By Karen Marshall
As a piano teacher, I must confess that William Gillock has been a music education hero for many years now, not least because his music has dug me out of a hole on so many occasions. From the need for a concert piece that makes a student sound far more advanced than they are, to an exam piece that can be learnt at record speed (due to the vast amounts of patterns contained) when we are quite frankly running out of time! This new selection of Gillock packaged in grades by teacher, author and music educationalist Andrew Eales is a wonderful addition to any piano teacher’s library and more importantly to a student’s music bag. In these difficult times teachers must think hard about recommending repertoire collections by just one composer, however Gillock is a composer that I always ensure students have to hand due to the vast music educational content within his little masterpieces.
So, what’s included?
There are three books covering Grades 1 to 6.
Grades 1-2 includes 8 pieces for each grade along with excellent editor’s notes from Andrew for each piece detailing very useful teaching tips and performing advice. It has a brightly coloured cover with yellow background, giving a fun and playful feel. It contains 40 pages and benefits from larger notation which is a big plus.
Grades 3-4 contains 7 pieces for each grade, and again very useful notes help guide teaching and performance. This book’s front cover background is red with the same keyboard illustration as the previous book. Again, a slightly bigger font than is regular, and 36 pages of content.
Grades 5-6 offers 6 pieces for each grade. A more serious turquoise cover with the same illustration. Music is in a standard font size, with 40 pages and more of the excellent editor’s notes.
It’s worth noting that Andrew did look at around 300 pieces by Gillock to collate this collection, using his 30 years’ teaching and performing experience to select rounded but exciting collections.
William Gillock (1917-1993) was nick named ‘the Schubert of children’s composers’ due to his extraordinary ability to write melody. He was American.
“He was honoured on multiple occasions by the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) with the Award of Merit for Service to American Music, and his music continues to be remarkably popular throughout the United States and throughout the world.”
First and foremost, Gillock was a piano teacher, running a teaching studio and writing music that ultimately worked for his students. Tried and tested compositions that were heavily used in festivals (music exams in America are rarely used), and for me as a teacher this is extremely apparent. Gillock’s music always hits the spot for children and teenagers as well as being packed with pedagogical content that exploits the piano as an instrument in an exciting way.
Some Highlights – Perfect for concerts
I thought it might be useful to highlight a few pieces specifically from the collections for concert use. Either because the piece sounds so impressive or they are fast to learn when a student is time poor due to other commitments.
Swinging Beat – Children love these types of pieces that previously were identified as ‘Indian’ American in influence. Packed with pattern and articulation that makes this piece sound more sophisticated, my students learn this piece usually easily in a week. It can be played by a Grade 1 student who may struggle. The patterns are very helpful. It’s perfect for boosting piano playing self-esteem.
The Harpist – With lots of pedal use, this piece also is a master class in dynamics and uses a large area of the keyboard. Super attractive, it’s also gentle and calming to play.
Summertime Blues – Just one page so a student is not overwhelmed by this piece that can look a little trickier but really isn’t! A great introduction to triplets and more Jazzy pieces, the legato against staccato is such a useful skill at this stage. Packed with repetition and again fast to learn!
A Memory of Paris – Not the easiest in the Grade 2 section but it lays well under the fingers after a student gets their head around A major (a useful a skill to master!). It’s such a pretty waltz with pedal use and moves around the keyboard in a way that can really excite young pianists. It’s a lovely concert addition and was always popular when it was a Grade 2 exam piece.
Fiesta – Students LOVE this piece, similar to the Carnival in Rio Grade 4 piece that was used for examination a few years ago. Pattern rich and developing finger work, the thirds and sixth scattered across the piece perfectly prepare students for intermediate level pieces in Classical and Romantic genres by great composers.
Flamenco – Gillock is just brilliant at being able to write characterful pieces over a wide number of genres. This Flamenco piece, not easy for Grade 3, but well worth the play, has been superb at helping my students to interpret dance music with flare. It sounds so impressive with its tempo changes, varied articulation, and percussive chord content.
Sarabande – Students need to be able to stress the second beat in a three-time Sarabande and this little number helps them achieve this without having to work very hard at it. The semi-quaver use gives extra excitement, and the extensive pedal use is a superb study for legato pedalling.
The Spanish Guitar – Gillock really knows what he is doing at helping a student succeed with more complex rhythmic writing. This piece really does sound like a Spanish guitar and helps a student be instinctively expressive.
Carnival in Rio – If you need something a student can learn fast and sounds impressive then this is your Grade 4 go to. I’ve selected it myself in one of my own repertoire books because it’s simply superb!
Sunset – This takes some time to learn and could be described as a trickier Grade 4 piece, however there are so many repeated chords that this looks harder than it is. Don’t let students be put off by it being on three pages, it really is just generously spaced and would easily fit on two. Brilliant for chord voicing and pedal use. Students can feel like concert pianist playing this piece that provides a beautiful sound world.
Mister Trumpet Man
This was used decades ago by Guildhall Exams. A superb jazzy piece that exploits keyboard geography, accented chords, syncopated rhythms and helping a student literally turn the piano into a mimicking jazz band ensemble. It’s huge fun and always a hit.
New Orleans Nightfall
Another examination saviour in its time, I’ve never had a student ever do badly in an examination with this piece, likewise as a concert piece it’s so popular with one and all. A piece using three staves at times and exploiting the whole keyboard, it requires careful legato pedalling and direct pedal at times. Students also do well performing acciaccaturas in classical pieces after this little master piece.
And now to something that really is more demanding but equally exquisite, one wonders if Grieg has influenced Gillock here? In D flat major and again over three staves it includes beautiful textures and is packed with teaching content from pedal use to voicing, articulation to dynamic range.
Etude in A Major (The Coral Sea)
Students can think this is far harder than it is, even though over five pages there is so much pattern and repetition (that when pointed out) students are far less daunted. It’s not very fast either so one can really make the most of the harmony and enjoy a gorgeous sound world. It is a study in so many things a student needs to master on the piano sounding super impressive at the same time.
These really are wonderful collections worth exploring. Having spoken to Andrew about his books I was impressed with how tenacious he was at ensuring he found the absolute gems from Gillock’s work. A man committed to detail, I do feel this is a job well done and he should be congratulated. The odd piece included is quite challenging for the Grade, but benchmarking does tend to be a ‘feel’ rather than a science! The music is so attractive that students tend to push forward anyway. Nearly all pieces help massively with their progression and enable them to fine tune their technique, ability to perform and most importantly play musically with beautiful expression. Now surely that is the most important thing in any collection? Graded Gillock can certainly play an important part in any teaching curriculum to help create musical performing pianists of the future, a must for any budding pianist’s piano bag and teachers’ curriculum music collection.
About Karen Marshall
Karen Marshall is an award-winning educational author, speaker, teacher and workshop presenter with over 20 pedagogical piano books to her name. Based in York, she is a practising private, peripatetic, first access and classroom music teacher, with students from the ages of 4 to 60+. She is also a member of the British Dyslexia Association’s Music Committee.
Exclusive collections of Gillock classics, edited and matched to the grade criteria of the major examination boards by Andrew Eales. With fresh engravings and editorial practice notes, this inspiring folio will bring the joy of Gillock’s music to pianists of Grade 1–6 level.