Fairyland in Treble

I admit it; I am addicted to technology. I teach from an iPad using ForScore™ with notes snatched from www.imslp.org more than I do from “real” scores. I love the feel of a stylus in my hand as I scribble on the virtual scores and enjoy the ease of emailing the annotations to students after a lesson.

However, Nikolas Sideris’ new volume of teacher-student duets (one piano, four hands), Fairyland in Treble, has stopped me dead in my electronic tracks. The score arrived IN THE MAIL about ten days ago and I found myself giggly with nostalgia as I opened its brown envelope. 

Nikolas Sideris
Quality and beauty emanate from this volume – from the choice of book materials to the very last note of its compelling music. Its stunning cover is far from the ordinary blank blue or blank ivory sheath that binds most music books. The cover art, created by Marcus Krupa, incorporates many of the collection’s fairy tale themes into the painting you see above.

 A few days after its arrival, I read through most of the pieces with one of my advanced students and we found ourselves enthusiastically discussing the way the collection could be played and used. And we repeated most pieces once or twice.

 A bit of background research reveals that many of the pieces were originally written as computer music, but this is not evident from the music itself. Accompanying each of the eleven duets is a two-page fairy tale spun from the music itself by Nefeli Tsipouridi. The duets are graded from early intermediate to early advanced and span styles from soothing ballads to high-energy works littered with jazz rhythms. Each is a well-crafted remarkable gem. The QR code at the beginning of each piece leads directly to a recording - satisfying to my techno-groove. Here is a look at a few of the pieces:
The King and the Dragon, in D minor, the easiest piece in the collection would be a wonderful first duet for a second-year student. The melody is repetitive with slight variations and much of it could be taught by rote as much as by note. On first glance, I found myself wishing that the rhythm was more varied in the secondo part. The lulling triple time in its quarter-note rhythmic impulse does not vary for one moment throughout the work. However, from a pedagogical point of view, the sturdiness of the heavy downbeat sets the perfect backdrop for a student finding his or her way with a first chamber music piece. Further into the book, this courtesy falls away as more demanding ensemble playing is laid out.

Likewise, the ostinato oompah rhythm of the secondo in A Playful Countess allows the student (primo) to slot a common syncopated rhythm into the texture without concern. In fact, when I need to teach this rhythm in the future, I will use the “Sideris oompah approach” because it is simply brilliant. This piece is three pages, which might seem long for a young student, but he peppers the piece with thematic repetitions starting on the tonic (C), the subdominant (F), the supermediant (for a delightful A Minor version), the supertonic (D), etc.

Nola and Ayla in the Jungle might be a good introduction to the feel of swing time, even though the piece is written in 12/8. Mr. Sideris toys with various keys, including a long stretch in the least-scary C# Major (seven-sharp key signature) music every written.

The Duke and the Cook supplies a challenge to teachers unfamiliar with jazz rhythms. Once conquered, though, the relatively uncomplicated writing in the primo part gives the student a chance to find the cadence grooves within the jiggy rhythmic scaffolding below.

The Chopin-meets-Samuel-Barber quality of The Two Violins lends much to helping a student understand how to voice a slow-moving melody over the busy traffic of an accompaniment. It is one of my favorite pieces of the collection with its beautifully haunting tune and rhythmic stability punctuated by harmonic surprises.

Because the set is so varied in difficulty, an entire studio could gang up to perform it in its entirety. This would be perfect for a children’s program, perhaps on a library series, where the fairy tales might be read aloud in between pieces. The collection - sure to appeal to children, their parents, and their teachers - is destined to make its way into the mainstream music studio faster than two can play Fifi in the Moon.

Listen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3e2AEfDCsfo

Order here: http://musica-ferrum.com/catalog/viewitem.php?show=61

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Deborah Rambo Sinn

Deborah Rambo Sinn