Item Number: PE.PREPE069
One of my favourite teaching resources, and probably one of yours, is the kind of book that features a collection of pieces from a variety of composers a publication that appeals, by image as well as sound, to a broad range of students, even those with the most obstructive attitude problem; something that sparks the imagination without sacrificing musical integrity.
Firestarters Volumes 1 & 2 are a collection of works recital pieces by contemporary New Zealand and Australian composers that do more than just spark: they positively ignite with the exuberance of a pyromaniac in a pine forest. Publishers Promethean Editions have, with uncanny instinct, identified what it takes to a appeal to teacher, student, die-hard romantic and contemporary purist.
Firestarters 1, published in 2002, is a collection of 14 miniatures for solo piano aimed at performers of approximately Grade 5 to Grade 8 level. There is much tenderness in the opening Love Songs of Gareth Farr, and the familiarity of the language will suit students who are new to contemporary music. And who could resist Anthony Ritchie's directions in Four Poems of Spring, to play 'Delicately, but with bite', 'with great elation, or 'with ridicule?
Contemporary repertoire is a wonderful hunting ground for rhythmic challenges and there are plenty of brain teasers in this collection, but they are not insurmountable for students at this level. Australian Stuart Greenbaum achieves the right balance of simplicity and complexity in Time Lapse Photograph, pitching a minimalist left hand part against irregular rhythms in the right.
Firestarters 2, billed as '7 New Recital Pieces for Piano', was published three years later in 2005 and is recommended for pianists of Approximately Grade 8 to Diploma level. These works are larger-scale and more technically demanding than the first set, but still hold immediate appeal. At this level, students should have the confidence to step outside the square, and they can do just this in the beautifully logical yet un-metered Torrent by Penelope Axtens. Australian composer James Ledger grants freedom of a different kind when he juxtaposes improvisation with strict notation in Waiting for the Lights to Change.
Both books come with detailed notes on the composers, and pieces that illuminate rather than alienate, in part thanks to the inclusion of comments from the composers themselves. The luxury of direct and specific communication from composer to performer eliminates some of the guesswork around interpretation, and gives something, and someone, to relate to a good hook for that student with an attitude problem.
The books also come with CD recordings of the pieces. Wellington pianist Emma Sayers (courtesy of Massey University, Wellington) performs all but one track with her usual sensitivity, and Michael Houstoun (courtesy of Trust Records) makes a brief but welcome appearance in Firestarters 2, playing John Psathas Waiting for the Aeroplane.
The sensuous cover photographs promise beauty within and this promise is upheld from cover to cover. Firestarters avoids the common pitfall of collections that mix superior works with the mediocre and there is not one among them that I wouldn't want to teach, play or listen to.
Catherine Martin, Ritmico (Journal of the Institute of Registered Music Teachers of New Zealand), no.73, March 2006.