister very well. I was about seven or eight. Very early on, we entered the Oldham Music Festival: Melanie sang, and I played. And I remember a performance of a piece called Beguine by Brian Bonsor. It was really for recorders…but we sort of made it into a piano duet anyway!

And I remember lots of music at my first school in Oldham too. I used to play the piano for the school assemblies every morning. Because I was going to church, I sort of knew the hymns and could play them. I used to accompany the choir. I was highly active.

MM How did you find your initial piano lessons?

WM I remember that the first few lessons with my teacher- called Marjorie Bush- were not really lessons at all: I used to always improvise. My teacher would play-then I would have a go at it. Of course, I’d be ‘improving’ it or adding to it in my own way! Lessons continued in this manner for about three or four weeks…and then I was issued an ultimatum: My teacher said that I was going to have to learn to read music if I was going to get any further with my piano studies. I had to stop doing what I was doing by ear and learn to read the notes.

…And so began one of the hardest parts of my musical education. Of course, I could play all kinds of accompaniments and imitate impressively after my teacher played something to me- but essentially, I was using my ears and not understanding anything on the printed page. It took a long time to learn how to read. The long road started. It involved having to sort of play with the right hand alone and then the left hand on its own.

I did lots of counting. I sort of got the gist of everything because I had a perfect pitch. I didn’t know at the time that I had a perfect pitch, but that definitely made things easier. I figured out the ‘mathematics’ side of music: It felt as though I had already constructed a building but had to go back afterwards and, like you, figure out how and why I’d built it!

Of course, I could do all the things I was practicing from the music instinctively, but I had to learn to do it a second way. It was really strange. It was really hard. I was frustrated because I had to constantly focus on counting and reading middle C 1 2 3 4, all the things I did naturally. It was a very strange process in my brain, but I am extremely glad that I persevered. Of course, if I hadn’t learned to read music, I would not have progressed as a musician.

MM Unquestionably there are many young players who have had the same problem as you, though they may not be as gifted as you in terms of playing by ear, they can find that they are able to imitate and reproduce sounds a little, but frustratingly find the process of assimilating notation too laborious. It is sad to note that one of the main reasons people give up playing in the early stages is because they cannot relate their playing by ear to the printed page.

WM That’s it. But I still think that playing by ear is the best way to learn because the ear is the most important aspect of music. It is a mistake to think that the only way you can really play is by reading. That’s why a lot of people can’t improvise. I’d much rather be able to improvise than read if I had a choice between the two. It is awful to think that you would need to ask for music when people ask you to play the national anthem! I’ve been fortunate in the respect that I could always sit down and play without any notes in front of me.

Wayne Marshall aged 11 at Chetham’s
From the Chetham’s School Archive

MM You’re fantastic at it; you are renowned for your improvisation. But how long did it take until reading music became less painful? 

WM, I can’t remember exactly but it was a struggle. Maybe about six months to a year. Occasionally my teacher would sort of like reward me and let me imitate and play by ear. It was just funny, really; I think a bit like keeping a dog on a leash!

MM, You never wanted to rebel? 

WM No, I never wanted to rebel because I always knew what I wanted to do. And music, to me, was everything, really, and that was it. There was no other path I was going to be going down. This music was what it was. That was it.

MM: After you initially came to terms with notation, did sight reading remains a challenge? Did you eventually become an exceptionally talented sight-reader? 

WM  I became a good sight-reader because once I could learn to read and play, I had developed the technical ability to process music, and everything was so much easier. But initially, sight-reading was rather tricky. It is learning the process from the other side. Even today, I view it in this way. When I look at music, I always approach it instinctively. Everything comes from the ear. That’s how I do it, really: I still do it like this.

But of course, I’m lucky as a conductor because I can look at the score and hear it. I can only do that because I learned to read music. How can people do it when they don’t read? When you think of so many people, like jazz musicians, how they play, I mean, you could never learn that skill, but they are able just to sit down and play, and despite what their technique looks like, it doesn’t matter the fact that they can just reproduce or just play this stuff. Yet, if you put a piece of music in front of them, they will have no clue.

And that’s hard when you’re conducting and dealing with jazz musicians who don’t know how to follow the conductor; they don’t know how to read music. So, if we say, oh, I’m going two bars before figure 48, you can get into problems. But then you have to just adapt everything, and it’s a very interesting process.

Wayne Marshall with Philip Sharp (now is a piano tutor at St Mary’s School of Music in Edinburgh) and Tom Hicks (now associate professor of piano at Whitman University in Washington State, US), at Chetham’s in November 2010 
From the Chetham’s School Archive

MM It is wonderful that you have an emotional, aural response to music as your default. It is wonderful that you will never get distracted by the intellectual, mathematical aspect. 

WM Oh, no, no! For me, it’s all about emotional responses. That’s it. It’s not about the academic side of it, it’s all about the feeling, and that’s what’s so important. I mean, I don’t think I could be the musician that I have become if it wasn’t for that. I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it the same way.

MM Tell us about your Chetham’s years! 

WM Chet’s was an especially important part of my musical education. It was the foundation, the concrete. My whole journey there, from Junior A going through to Upper 6th, was so interesting. I was motivated and inspired by older, more experienced students. Listening to the senior organists, including David Hill, was inspirational when I was younger. Then when I was older, I played the organ myself on important occasions such as the Founders Day service and Speech Day. It was basically a journey.

 I remember my first day at Chets when I realised that I was not the only person in school who could play the piano! I wanted to be as good as David Hill, who was higher up in the school from me: He played the organ magnificently, and I wanted to be like him! You know it’s funny. When you grow up, you have role models you watch as you progress to school and beyond.

Then suddenly, you get to the age of sixty-four and then there you are: You’ve arrived. You are the next David Hill. Then you find younger musicians saying they want to play like you and be the next Wayne Marshall! It’s interesting that the whole cycle continues from generation to generation.

MM Who were your main instrumental tutors?

WM Derrick Cantrell and Robert Vincent were my organ teachers. Both were organists at Manchester Cathedral. Gordon Fergus-Thompson was my second piano teacher after Donald Clarke, the teacher who also taught Peter Donohoe in his early years at Chet’s.  

MM Gordon Fergus-Thompson is now based at the Royal College in London with a large class of students and came back to Chet’s for the piano summer school recently.

WM Gordon was amazing. I mean, a phenomenal teacher: rigorous, but it was great! We had a wonderful time. He’s not much older than me.

MM When you were at Chetham’s, did you participate in chamber music and piano duets? 

WM Yes, I enjoyed playing duets with the pianist Nicola Jane Kemp. Do you remember her?

MM Gosh-there is a wonderful track on an old Chet’s black vinyl disc from the 1970s with you and Nikki giving a spirited rendering of Arthur Benjamin’s ‘Jamaican Rumba’ that I haven’t heard in quite a while!

WM Nikki and I used to play a lot of stuff together. But I also used a lot of chamber music too. I remember playing Brahm’s cello and clarinet sonatas and so much else! Of course, I was also busy over at the cathedral

MM In your journey, particularly at Chethams, were there times when you had to battle with things like practising or patience? How did you come to terms with the whole practice procedure? Because it’s a challenge to stay in a room or an organ oft, isn’t it, for hours alone?

WM Practising was my oxygen! For me, practising was never a problem. The problem was when I was told I couldn’t practise, that was the issue. And particularly at home. If I was at home and my parents said I had to do some work, that was always a big issue. And the same at school. I never wanted to do physical games and stuff like that: I’d much rather be sitting in a practice room!

MM I think there is a tremendous sense of enthusiastic energy about the way you describe your childhood, which is very inspiring, so presumably, you were always determined that you were going to be a musician from the start. 

WM It was never an issue. There’s never a question of what it was going to be. Music was what I wanted to do, and that hasn’t changed at all.

MM Looking back on your childhood, is there anything you wish you had done or that could have been done for you that did not happen? If you could turn the clock back, is there anything musically regrettable? 

WM Well, musically, I have no regret at all. In some ways, I just wish that I was probably a little bit more academically minded. I just wasn’t really interested in the academic side of it. It just didn’t do it for me. I mean, I was very quiet vocal in class with subjects that didn’t interest me: I would really make it known! I was quite arrogant in some ways. I remember being particularly unwilling to study history. For me, then, history was all in the past.

I was more interested in the present! Of course, my father was always onto me about mathematics and English. Homework was always something of a battle. But for me, it was all about music. I just wanted to do music. I needed to understand about having O-level geography or mathematics and what that had to do with playing a Vierne symphony on the organ!

But now, of course, now as a father, I have to be careful: I have two children of my own. They’re nine and eleven, and they’ve just started school in Cambridge. We’ve only just moved from Malta over the summer. So, of course, I had to be very careful how I conducted myself because I still don’t feel totally comfortable with homework and stuff like that. For me, when you’re at school, you’re at school; when you come home, you’re at home.

This idea of continuing school at home is still an issue, so I must be very careful with my children. This whole thing of exams for me was again a complete waste of time. This sitting, having to remember things, then going to a three-hour examination hall and having to remember everything. So, for me, nothing has changed: I still feel the same about academic studies. We are all different.

MM Thank goodness. Indeed, we are all different. You are such an incredible, positive musician! There are so many other really talented musicians that are very academic- and that is fine. But your story shows that there are other ways of developing. It will give much hope to many people. Thank you so much for sharing your memories and thoughts. 

WM, It has been an incredible journey. And for me also, to be awarded the OBE in 2021 was a great honour, really, and I am immensely proud of that.

MM Long overdue, I would say. 

WM And it was just wonderful to be at the Palace in July. It was amazing to be there. And now, of course, watching the television, seeing the funeral and everything else. And it is an incredibly sad situation, but it’s very special. Yes, it’s historic.

MM You just cannot imagine life without the Queen.

WM That’s the thing. It’s like a light has gone out. The things that were unfolding last week were incredible. The new Prime Minister, the Queen, passed away. New King. Extraordinary times.

Donald Thomson’s Book Review

Piano collections by Donald Thomson are colourful, immediate, and arrestingly communicative anthologies of solo piano music and all three are more than fair reflections of Donald’s most persuasive personality.

As a fellow Scot, I was immediately attracted to ‘Celtic Piano Music’, the impressive compendium at the intermediate to advanced level which is in fact, made up of several anthologies that initially appeared independently.

Read recent interview with Donald Thomson >


Donald Thomson’s books offer a tremendous variety in the most effective combination of the pedagogically sensible with the musically exotic. Children and piano teachers alike should be most grateful for such a synthesis of compositional endeavour.

Murray McLachlan



Winter Piano Music

Thomson’s latest collection is pitched at the Advanced Level. The five contrasting pieces that make up Winter Piano Music show the immediacy and a refreshing take on some familiar, well-loved melodies.

ISBN 978-1-911359-42-5
Copyright © 2022

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Starlight and Snowflakes is presented in a mysterious but glistening texture, complete with quirky harmonic twists and surprises to keep both listener and player on their toes.

And what about the scherzo that is Thomson’s version of God rest ye merry gentlemen? Here is a quasi-tarantella take on the famous Christmas Carol, complete with open fifths (a Thomson speciality) and some exciting octave and chordal figuration. 

Thomson’s take on Silent Night sees the piano morph into a string quartet in all but name, with rich textures and some exciting double third pianism for players to get their teeth into. In complete contrast,

Listen to this excellent performance of Sleigh Ride, a wonderfully optimistic study in energy that brings its charm and character in a way that is quite different from Leroy Anderson.


1. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
2. Meditation on Silent Night
3. We Three Kings
4. Starlight & Snowflakes
5. Sleigh Ride
Preview and hear the pieces


Celtic Piano Music

As a whole, this large collection of approachable pieces pays testament to a composer who projects and communicates an intense love not only of Celtic folk music but also of the Scottish landscape.

ISBN 978-1-911359-40-1
Copyrights © 2022

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Guddly Burn immediately sets the bar high with the evocation of Scots fiddle playing with dance rhythms and elements from the pentatonic scale. Left-hand accompaniment figurations are never ‘copied and pasted’ from phrase to phrase: Thomson typically takes care with the details of phrasing and articulation. He is also prone to harmonic surprises and unexpected colouristic moves… 

In Silvery Tay, it is the clarsach (a Celtic harp) rather than the violin that initially is evoked, though the melodic line does resemble a fiddle air in character. To me, the gentle dotted rhythms in the melody nostalgically evoke hints of the old folksong ‘Comin’ through the Rye’.

Indeed, there is much that is exquisite in this twenty-bar miniature. Bitonality and hemiolas (alternating 6/8 and ¾ rhythms) make The Corryvreckan Whirlpool a colourfully charged bravura piece. Young players with smaller hands could omit the left-hand octaves at the end, but they make an excellent springboard for developing post-grade 8 virtuosity.

Stern quasi-Brahmsian chords yield to flowing folksy quavers (echoes of Lord of the Rings?) in the Legend of Loch Ness. Here Thomson introduces some potentially challenging technical hurdles (double thirds from bar 25 and rotary movement from bar 32), which are pedagogically excellent. Indeed, one of the things most striking about the anthology as a whole is that it eloquently introduces pianistic challenges necessary to conquer at an advanced level, but in short bursts of activity. 

Developing techniques in small doses rather than in obsessively charged repetitive studies could prove less daunting for many students, providing them with a springboard towards the more challenging études of Czerny, Moszkowski and Cramer.

Thomson’s substantial melodic gift is most prominent in St Mary’s Loch (also filled with harmonic surprises), whilst the pentatonic bias of much of the collection returns in the playfully persuasive l Brownie of Ballachulish (for someone like me, from the North East of Scotland, this appears as a distant descendant of the folksong ‘The back O’Bennachie’).

The collection continues with the expansively rich, sonorous study in legato pianism that is Song of the Selkies. We then have an essay in bravura entitled The Kelpies’ Jig (grade 7 students who enjoy the finale of Kabalevsky’s C major sonatina will be very much at home here) and a slow, spookily characterised essay in right-hand double notes and left-hand sonoroso called The Grey Lady.

Moving on, Fairy Pools sounds like Scottish Walter Carroll, with the clarsach again evoked in textures that have ethereal sparkle. This could be a pedagogically crucial piece if the chords are firstly played on their own- introduce young players to the harmonic skeleton in this wistful miniature and a whole new facility in reading and understanding could develop, Heriot Water, with its opening Scotch snap figure and brooding nostalgia initially seemed a close bedfellow of Peter Maxwell-Davies’ ‘Farewell to Stromness’, but it soon opens out into something more extensive, with 54 bars of development.

In total contrast, Grey Mare’s Tail is a 37-bar filigree study with a noble left-hand legato makes an excellent vehicle for progressing with finger staccato facility. The parallel triads in the left hand are exploited in a manner that Thomson uses in many of the other pieces in this collection and elsewhere- and again, this is an excellent way for students to understand how music can be structured and connected harmonically.

Innerleithen Air is whimsically poetic- a short exercise in parlando that is utterly charming. Melrose Abbey brings the church organ into the tonal palette for the first time in the collection. The chordal legato textures are essential for students to develop if they wish to move on to the great works of Brahms and Rachmaninov.

Certainly, it makes sense to start here and continue with the pianistic legato fingerings and connections that are necessary for success. Luskentyre Lullaby is an excellent study for the development of textural projection and control. Harris Tweed again returns to fiddle figuration for its main musical impetus- but the left-hand articulation, with small groups of slurred notes set against separate detached sounds, certainly adds to the charming flavour. 

The Isle of Staffa in C minor brings tonal variety and is a valuable study in pedal control- with a need for flowing pianism to capture convincingly the special wistfulness of characterisation. Callanish Stones brings an element of wondrous fantasy to proceedings. Colonsay Ceilidh is adorned with appropriately extroverted colour and bravura, finishing in radiant F major. Finally, Two Golden Circles brings this most generously rich selection of Scottish music to a wistfully lyrical conclusion.


Scottish Waters
1. The Guddly Burn
2. Тhe Silvery Tay
3. The Corryvreckan Whirlpool
4. The Legend of Loch Ness
5. St Mary’s Loch
Myths & Legends
6. The Brownie of Ballachulish
7. Song of the Selkies
8. The Kelpies’ Jig
9. The Grey Lady
10. The Fairy Pools

A Borders Suite
11. Heriot Water
12. The Grey Mare’s Tail
13. Brodie’s Jig
14. Innerleithen Air
15. Melrose Abbey
A Hebrides Suite
16. Luskentyre Lullaby
17. Harris Tweed
18. The Isle of Staffa
19. The Callanish Stones
20. Colonsay Ceilidh
21. Two Golden Circles


Halloween Piano Tunes

Charming Halloween Piano Tunes from Donald for EVC is specifically for the Pre-grade 1 – Grade 4 level student. This most recent addition to the catalogue presents no less than nineteen pieces with titles is intriguingly diverse! 

ISBN 978-1-911359-38-8
Copyrights © 2021

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Midnight Feast (excellent introduction to tritones at Pre-grade 1 level), Greedy Goblin (compound time and slurs in groups of two and three notes) and Freaky Frogs (developing both control with acciaccaturas and staccato pianism) would give many a Pre-Grade 1 pupil much fun and fulfilment in the highest register of the instrument.

Whilst Gloomy Forest creates contrasted lugubrious hints via left-hand parallel fifths, Cobwebs and Candlesticks at Grade 1 is an inspirational way to introduce pedalling from an early stage.  

Syncopated rhythms and hand movements in thirds and sixths feature in The Ruined Castle.

Coordination between the hands is also encouraged via Sneaking in the Shadows (hands in parallel and contrary motion), whilst the mixed staccato and slurred articulation in Broomstick Race encourages care over detail. 

In Grade 2, Ghosts in the Air seems like a modern descendant from a famous Schumann Album for the Young Piece (also in 6/8). With its flattened supertonic harmonies and sharpened seventh-degree.

Harry Potter is undoubtedly just around the corner in Halloween Ball at No.13.

Moving on to Grade 3, Creaky Door is an excellent theoretical tool for the study of tritones and bitonality. 

Trick or Treat? has novelty value in that you need to click your fingers at the start (it is constructed as a ground bass pattern and certainly develops a ‘swing’ rhythm).

Skeleton Guards’ Parade is excellent for instilling rhythmic discipline and order consistently whilst Debussy’s ‘Cake Walk’ and Scott Joplin’s are just around the corner with the jaunty ragtime rhythms present in Vampire Vamp. 

Jittery Jig could make a valuable vehicle for building velocity, whilst Haunted Highlander, with its open fifths and wistful bagpipe drone bass, will instil a sense of harmony with the youngest students. 

Witches’ Cat is an excellent left-hand solo with a Hindu Raga twist just before its da capo!

Finally, in Grade 4, Valse Macabre requires nimble right-hand position shifts. Try playing this piece without the ‘extra’ accidentals first, then add them in (they make for spicey augmented/diminished intervallic leaps on the page) as additional colourings.


1. Midnight Feast
2. The Greedy Gоblin
3. Freaky Frogs
4. Scuttling Spiders
5. he Gloomy Forest
6. “Cobwebs and Candlesticks
7. The ruined Scottish castle
8. Sneaking in the Shadows
9. Broomstick Race
10. Ghosts in the Air

11. Halloween Ball at No. 13
12. Creaky Door
13. Trick or Treat
14. Skeletons Guards Parade
15. Vampire Vamp
16. Jittery Jig
17. The Haunted Highlander
18. The Witch’s Cat
19. Valse Macabre
Preview and hear the pieces >

Andrew Eales Interview

Andrew is one of the most versatile, energised, and talented figures in music education today. His superb blog Pianodao was launched in 2015 and continues to attract enormous interest, with an international following for its extensive range of articles and reviews. Ranked the number one piano education blog worldwide for three successive years, it is a bastion of support, insight and inspiration for piano teachers and players. 

Born in Surrey in 1966, Andrew was educated at Oakham School and Bedford Modern, studying music at the junior Guildhall before entering Birmingham University to read music. His lessons with the Dohnányi student Joseph Weingarten were especially significant for his development as a pianist. He continued his postgraduate studies at the Royal College, where he took harpsichord and fortepiano lessons with Robert Wolley and was awarded the Raymond Russell Harpsichord Prize.  

Andrew’s extensive and varied career includes working for EMI Classics and when he was Head of Piano and Keyboard for the Milton Keynes Music Service. He started his teaching career in the 1990s.  

Andrew’s four tuition books for electronic keyboard, Keyquest, have sold more than 10,000 copies. He played a significant role in 2002 in the creation of ‘A common approach, the instrumental curriculum adopted by Music Schools and Services throughout the UK. Andrew has also been influential in ABRSM’s ‘Music Medals’ programme, composing original pieces and arrangements for their ‘Keyboards Together’ series.  

Andrew is active as a present and speaker at conferences and national events and for leading organisations, including ABRSM and Trinity. He appears constantly involved with many projects, working tirelessly as a teacher, editor, writer, reviewer, and composer. In addition to his excellent new book on Practising and a three-volume edition of selected music by William Gillock (reviewed below), reviewed here, Andrew has worked as a syllabus consultant to the RSL Classical Piano Grades, consultant and composer for LCM Piano and Keyboard syllabus, a contributor to the ABRSM Teaching Notes on Piano Exam Pieces, composer for ABRSM Piano Star books, contributor for the Mosaic Series (Musica Ferrum). Andrew has also recorded a series of educational films for PWM Edition in Poland.  

Andrew Eales is filming for the project in Poland.


MM Can you remember how you started as a young musician? Where did you grow up?

AE My parents divorced when I was six, after which I grew up in Bedford with my mum and two older sisters, one of whom took up the piano. When I was eight, I had pneumonia, and from my sick bed, I heard my sister practising the piano downstairs. And that was when I realised that I wanted to play. So that was my first inspiration, and the spark quickly became a flame. 

MM Were your family supportive?

AE My mother was always supportive and made considerable sacrifices to help us complete our music education, attend our concerts, and encourage practice.

I only reconnected with my father when I was 28. He said he was pleased to hear that my sister had made a career in music but not that I had because, in his words, “piano teaching is a woman’s job”. He made a point of never hearing me play the piano until his death. I think it’s fair to say that he wasn’t very supportive! 

MM Who were the key people who helped you become the musician and composer you are today?

AE I was fortunate to have excellent teachers right from the start, every one of whom made an impact in shaping who I now am. At the same time, I have always been fascinated by the lives of great musicians past and present and am a huge fan of music in many styles, so all of that, and all those listening experiences, contribute to the overall mix.

MM Can you give us a couple of vital landmarks and events which had pivotal significance in your early musical development?

AE Being given my first LP, a recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos. I wanted to learn the horn, but it cost too much, so I learnt the flute instead. But that LP was the beginning of a journey of musical discovery, which has been a wonderful focus throughout my subsequent life.

A few weeks after starting piano, I realised that arpeggios could be used to improvise my own music. That was a complete game changer; from then on, my mum had to keep reminding me to practise what my teacher had set me!  

MM How did you come to terms with practising?

AE Good question! The lure of improvising and composing has always remained so strong! But seriously, I have had to learn a wide range of strategies for practice, and the rigours of traditional music education, University recital and studying at the Royal College of Music all played a part in that. I have fortunately been able to absorb a lot of good advice over many years, and of course, many of those ideas are now in my book How to Practise Music, which will hopefully help many others to find and discover ways to practice that are not only more effective but more enjoyable too.

MM Were you ever discouraged? Did you ever feel disheartened or confused about your progress/development?

AE I think that when I failed my Grade 6 flute, that woke me up to the fact that I wasn’t trying hard enough. With the help of a new teacher (the RCM’s Graham Mayger), I spent months playing long notes, improving my embouchure… again, it was really an important lesson in how to practise, and it worked, because happily, I got my Grade 8 distinction on the flute a couple of years later. Thinking about how we practise music can change everything. When things go wrong, it’s essential to look at why and learn from the experience. 

Graded Gillock collection by Andrew Eales is available to order on the Musicrrom.com

MM Were you always determined to be a musician?

AE Even though the flute wasn’t my first love, learning to play it well was an essential part of my musical development. So, we keep going…

MM Did other vocations ever tempt you?

AE During my postgraduate studies at the RCM, I instead opted out and realised that performing didn’t interest me quite the way that academic study had at university. I went to work at Chappell’s for a spell before spending four years working in the recording industry for EMI Classics. I think that was a hugely valuable time in my life, and I learnt so much about business and professionalism. 

MM You have such a wide and varied range of musical interests – piano teaching, harpsichord, writing, blogging, reviewing, composition, and performing. Can you tell us first about how you started to teach piano and how that developed?

AE By the early 1990’s I had moved to Milton Keynes, and in 1992 I married Louise (we celebrated three decades this year!). I was commuting to EMI in London every day, and when Louise became pregnant, I really wanted to shift to working more locally.

At the time, I was playing in a church band, and one of the other musicians was our local Secondary School teacher. He kept encouraging me to try teaching, and I kept telling him I wasn’t interested. In the end he gave my phone number to a sixth-form student who was self-taught to around Grade 6 level. This lad Matthew phoned me a couple of times, and when I reluctantly agreed to have him round to play for me, I realised immediately that he was hugely talented and that I could really help him realise his potential. So, I had a “light bulb” moment and knew at that moment that piano teaching was my life vocation. Shortly after, I resigned from EMI and took a step into the unknown. Since then, I have rarely had a day off! As for Matthew, he went on to have a successful career as an MD in the West End… 

MM Also, it would be fascinating to hear about how Pianodao began and developed and about your harpsichord studies.

AE So, Pianodao! Sometime in my thirties, I became interested in Daoism (or Taoism) as a philosophy and took up Qigong practice. Along with traditional five-element acupuncture, it has significantly impacted my health and well-being, as well as my piano playing. I wanted to share that and set up the Pianodao site as a blog for that reason. Well, the site has been going for a few years now and has encompassed my other interests, which are pretty diverse!

And yes, the harpsichord has been another significant interest. I have an ARCM performing diploma and won a competition or two back in the day. It isn’t something I’ve continued to pursue, but learning to play to a high level greatly impacted my piano playing. I approach Scarlatti, Haydn and Mozart very differently now… 

MM Tell us how composition fits in with the rest of your life and career – firstly in your earliest years and then through your childhood, student years and up to the present.

AE My first musical ambition was to be a composer when I grew up, and even before formal lessons began, I was “messing around” on the piano. As a teenager, I visited the Careers Library, where I

discovered that there were more than 700 professional composers in the UK at the time, very few of whom were making any living from their work.

While I realised that composing probably wouldn’t pay the bills, I had no idea of an alternative and drifted through my university education, simply enjoying the ride. And on the side, I would make up rock songs with friends in bands and worship songs in church.

When I started teaching, I was approached by the local Music Service to go into schools teaching electronic keyboards. I couldn’t find material which fitted my teaching intentions, so I ended up composing my own. Those publications launched the educational composing side of my career, and several pieces were published by ABRSM in their Keyboard Together books.

Steadily I have composed more for education and published recordings of my piano improvisations on the SoundCloud platform. Those have picked up more than a million streams online, but the Careers Library were right: you can’t make much money that way! 

MM Is writing educational music different from composing without pedagogical intentions? Is it constraining, and if so, how?

AE Yes, absolutely. That’s what I like about both, in fact.

Composing with specific pedagogic constraints can be liberating in one way, a bit like solving a puzzle. How can I write something with just five notes which is memorable and hasn’t been done a million times? It’s an exciting challenge.

My other composing is, to all intents and purposes, “recreational”, recorded improvisations made permanent not by pen and ink but by the development of wonderful technology and computer programmes like Ableton Live. 

MM What are you currently composing?

AE Right now, I am working on some fresh solo piano pieces in response to a commission. That’s all I can say, however. Also, I have another project selecting and editing music, which follows on from the recent Graded Gillock publications I worked on for Willis Music…

MM Yes! Tell me, what are some of the hallmark features of Gillock’s approaches to writing for piano?

AE Interesting question! His music combines the two things most of us look for in educational piano music. Firstly, the pieces introduce techniques, understanding and develop expressive musical communication, so they are full of good pedagogy. And secondly, they are enormously enjoyable as music. Colleagues in the US, where Gillock’s music is hugely popular, tell me that they use his pieces to inspire their students and to keep them motivated. That is equally true with my students here in the UK. So I am immensely excited to have been able to compile three graded collections of some of his most brilliant music, especially for the UK market.

MM Can you give a list of six neglected gems of contrasting nature and describe the unique qualities of each piece?

AE That’s a challenge because there are so many, but the books cover Grades 1-6, split into three collections, so I’ll mention one from each grade level.

At Grade 1, Drifting Clouds is a marvellous, evocative piece which uses the pedal. For many learners, it will be their first time exploring those magical sonorities, and Gillock makes the most of that by including some gorgeous harmonies It’s a stunning piece.

From the Grade 2 selections, I would select Fiesta, even though it’s partially known here. But it is such a fun, syncopated piece and students adore it. 

The first piece in the second book, which covers Grades 3-4, is Slumber Song, a lyrical ballad that again has exquisite harmony, and now the pedalling is more advanced. The piece begins in C minor and ends in E flat major just 18 bars later, but it has a marvellous sense of narrative flow.

Windy Weather is around the Grade 4 level and includes many crossing hands (a regular Gillock feature even from Grade 1). It’s impressionistic, evocative, and very satisfying to play.

Gillock’s New Orleans jazz pieces are all at about Grade 5 level, and tunes such as Mister Trumpet Man and New Orleans Nightfall have already become favourites here. My third collection begins with another of these pieces, Downtown Beat, which I am teaching to several students right now. It’s tremendous fun.

Dusk on the Bayou appears as the final piece and is probably around Grade 6, although benchmarking Gillock is difficult because he wrote these pieces in a non-exam culture, without piano grades in mind. Those who enjoyed New Orleans Nightfall may well enjoy this piece which evokes the deep south of America with delicious gospel harmonies.

Please tell us about any Imminent plans and projects. What projects, dreams, and plans would you dearly love to explore and work at in the future?

I have lots of ideas for possible publications, but I’m also feeling quite settled and happy with what I am doing. Dreams? I would be interested in working in a music school or college environment at some point, as that’s something I’ve not had the opportunity to do before. Although I love running my own studio business, I do often miss working more closely with others, and there’s something to be said for occasionally leaving the house! 

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