I've just finished writing Still Blue. I didn't set out to write a bluesy piece, but that's what came out. I was writing for Rich, who's returning to piano after many years doing other things.
I enjoy writing pieces for students of mine and their specific strengths and challenges. I far prefer writing for a real person than an imaginary student.
Rich is a stylish man who was even featured in Esquire magazine. He's a law professor, a profession not known for its stylishness, so that's even more amazing. He's also a writer, having published the highly acclaimed book The Race Card. ( But don't mix him up with the "other" Richard Ford, another famous writer.) Here's a picture from a few years ago of "my" Rich with his daughter who's now old enough to be starting piano lessons soon.
He's not a very advanced pianist, but I wanted him to have something to play that sounded cool and hip. I've been teaching him lots of Little Peppers by Elissa Milne. He especially liked a piece called Convertible, maybe because he drives one! Most of the pieces in Pepperbox Jazz are still too difficult for him.
When I write a new piece, I try to get it into reasonably good shape before I give it to a student. The first versions of this piece were messy and a hard to decipher, so I just played it for Rich to see if he liked it. He did! He was frustrated that he couldn't take a copy home with him immediately. I knew I was onto something. I gave him a version at his next lesson.
In the process of writing a piece, I teach it to lots of different kinds of students. Mady, age 10, is playing Still Blue right now. I'm giving it to Tasha, age 11, this afternoon. I listen to the mistakes they make. Whatever is natural is always a better choice, and if more than one person makes the same error I find a better way to communicate or change the measure. It's also fun for students to give their input and sometimes even see their influence in print.
I gave Still Blue to Leo as he was leaving his lesson a few weeks ago. When he came back, he'd transformed a few measures and completely made it his own. In fact, I liked the ending he created even better than the way I originally wrote it, so Leo's ending is now the "real" ending.
Take a look:
Recently I've begun including "Preparing to Play" pages for each of the solos I publish. They provide teachers a way to teach some of the skills required in the piece.
Here's Preparing to Play Still Blue.
Rich has already played Still Blue and moved on to harder things. That's the way it works. By the time the piece is ready for publication, it's dedicated to someone for whom it's too easy.
Still Blue is still Rich's piece. He inspired it and plays it as if it were written for him. Leo's contributions to the score makes it his own, too.