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Exploring The 2014 ABRSM Flute Syllabus: Grades 6 and 7

By the time we reach this more advanced level, playing skills should be at the point where the choice of repertoire is based on stylistic considerations rather than technical ones. The 2014 ABRSM syllabus reflects this, with a myriad of pieces to choose from.

The good thing here is that most of the works are originals rather than arrangements. At Grade Six, List A is dominated by Baroque composers but the inclusion of a Walckiers Scherzo in the ABRSM book and a movement from a little-known concerto by Leopold Mozart further down the list means that you also have viable alternatives. The Walckiers in particular will be very popular despite its foray into E major for the lyrical trio, and the ‘bien rhythme et avec verve’ performance direction at the start gives you a flavour of its upbeat style. The Leopold Mozart Presto is similar and perhaps more tricky, but both pieces offer a refreshing change from the ‘there’s nowhere to take a breath’ dilemma. Perhaps the most interesting Baroque piece is actually in the unaccompanied section, again in the ABRSM book, with a sensitive arrangement by Trevor Wye of a Handel Allemande in C minor.

French music is well represented in the List B pieces of both grades. The wonderful Roussel Aria will have a much wider audience as it’s now in the book, and Caplet’s dreamy Reverie is available in The Flautist’s Collection Book 3, a lovely selection of music edited by Paul Edmund-Davies. These two pieces should be on everyone’s radar! For fans of Gaubert, the Sicilienne is still with us, and it is one of his most loved pieces. When bought together with the Madrigal, it represents a very good purchase.

List B opens up still further with two pieces by living artists. The American flautist and composer Gary Schocker is starting to gather a real fan base in the UK, and Spring Energy (or Heigh Ho) from Dances and Daydreams is typical of his quirky style. Here, strong rhythm, changing metre and unexpected harmonies give the almost-familiar melody a twist. Luckily the main theme keeps recurring in various guises to help with the technique, and the ending is suitably abrupt. Another contender for Best Piece of the Syllabus is And Everything is Still… by Andy Scott. Andy is really beginning to make a name for himself, and this is one gorgeous piece. Grab a copy now and enjoy the simple melody which ‘unravels alongside delicate harmonic statements, creating a calm and gentle atmosphere.

Sticking with living composers, Rob Buckland’s Charming Snakes in the ABRSM book will really appeal to those wanting to move away from the more traditional studies for the solo piece. The exotic writing contrasts a rhythmic dance-like figure with a flowing chromatic melody to produce a compelling piece that would stand up very well in a concert.

At Grade Seven, the ABRSM book may be less appropriate, as by now students often wish to purchase complete works. However, it does still have a part to play in introducing unusual repertoire at a reasonable cost. If you missed the Popp Sonatina in C last time round, here is another chance to savour its virtuosic flute writing. You need reasonable fingers for this, but everyone enjoys flashing around in an easy key! The Sonatina by the Dutch composer Jaap Geraedts is a gem – tuneful and rhythmic, with good ensemble skills essential for a successful performance. The charm of André Caplet’s Petite Valse is embodied in the rubato, where almost every bar changes speed. An excellent choice if you have already learned the Reverie at Grade Six, these two pieces together work well in a concert. The excellent With Life (also available in Russell Stokes’ book Tricky Jazz Singles) provides the best change of style for list C.

Away from the AB book there is an even broader range of genres. The pick of the Baroque choices on List A is possibly the B minor Sonata by Telemann. This is quite a dark work, and the two set fast movements have real technical challenges, especially as the writing is all in the lower registers of the flute. The other movements are not so hard, and playing the complete sonata is perfectly possible at this level.

If you prefer something sunnier, you might like to look at the Rondo from the Sonata in D major by the nineteenth century German composer Johann Wilms. This is a lively Allegro, with a spritely theme and a brief D minor interlude. Thirds and sixths abound in the duet style writing with the piano, which helps the ensemble, and the whole piece is very approachable, not to mention enjoyable!

Two works jump out from List B. The first is an absolutely delightful Nocturne by Lily Boulanger from a bargain of an album entitled Flute Music by Female Composers. Worth the money for this wonderful vignette alone, with its beguiling melody and simple accompaniment, this rather special book contains a range of material from the Baroque to contemporary works and will hold your interest for a very long time. Fujiko in Vocalise: Songs Without Words is another good piece by Andy Scott, this time in a more obvious jazz style. Its languid melody becomes ever more improvisatory without losing its melancholy and reflective feeling. Allthe pieces in this album, edited by Clare Southworth, have a song element but they are varied and well worth dipping in to.

Another alternative to the more traditional studies set for the solo list is the Polka from Dynamic Dances by Allen Vizzutti. If you have already used this book at Grade 5, you will appreciate the rhythmic drive of these pieces which evoke the character of the dance with a modern twist.

If you want to play the Kohler Study from Op 33, you might like to purchase the duet part published separately by IMC. This adds another layer of difficulty – performing the solo version will seem very easy by comparison!

These grades are important for a developing flute player and the need for variety as well as technical development has never been more acute. There is a great deal of interesting material here, which will make the task just a little easier.

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Exploring The 2014 ABRSM Flute Syllabus: Grades 1 to 3

ABRSM LogoThe publication of a new ABRSM syllabus is about as big an event as it gets in the publishing world these days, and having a piece set for grades 1-3 will generate a great deal of interest. The two parts of the 2014 listing (the AB books themselves and the extra set repertoire) will represent a large part of the material used by many flute teachers over the next few years, so it is fascinating to see what we have in store and how we can make it work for us.

The ABRSM books themselves provide a good range of styles for young players to experiment with.  The traditional Irish tunes set at Grades 1 and 2 provide a real finger workout, and Renaissance music makes a welcome appearance at Grade 2 with ‘Que je chatouille ta fossette’, attributed to Attaingnant. This piece appears in Music Through Time Volume 2, but is sure to be played much more often now. There is also a lovely arrangement of a Scarlatti Minuet at this level and a stunning Pergolesi song ‘Tre giorna son che Nina’ set at grade 3 which will need a musical player with a silky sound to perform it successfully.

A Flautist's CalendarThe neglected English composer Keith Amos is included at Grade 1 with ‘Lupin, the Pot-Bellied Pig’, a tuneful march sure to be very popular with younger players.  Grade 2 includes ‘February’s Rain’ from another over-looked book, ‘A Flautist’s Calendar‘  by Richard Kershaw. This is a contender for the loveliest piece set at any level, with a beguiling melody and flowing accompaniment.

There is also some rather obscure repertoire included, especially at Grade 3 where both the Claude Arrieu ‘Chanson de la Pasteur’ and David Gordon’s ‘Amazonian Mood’ will take some learning. If in doubt though, you can stay on safe ground with ‘Edelweiss’ at Grade 1!

The solo pieces have the usual mix of straight study, jazz, and simple tune. Highlights here are Nicky Iles’s ‘Jazz Waltz’ at Grade 1 which is a challenge to swing, and the enigmatic ‘Waltzlet’ by Mike Mower at Grade 2. My personal favourite though is Graham Lyons’s ‘Study in C’ which will keep your Grade 3 pupils happy – no key signature and a witty melody!

And what of the pieces that are not in the books? As this syllabus lasts until 2017 we will all surely need them. Luckily at these early levels it is possible to use the same alternative books for several grades, and these will obviously be the best place to start.

Harlequin Book 1Top of my list is ‘Harlequin’, an imaginative set of pieces put together by Simon Hunt and Cecilia McDowall. Harlequin Book 1 serves Grades 1, 2 and 3 and includes a CD which represents extremely good value. Composers used range from Daquin to McDowall herself, whose Grade 2 Circus Rag is not to be missed!

Another multi-purpose album is ‘Winner Scores All’ which appears at Grades 1 and 3. Here the flute part and accompaniment are sold separately and there will shortly be a CD playalong version too. ‘Truly Scrumptious’ set for Grade 1 is the main attraction, but both the Aria from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and a Grieg Norwegian Dance are tuneful alternatives for Grade 3. As with Harlequin, the repertoire is so varied that the book can be made to work really hard outside the exam environment as well.

Louise Chamberlain (aka Pam Wedgwood) has two pieces from her book ‘Step It Up!’ on the Grade 2 listing. Although both ‘Red Admiral’ and ‘King of Swing’ are jazz-based, this is a nice collection of tunes that most pupils will enjoy, especially as this CD has two speeds for each piece.

Hartbeat’ is an album worth buying for the cover alone! Paul Hart’s light style is already very popular and ‘Rainy Day in Paris’ will not disappoint you. This is the easiest piece in the book, and indeed ‘Lonely and Blue’ actually appears in the ABRSM Grade 4 book. Don’t let that put you off buying it though as there’s a wealth of good material here.

Globetrotters for FluteGlobetrotters’ is another interesting book that appears both in the Grade 1 ABRSM book and separately at Grade 3. Subtitled ‘12 pieces in styles from around the world’ and including a CD, both the Grade 1 ‘Guanabara Bay’ and the Grade 3 ‘Hole in my Shoe Blues’ have lyrics to help learning and a second flute part which really adds to the fun. This will prove to be a very popular book with developing players.

Two books from very well respected composers supplement the unaccompanied music lists. Philip Sparke’s ‘Skilful Studies’ and  James Rae’s ‘Style Workout’ provide interesting contrasts of style, with Sparke’s ‘Classical Theme’ at grade 2 being based almost entirely on a D major scale, whilst Rae’s ‘High Five’ at grade 3 is quite a  challenge. In 5/4 with some tricky rhythms, this will really test all round ability at this level.

However you choose your exam music, have fun and enjoy the new challenges it brings!