Composer Notes

Have you ever played a piece and wondered what was on the composer's mind as they were creating it? The purpose of these Composer Notes is to give you insight into the creative process behind the music in my piano books. The entries are a mixed bag of teaching hints, musical influences, alternate fingerings, structural analyses, and the care that went into creating collections suitable for teaching, learning and performing.

Click to enlarge the original manuscripts, listen to sound clips, and click on the link to the books page to find out how to order your copy. I am working on three new titles right now, and will upload the note entries for those books at the time of their release. Play on!

Twinkle, Twinkle Superstar — Early Intermediate (Grade 4) B-flat Major 4/4

October 09, 2009 was the day of my Dad's 81st birthday. It dawned on me that I had completely missed Twinkle, one of the best-loved children's songs of all time. Musically speaking, Twinkle is always associated with the interval of the fifth. Many teachers use this song in ear training to teach students how to recognize the sound of the fifth. So, the open fifth became the focus of my introduction, in the style of Janis Joplin's The Rose. I grew up hearing friends play this style of pop music at school on old out-of-tune gym pianos. In the last section I kept getting the sound of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World in my head. Then it occurred to me that Wonderful World is Twinkle. I created it in the morning at the piano with baby Clara on my knee. But there was a birthday cake to bake. Later that evening I played the collection for everyone and Twinkle was the clear favorite.

Twinkle, Twinkle Superstar 

Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

Jingle Bell Swing — Early Intermediate (Grade 3-4) G Major 4/4

October 05, 2009 What tune is more familiar than Jingle Bells? The composer is known – James Pierpont of Boston. Inspired by the big band feel in Harry Connick Jr.'s music, I created the introduction from the "jingle all the way" line. You will find the piece easier than it looks. Remember, pop rhythms are so much part of our culture that they are easier to learn when heard. The piece is easy also because so much of it is the same thing again and again. Repetition is a major characteristic of pop music. Good ideas are worth repeating. I had a lot of fun creating the surprise pp at "sleigh" where kids usually sing it really loud (and around here, sing, "Sleigh, HEY!" on the two ascending notes of the fourth interval). Chopin often surprised his audiences with the opposite dynamic of what they knew. If performed well, this unexpected turn in the music promises to get a chuckle from the audience.

Jingle Bell Swing 

Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

Hickory Dickory Rock — Early Intermediate (Grade 3) C Major 6/8

September 30, 2009 I wrote Mice and Hickory on the same day. I had created them days earlier, and now grabbed my chance to scribble the two pieces down during my baby's afternoon nap. The idea for this piece came from my husband, Paul. I asked him if he knew any nursery rhymes that had tunes. He mentioned Hickory Dickory Dock, but didn't think it had a tune. I knew the song and loved the idea. 'Of course'! Hickory Dickory Rock. Usually piano rock reflects high-energy rock music, and I wondered if I could figure out a rock variation for the traditional song. I felt my collection was a bit square so far, with five pieces in 4/4 and only one in 2/4. I wanted to keep the 6/8 feel for this one, and thought about 6/8 hits like Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers. I wanted to go for that sound. I simply began to play it straight from my head. Paul said, "That's it!"

Hickory Dickory Rock 

Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

Three Cool Mice — Late Elementary (Grade 2) a minor 4/4

September 30, 2009 The idea for this piece had been in my head for a while. By now I was thinking the collection needed to explore new keys. So, a minor became the key of choice for the cool little mice. In the past year I had discovered how fun rests were. Rests aren't just nothing, they are something, silence that interplays with sound to create excitement. The rests in this piece are so important for feeling an internal rock groove. Does the rhythm on line three look too complicated? I considered different rhythms that looked easier, but the piece became really boring. While pop rhythms look complicated, they are easier to learn by rote because children are exposed to them daily, and have an ear for them. I was so happy there was room for an illustration on the page because of the sunglasses and cane theme. Blind or not, these mice are the essence of cool.


Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

London Bridge is Gettin' Down — Early Intermediate (Grade 4) G Major 2/4

August 18, 2009 My children also thought of London Bridge is Falling Down. The word 'down' intrigued me, because people 'get down' when they dance. Cape Bretoners, who love kitchen parties, say "gettin'." At the piano I sped it up and used the walking bass line common to piano accompaniments in Cape Breton fiddling. My ear always heard the chorus of Yankee Doodle following London Bridge. Rhythmically and melodically very similar, the two tunes are musically complimentary. I created this in a real hurry just before I visited Holly Carr. Late in September I actually wrote it down, with Newfoundland's well-known I's the B'y as the third tune, accompanied by the Scottish pedal bass, which sounds like bagpipes. The piece was now culturally well rounded, with British, American and Canadian tunes. The ending posed the biggest creative challenge. I wanted it to build as the tunes came together. It is a joke - picture the fiddler losing focus and playing London in the middle of Yankee where the notes and rhythms of the two are identical.

London Bridge is Gettin' Down 

Available as part of Old MacDonald had the Blues.

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