The composer of the month of May is…Elissa Milne!
Elissa Milne is a versatile teacher, composer, and clinician from Sydney, Australia. She has written music for the piano, organ, choir, as well as for musicals and chamber ensembles. She is most well-known for her educational piano pieces, and her compositions can be found in the syllabi of the examination boards around the world, including the Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM), Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), and Australian Music Exams Board (AMEB). She is also one of the administrators of the popular Facebook group for music teachers, “The Art of Piano Pedagogy”. I met Elissa at a conference in Baltimore, MD, where she gave a seminar on implementing a “40 piece challenge”. She found that by challenging students to learn 40 pieces a year, the students improved in their reading ability, listening, musicianship, memory and enthusiasm for learning. All of them made tremendous leaps in their progress compared to those who only learned a few pieces for an exam. This is one of the ideas that I plan to also implement in my studio next year! Here she is performing “Ninety-nine”, a duet from Pepperbox Jazz 2 (she is sitting on Diane Hidy’s left, so she is a little obscured here):
It is a challenge to choose just a few to highlight here, as her pieces are engaging, contemporary-sounding, musical, and students love playing them. Here are a few of my personal favourites:
Prep A: Smooth and Crunchy
Although found in Prep A, this is no easy task for beginners. One hand plays “smooth” (legato) while the other plays “crunchy” (staccato). Halfway through, the hands switch, although they both play the same notes. What a creative way to start learning hand independence!
Level 1: Lost from Little Peppers
At level 1, students can already start sounding quite impressive. This is a wonderful piece that teaches balanced, sensitive playing.
Level 3: Gone Too Soon from Pepperbox Jazz 1
Although this is written with chords in the left hand and a delicate melody in the right hand, it should never sound heavy. Start at 0:46:
Level 5: No Worries from Even More Little Peppers
This piece reminds of music from the ragtime era, with a jazzy syncopated melody, similar to “The Entertainer”. What a lovely tune:
Level 7: Foreign Correspondent from Pepperbox Jazz 2
What a cool, jazzy tune! Notice the legato fourths in the right hand, a challenge to play smoothly. Also, she incorporates syncopated rhythms throughout, which require careful attention. Below is a helpful tutorial for learning the notes and complex rhythms:
Elissa has many more compositions that I don’t list here. She also has a website here, with a few handy articles on important topics such as “15 Things You Need to Know About Supporting Your Child Learning To Play The Piano” and “10 Things You Should Do Before Your Child Begins Piano Lessons“.