Adult students who are advanced beginners need attainable piano repertoire. So I was happy to review Piano Accents: Latin America, a new piano book of nine songs arranged and composed by Neeki Bey and Gail Fischler. The book is part of the Piano Accents emerging series of music from around the world. Already published is a book of music from Africa. Accessible and yet intelligent piano repertoire, Piano Accents: Latin America exposes the advanced beginner to popular and folk music from the region.
Neeki Bey and Gail Fischler joined me for this interview exclusive to GRAND PIANO PASSION™.
Tell us about the inspiration for Piano Accents: Latin America.
Neeki: People from around the world both love and study the piano, yet the materials that are easily available often are not globally minded. Like my Africa book, Latin America provides an opportunity for Latin Americans to study the music of their cultures on piano. Also, the book provides a familiar yet fun way for people from other cultures to open a window.
I’m thinking that older teen students and adult students will appreciate the music and the cultural context.
Gail: Adults have more world experience than most kids. Some have traveled extensively, some are armchair travelers, and some just love all kinds of music. In the case of one of my students, her grandmother and mother spent time as missionaries in South America. They were tickled pink to have arrangements that brought that experience back to them.
Neeki: Studying music from other cultures expands our understanding, connects us to our neighbors and colleagues, and helps to make the “other” real. In terms of piano proficiency, it introduces adults to different sounds and styles of playing, which serves to develop their piano technique, in a fun way.
How difficult is the music in Piano Accents: Latin America?
Gail: We both felt quite strongly that it would be a mistake to simplify any piece so much that it lost its character just to attain a certain difficulty level rating. We truly tried to keep the essence of each song in these arrangements. So, the pieces range in level from about 2A to 3B. It has actually turned out great because students don’t get bored halfway through the book.
I liked how you included downloadable MP3s.
Gail: Listening is an important part of learning popular music. In Piano Accents: Latin America, most of the songs are in a popular style. Historically, they were played first and written out fully later. Often when adults try to play an arrangement of a popular song, they end up disappointed, either because it didn’t give them the essence of the rhythm or because the rhythmic notation was too complicated to work out. For our arrangements, we chose to keep the rhythm simple where possible and to make listening a central part of the learning.
Neeki: I would add that our goal with accompanying soundtracks was to create a simple way to help focus learning, particularly with sounds that may be unfamiliar to students and teachers. It’s important to know what success sounds like.
How did you record the soundtracks? They don’t sound like an acoustic piano.
Neeki: It’s a combination of keyboard sounds, computer-based sound samples, and live instruments. I play piano, guitar, violin, and hand percussion, and sing too. Many of the sounds on the practice tracks are my playing. Most of the drums on Latin America are live.
For each song, you also have accompanying notes, which I found helpful.
Gail: Yes, Kristin Yost and I chose three to four points for each song: Flip on the Track, Feel the Groove, Find the Articulation, and Bonus. (Actually, we included an Extra Challenge in “Sunrise Over the Mountain,” which makes five for that one!) This format keeps the focus on the song and still provides important guidance. Of course, we couldn’t resist adding an extra few interesting facts along the way! Kristin Yost, by the way, is the Executive Director of the Centre for Musical Minds.
What’s next in Piano Accents?
Neeki: Bollywood songs. I am releasing these pieces first as single downloads, of which the first two, “Tere Liye” and “Main Yahaan Hoon,” are available on pianoaccents.com now. Later this spring I will release them as one collection. These Bollywood sounds are so beautiful and enchanting. I am loving the process of discovering and arranging this music.
Gail: I would add that I was inspired recently at a Japanese wedding reception by Taiko Drums and I am off and running on pieces for an Asian volume.