I was awakened this morning to an inspired Facebook post that featured a six-year old captivated by a delightful piece that amounted to a “playground” of light-hearted chords with engaging harmonies. The piano teacher, Irina Gorin played snippets of Samuel Maykapar’s “In the Garden” that seemed to share character kinship with Kabalevksy’s Op. 39, Children’s pieces. Both Russian composers set aside time to compose a body of work for children embarking upon piano study.
“Maykapar was born on December 18, 1867 in the city of Kherson, to Karaite Jewish parents and spent his childhood in Taganrog. In 1885 he graduated from the Boys Gymnasium where he studied with Anton Chekhov. He also took private music lessons from Gaetano Molla, director of the Italian Opera in Taganrog.”
According to an entry in the Wikepedia, The image of Taganrog and its people was featured in numerous Anton Chekhov works, including Ionych, The House with an Attic, The Man in a Shell, Van’ka, Three Years, Mask, My Life and more. It is believed that the Taganrog image may have been used as Lukomorie (fairy tale land) in Alexander Pushkin’s Ruslan and Lyudmila (1820). It also appeared in the novels of Ivan Vasilenko, Konstantin Paustovsky and in the poems of Nikolay Sherbina and Valentin Parnakh.”
What a backdrop to a composer whose music contained more than an incidental repository of child-centered themes to engage the ears of children and motivate them to dance across the keyboard from the beginning of piano study.
Here’s an example drawn from a lesson in progress, as a child and his teacher are in a playground on the same imagination-driven turf. What could be a more divine immersion in the fantasy world of music and its evoked emotions.
Repertoire that springs from childhood activity is a big attention getter and technique builder. I have countless times found that particular miniatures work wonders in motivating practicing. Just to name a few: Kabalevsky’s “Clowns,” “Joke,” “Galop,” (from his Op. 39 Children’s pieces), and from Tschaikovsky’s Album for the Young, Op. 39 for the piano: “March of the Wooden Soldiers,” “Playing Horse Games,” “Morning Prayer” among others.
Robert Schumann had his own Album for the Young that included a host of harmonically engaging pieces: “Soldier’s March,” “The Happy Farmer” and the “Wild Rider.” For more advanced students he produced a tableaux of Childood “Scenes,” known as Kinderszenen. Who could not fall in love with music for a “Sleeping Child” or be rhythmically engaged by “Catch Me!” a child’s lively spree of tag.
Not to forget Grieg’s Lyric pieces and his ebullient, “Elf Dance” with elves prancing in staccato through Norwegian caves.
Bartok’s Children’s pieces are also musical enticements. Bathed in the Hungarian folkloric idiom they include an engaging “Magic Dance” and “Sewing Song” among others. These compositions imbue a rhythmic consciousness as they teach various ways to phrase and articulate.
William Gillock is a favorite composer of mine. Untold students have been lifted out of their practicing doldrums with his animated pieces. Favorites include “Flamenco,” “French Doll,” “Little Flower Girl of Paris,” “Stars on a Summer Night,” “Fountain in the Rain,” “Dragon Fly” as well as “Soaring” from the composer’s “Lyric Preludes in Romantic Style.”
Burgmuller’s Op. 100 25 Progressive pieces are an assortment of imagination-grabbing miniatures in the Romantic genre: “Ballade” in C minor might as well be titled “Spooks” with its “misterioso” opening and punctuated minor chords. Students insist it’s a Halloween inspired piece by its overt mood and character.
Other popular compositions in this album include “Arabesque,” “The Chase,” “Tender Flower,” and “Chatterbox.”
Shostakovich’s “Children’s Notebook” includes harmonically sparkling miniatures such as “Clockwork Doll,” “March,” and much more.
Here, the composer plays his own compositions:
Add in selections by Prokofiev from his repertoire of Children’s pieces, Op. 65:
(Irina Gorin includes the “March” from this album in her “Tales of a Musical Journey”) Children tap, clap and move with alacrity to this miniature as they begin their piano learning adventure.
Please share your own favorite compositions inspired by childhood themes and how they influenced your piano study.