WHERE DOES THE INSPIRATION COME FROM?
I like to write music that comes from a visual idea, or perhaps a feeling or emotion. It’s easier to convey to the players what the music is about if it has a tangible inspiration: something they can conjure up in their mind.
WE LOVE OUR TRADITIONAL TUNES
I’ve also written some arrangements of traditional songs, ones I have loved since I was a child. These are slightly more advanced than some of the original pieces so they could be played by beginners of moderate ability and also by more advanced string players, even those working professionally
I have included with every download a full recording of each piece. I decided to do this because I felt that it would help the players get a sense of what the music was about if they were able to hear the music first before beginning to learn it. The recordings can act as a practice aid also. These are not professional recordings, I created them myself.
WHAT DOES EASY, MODERATE AND ADVANCED MEAN?
I wanted to get away from the idea that the difficulty of each piece should be assessed by its relation to a ‘Grade’ in the context of the grades set by one of the major exam boards. So I’ve graded the pieces as ‘Easy, Moderate or Advanced’. If people feel they need something more familiar to go on here then I could say, on a very basic level:
Easy = Grades 1-3
Moderate = Grades 3-5
Advanced = Grade 6-8
The level I have graded each piece at gives a standard based on the technical difficulty, set against the idea of the ultimate goal being the creation of a truly great and memorable performance.
Even beginner string players should understand the concept of giving a good performance: one that is in tune and together rhythmically, but ultimately full of inspiration and character. Playing in ensembles presents inexperienced string players with a whole set of issues which can easily lead to a crisis of confidence. Many string playing children, and their parents, take the results of exams very seriously and use these results as a marker on what they should be playing. Sometimes young string players don’t want to be seen to be involved in something that they perceive is too easy and beneath them. But if you take part in an ensemble piece with others you have to play in time and in tune with those other players. It’s no longer just about you. You have to listen and come out of yourself and become part of a whole which can be quite a challenge.
WHAT ARE THE PIANO PARTS FOR?
Some of these pieces have piano parts which are integral to the piece, they wouldn’t work without them. In practice, these piano parts should ideally be played by a live pianist. But most of the pieces can be performed with the piano backing track that you receive when you download your purchase. There aren’t any pieces that absolutely cannot be performed with the backing track, but some will work better than others. And whether these work or not depends on the abilities and the experience of the players. The individual performance notes that come with each piece give advice about this on a piece by piece level.
With some of the faster numbers, I have included a slower version of the piano backing track so that players can practice slowly along with it. Some of the pieces have no integral piano part. However, for one or two of the easier ones I have written some very simple optional piano accompaniments in case they are needed. The full audio performances of these particular pieces do not include the piano accompaniment.
DOES THERE NEED TO BE A CONDUCTOR?
Most of the compositions here, especially those of easy or moderate standard, would benefit from having a director or a conductor. If there is a live pianist, then perhaps they could direct from the piano. The pianist should always be close to the ensemble. If children are up on their own on a stage it’s great for parents watching, but it doesn’t help to get the music together. Players can feel very isolated so far away from the piano. You wouldn’t separate ensembles out like this in a professional situation, and so it goes for the beginner ensembles.
If using the piano or percussion backing tracks, a director would definitely help. Whether or not a group needs a director or not depends on the musical abilities of the performers and their level of confidence. It would be fantastic if a group could perform without any help, led by a designated leader perhaps.
But if the group as a whole is unconfident then someone should direct, because the quality of the performance would be greater and this would lead to the players enjoying it more, which would make them more likely to want to perform again.
ARE THE PARTS INTERCHANGEABLE?
When you pay and download the music you get a printable full score and all the printable parts that exist for that piece. Most of them have a basic set orchestration. But I’ve also produced alternative parts that can be used as substitutes, as well as some optional parts that can be added, such as extra cello and double bass parts.
When I talked to teachers about my plans to write this music, the biggest gripe I heard was that of not having a viola player. I actually started to play the viola at high school simply because no one else played it and we wanted to form a string quartet. I think this is often how viola players are born! It isn’t always the case though because at my children’s school there were two viola players! So I have taken the liberty of writing a couple of pieces that have a viola part with no alternative. We at The Little Music Bazaar are viola players and we know that sometimes only those low viola notes will do!
Any number of players can play each part, as long as thought is given to the balance of sound when organising children into groups. It’s difficult when you have a rather random group of string players of all levels who all want to be involved. But my aim when I started composing these pieces was to help groups get the best possible performance, so there has to be some thought when choosing how many players will be on each line. Balance of sound is important to obtain the greatest performance possible.