Joanna MacGregor is a great advocate of contemporary music. Her new series for tyro pianists has something of the same adventurousness and controlled wildness as her performance in the concert hall. Each of the three books is a riotous explosion of colours and cartoon-like images, in which adults are more likely to be bewildered than children in their search for musical goodies.
The CDs provide stories of knockabout adventure within which the music lessons are set. Characters such as Ned, Grumper, the Scherzo Sisters and Crash Harry, complete with radio comedy voices, ersuade young learners of the need to save pianos from the fate of silence, to find out the many sounds that lie inside them and to travel the world on a stream of music.
They introduce some rigorous finger-work, interspersed with opportunities for children to improvise, to accompany their teachers with melodic lines and to listen to some fairly awful jokes. By the end of Book 1, they are switching time signatures within a piece, knocking on the piano lid to mark rhythmic patterns and wrapping their hands round some fat tone clusters. By the end of Book 3 they have met a little bit of Mozart and Beethoven, strutted some ragtime, and picked up solid keyboard skills amid the fun and games.