Review: Ukulele Ceilidh by Kevin Carroll

In the run up to St Patrick’s Day, I was looking for songs suitable for our “Fun with Ukulele” jam session at the local library in Dorchester, Massachusetts (part of Boston). St Patrick’s Day is celebrated like any other big holiday such as Christmas and Fourth of July in Boston. Coincidentally, Austin-based Kevin Carroll had just published “Ukulele Ceilidh: 18 Traditional Celtic Tunes arranged for Ukulele Session Playing.” The 67-page spiral-bound book is an amazing resource for the ukulele player.

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Transcribing songs for ukulele: September in the Rain

Very little original material has been written for the ukulele, compared to the piano and other instruments. As such, most of the music for the ukulele consists of transcriptions. The journey to make a song sheet work for ukulele groups to read and use is one of reducing and simplifying the musical material to its barebones. After interviewing various transcribers who share their song sheets online for my research, I now share my way of transcribing songs for the ukulele.

Continue reading “Transcribing songs for ukulele: September in the Rain”

Theme from the Titanic for Easy Piano and Flute

James Horner’s sudden death rocked the film music industry. Fans of the Titanic theme have arranged it easy versions for piano solo and other instruments, too.

Alex (piano) and Jason (flute). N. Virginia, June 1999.

The sudden news of the fatal plane crash of James Horner is rippling through the music and film industries. James R. Horner was a prolific composer of music for film.

As I discover piano transcriptions (also known as piano covers) of his music online, I am reminded that I, too, was once an obsessive fan.

I listened to the love theme from the Titanic over and over again until I configured an arrangement for flute and piano for my friends’ young sons in Northern Virginia in June 1999. Continue reading “Theme from the Titanic for Easy Piano and Flute”

Mother’s Day Concert

A few pieces from Anne Ku’s Mother’s Day Concert at Roselani Place, May 10, 2015

Preamble: Usually I blog about a themed concert either before or just after giving it. This year is the first time that I’ve managed to “stick around” to celebrate Mother’s Day on Maui. In addition to playing music relevant to this special day, I added a few pieces to entertain my 76-year old mother who was present in the audience.

Mother’s Day is celebrated on the second Sunday of each May. Anna Jarvis is credited for her effort to get US President Wilson to issue a proclamation to recognize this day. Shortly after giving this special concert at Roselani Place on May 10, I read that my friend Connie is related to Anna Jarvis. This made my research even more relevant!

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Quest for music: Peter Cottontail for Easter

How can a pianist get the sheet music to Peter Cottontail song for Easter Sunday lunch concert? Transcribe from video.

In preparation for Easter Sunday Lunch Concert on 24th April 2011, I asked the organizers for requests.

“Nice relaxing music, nothing too religious, maybe throw in Peter Cotton Tail Hoppin’ Down the Bunny Trail just for the fun of it!”

I have never heard of this song, much less know of any Easter songs. I asked a colleague if he has heard of it. The American father of four started humming the tune. Could it be a song that kids in the USA grow up with? A tradition even?

In my years of living in London and the Netherlands, this occasion is generally given to orchestras and choirs to perform Bach’s St John’s Passion or the Easter Oratorio or the Mass in B Minor. Usually at Easter, all the violinists I know are hired to play in orchestras. The opera Cavalleria Rusticana takes place on Easter Sunday. What else happens on Easter besides looking for painted eggs?

I googled “Peter CottonTail” and discovered a wealth of information on its creator, its history, the TV series,  a new movie, cartoons, and music. Peter Cottontail is the quintessential Easter Bunny. There are even articles on giving rabbits as an Easter gift! And he turns 40 years old this year.

But where is the sheet music for this song? How am I supposed to play it this Sunday in Kihei?

I went to the local public library. I flipped through a dozen songbooks. No sign of Peter Cottontail.

The sheet music is only available by purchase. Given the short lead time to Easter Sunday, I decided that the best thing to do is to transcribe from the audio version of this song — from Youtube.

Arranging Carmen for piano and guitar

At first, I split up a quatre-main (4-hands, one piano) duet into separate parts for a single guitar and piano. Then I noticed that the piano duet left out many wonderful melodies. To do Carmen justice, I opened the orchestra score, found those beloved themes and allocated them as I saw fit. What shall I call my arrangement? How about Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar?

Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo
Bekkers Piano Guitar Duo, photo credit: Serge van Empelen, Amsterdam

I borrowed the Dover edition of the orchestral version for Bizet’s Carmen opera months ago. The full score looked intimidating, a reminder of the arduous score reading exercises I had to do during my years at conservatory. And so the hard-back book laid on my piano unopened until I found free sheet music of piano solo and duet transcriptions on the Internet.

Eureka! I found a short cut.

It is possible to reduce orchestral music to piano and fewer instruments. It requires a lot more imagination the other way around.

At first, I split up a quatre-main (4-hands, one piano) duet into separate parts for a single guitar and piano. Then I noticed that the piano duet left out many wonderful melodies. To do Carmen justice, I opened the orchestra score, found those beloved themes and allocated them as I saw fit.

Dutch guitarist Robert Bekkers stopped me when he saw that I was giving the exciting parts to the piano. It reminded me of my own protests when he had given himself the interesting, virtuoso passages in his arrangements of Bach’s Badinerie, Chopin’s Piano Concerto in E minor, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and the Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba for our duo.

“I can do that!” he pointed to a chromatic run. “I love scales. Better, let us do it together!”

Now that’s a challenge — to play the fast notes completely in sync with each other! We do that quite a bit in Vivaldi’s Summer from his Four Seasons. I can have the guitar play exactly what I play in the same register or an octave apart. Or we can play a third apart.

“Give me big powerful chords,” he said. He wants to show off, but so do I. We’ll just have to take turns, I decided.

Robert also gave me advice. “To be safe, don’t give the guitar more than two voices at a time.”

Bizet’s opera was set in Seville, Spain where we had visited in April 2009 for a gypsy flamenco project. I remember the flamenco rhythms and the percussive nature of such exotic music. Arranging Carmen brought back memories of that week as well as my visit to the Netherlands Opera production of Carmen at the end of the Holland Festival in Amsterdam.

Technically speaking, the piano and the guitar can replace 16 single-note instruments: 10 fingers on the piano plus 6 strings of the guitar. If we add our feet and elbows, then we can do even more. I love sound of the guitar being used as a percussive instrument. Can I do the same on the piano? Or would I need drumsticks?

What shall I call my arrangement? There are numerous Carmen Suites and Carmen Fantasies on Naxos CD Online and youtube. Mine is not a suite or a fantasy. A suite is structured — mine is a medley of various sticky tunes, and yet it’s more than a medley. A fantasy would require a lot more imagination, dedication, and virtuosity. I want it to be fun and interesting, not like some of the 19th century arrangements of popular opera themes for guitar and piano.

How about Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar? Coincidentally when I google “Carmen Potpourri” I find our piano guitar duo website and this blog. Maybe that’s what it should be called: Carmen Potpourri for piano and guitar.