Back in May 2017, I spotted an article on Andrew Eales's website Pianodao that immediately caught my attention as it is similar in intention to something that I have been doing with my pupils for years. During the summer term of each year we would usually review the repertoire learnt and choose a favourite or two to revisit, record and share by uploading to soundcloud. It enabled pupils to review their progress, re-engage with music they particularly enjoyed and very importantly share it with other pupils, family and friends.
Whilst reading the article, I was struck but the value of including favourite pieces all year round as a natural part of my pupils learning - of always having an "active repertoire". So, in Autumn term, I began by emailing parents and pupils a link to the article and a brief outline of how it would work in lessons. I printed off the excellent pdf included in the article and pupils began to fill it in. Over the course of the term, pupils played one piece (or more, depending on how many they had chosen), not in every lesson but every couple of weeks or so. This gave time for pupils to improve fluency or memorisation or consider interpretation.
The appeal for me is on various fronts. The goal that all pupils should have a selection of loved, fluent music to play at any given time is wonderful and achievable! Throughout my teaching career there have been many times when pieces are put aside and forgotten. The focus is so firmly on what is new, making progress and moving forward. Unfortunately, this implies leaving something behind - it really doesn't need to be that way and shouldn't be that way. The Active Repertoire project encourages a celebration of the whole learning journey, not just what is the newest or latest piece. The other appeal lies in the fact that it is within the pupils control - it is their choice of pieces, without any judgement from me or any limitations. There is no specific time limit, it is something that is ongoing, with the scope to rewrite or enlarge the list with new pieces.
As we headed towards the end of Autumn term, I decided to add the goal of recording and uploading pieces to a dedicated playlist on soundcloud.
The intention of recording was not to create a time limit, unlike working towards an exam or a recital. It was to create a focus, keep a record of progress, provide a sense of achievement and hopefully inspire each other. Not everyone contributed to the list - pupils chose to if they felt they were ready. They will have opportunities throughout the coming year to contribute or add a new piece.
One lovely consequence of this, was the recording by Lucy who played "Thinking about You", which she composed, performed and sung herself. This caught her parents completely by surprise as they were unaware of her talents or quite what she'd been up to until I sent a link to the recording! Another was Max, who only began lessons with me during Autumn term, but took the plunge and played and sung one of his favourite songs.
As the new term began this week, my very first pupil came through the door with her Active Repertoire sheet on top of her pile of music books. She'd spent the Christmas break practising, improving memory and fluency and was keen to share the results! The lesson began with a lovely mini-recital, which was such a "feel-good" and tension free way to begin! Later, a pupil who had been polishing one of her pieces asked if we could record next week. Another came in, immediately sat down and without hesitation played through one of her pieces to wam-up up and settle down. It has been a very positive start to the new term indeed.
A final note - although the project and recordings are primarily to benefit my pupils, their learning and musicianship, I find that listening to my pupils pieces, whether it be the recordings or during lessons is hugely reaffirming of my role as a teacher and gives me immense pleasure!
Alison is a classical pianist, teacher, and composer running a thriving piano studio in Surrey, South East of England.