Drizzle, Sunshower, Dry Spell, Racing the Storm…
The words conjure up more than weather; they bring to mind a mood. In this collection of piano pieces called Precipitations, Martha Hill Duncan does a fine job of depicting the mood and physical environment with music. They are at a grade 6-8 level, although the writing make some of them sound a lot harder than they are.
When I play through new music to review, my initial assessment is subjective. I ponder how well I like the sound, which is, after all, what it’s all about. I play through each piece several times over a week or more, for while pieces in popular idioms are immediately likeable, and thus easy to “sell” to the students, others require a deeper appreciation. Having said that, after months of rehearsing Hindemith and Kennan, I want to appreciate the music on more than just an academic level. I want to enjoy the sound – and it doesn’t necessarily need to be tonal to be beautiful or striking or otherwise effective. Many 20th century techniques are used in these compositions, and all to very good effect. I like them.
My second thoughts are about the pedagogical value of the repertoire. Precipitations fits the bill on a number of levels:
- They provide an opportunity to teach common 20th century techniques, such as polytonality (Racing the Storm), parallelism (First Snow), quartal harmonies (Hail!) and minimalism (Dry Spell).
- Tempo changes and changing metres provide places for the student to explore rubato and expressiveness.
- A few bars of cross-rhythms in Sundog pave the way for the rhythmic challenges that will lie ahead in advanced Romantic repertoire.
- Crossing hands and playing fast are just plain fun for the student. A number of the pieces have such passages.
I am always looking for new-to-me pieces to fulfill the Canadian Composer requirement in Conservatory Canada exams. The Supplementary piece, which is in addition to the List pieces and studies, is wide open, as long as it is at an appropriate level. I often use a Canadian piece which is not listed in the syllabus for the Supplementary piece. Precipitations provides 7 good selections that would work well.
Precipitations is available through Red Leaf Pianoworks.