HomeEducationBehind the Scenes: Christmas Crackers

Behind the Scenes: Christmas Crackers

Christmas Crackers was written between October and December 2018. All the materials were tested with pupils alongside speaking extensively to teachers to find out exactly what they were looking for in a Christmas Book. Get Set! Christmas Crackers was the result. Here you get an account of the ideas behind the pages and a quick summary of the main “Five Aims” from Karen Marshall, co-author of Christmas Crackers.

The Five Aims

1. Provide a Pedagogical progression

The book has a systematic progression from beginning five-finger stages to Grade 2. Things students find tricky, like playing hands together for the first time, reading treble or bass clef ledger lines, pedal use, sight reading and scale playing (amongst other things) are all weaved into the pages. A range of styles is included. There are three double page spreads: ‘Musical Crackers’, exploring sharps, flats and improvisation, sight reading and compound-time signatures. Teachers told us that they wanted the Christmas period to be a time they could do lots of teaching of core piano skills, especially reading, so that students’ playing was given a real boost in the New Year. All the pieces include dynamics, phrasing and musical terms progressively. David Black, drawing on his experience as composer and editor, ensured the highest possible standards of editing along with Mary Chandler, also a very trusted senior Music Editor.

2: Have a long shelf life with an outstanding musical experience

The exact number of pieces an average child was likely to get through at beginner, pre- level, Grade 1 and Grade 2 have been included. The teacher parts for three carols include the tune, so a Grade 2 pianist can come back at a later stage and learn these as a solo piece. Large numbers of the accompaniments are at around Grade 3 level, so parents and older siblings can give them a try too. Children were given the opportunity to mark the carols out of 10. Again, certain arrangements were rejected or re-written. If the music didn’t generate enjoyment, then we knew things had to change! And they did. David spent an enormous amount of time making the accompaniments something that really enhanced the musical enjoyment whilst in ensemble. Many children without prompt in the testing process commented as to ‘how beautiful the music sounds’ when playing together. The accompaniment to ‘O come, all ye faithful’ is a real triumph at making a five-finger tune sound pretty amazing! Teachers said they wanted a book that they could come back to, that was in their words ‘worth the student purchasing their own copy.’

3: The new, the old and the international

Lots and lots of Christmas carol books were trawled though to find the best selection.

Finding a carol in 2/4 was incredibly difficult. We found two, one of which, The Holly (from Wales), actually includes semiquavers in the original piece, The only one we found having looked at well over 100. Favourites are all there like ‘Away in a manger’, ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’, ‘Jingle, bells’ and ‘Silent night’. From America there’s ‘Up on the housetop’ and ‘Jolly Old St Nicholas’.

From Poland we have ‘Infant holy, infant lowly’ and a Czech traditional in ‘Under Bethl’hem’s star so bright’. The Caribbean provides ‘The Virgin Mary had a baby boy’, Germany provides ‘Joseph dearest, Joseph mild’ and France ‘Patapan’. We head to Canada with the ‘Huron Carol’ and the Dominican Republic for ‘Cantemos a María’. We have an African American carol with ‘Go tell it on the Mountain’, plus lots of traditional English carols from ‘Away in a manger’ to ‘God rest you merry, gentlemen’. There’s also a round towards the end of the book (for ensemble playing) and the opportunity to try transposing ‘While shepherds watched their flocks’ up a tone, with a gentle, supportive accompaniment.

4: New features – colouring in and fun facts

The line drawings on 15 of the 40 pages gives the child the opportunity to reward them- selves for learning a piece or completing a task on the ‘Musical Crackers’ pedagogical pages. Added to that we have several ‘Fun Facts’ about the music, giving some historical con- text or interesting trivia about the music being performed. There’s also the usual ‘Get Set’ short quizzes and tasks scattered around. The book also has an international flavour, with carols from several continents. Teachers told us that children loved making books their own with things for them to do.

5: Additional online resources

Visit the Get Set! Piano free resources on the Collins Music Website to find more carols, free sample score, colouring activity sheets corresponding to each carols learned and a practice Advent Calendar where students get to colour in one icon per day in the run- up to Christmas – if they complete their practice!

Finally, a note from the authors…

“We really hope this book will provide teachers with a valuable resource in their teaching curriculum to create progression and enjoyment with their students. The book was huge fun to write, and there was something quite special about writing it in the Christmas period ready for the following Christmas. We hope the book will provide an opportunity to fill winter months with fun and learning, and encourage in students a love of music and the piano that will last a lifetime.” – Karen Marshall and David Blackwell, authors of Christmas Crackers.

Get Set! Christmas Crackers can be used alongside all the main Piano tutor books as well as the Get Set! Piano series.

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