Wendy Stevens the creative teacher from ComposeCreate has a new book, hot off the press, called American Portraits, Six Character Pieces for Piano Solo. The premise of this book is original. Wendy chose 6 people from American history, unsung heroes as she writes in the preface, and wrote a piece about each of them. I love history and I am actually certified to teach it, so I was immediately intrigued by this book and rushed down to the Hal Leonard booth at TMTA and bought a copy. I am glad that I did, because I have been enjoying playing through the book and getting to know the pieces.
The music is late intermediate level. As I played, I tried to imagine the historical figures and what they must have gone through, and the courage and inner strength they must have had. The music expresses this and it is easy to get lost in the music and just enjoy the imagery.
The music has interesting but beautiful harmonic shifts and some syncopated rhythms that will delight your students. There is a contemporary feel, and the music has lovely melodies that are sometimes haunting, sometimes playful, but always heroic and larger than life, like the heroes she is writing about. Each piece is about 4 pages and can be played by students with small hands on the small side.
The character sketches include Abigail Adams, Davy Crocket, the artist Thomas Moran, Harriet Tubman of the Underground Railroad, the midnight riders of revolutionary times, and pioneer women. There is an entire page of a picture and insightful biography before each piece.
There is also a page of performance notes that describe each piece. For example, in Frontier Chorus, the piece about Davy Crocket, Wendy begins, “The melody in the A section begins like one I would imagine Davy Crockett whistling on a clear, crisp morning.” These performance notes will help your students capture the spirit of these American heroes and learn something about style and imagery. Hal Leonard is certainly to be commended for including these extra pages that make the pieces come to life. Hal Leonard also has posted some pages from the book.
In our local schools there is a history fair each year, and I think this book would be a great starting point to choose a project. This would also be a good book for students who are looking for a home school project. I hope some of the teachers and parents reading this will consider working this book into their students’ history curriculum if the student is capable of late intermediate music. Another suggestion would be for a teacher to discuss and perform these as a mini-recital in a history class, a history club, or at a senior center. Teachers could even have a student recital with a “hero” or historical American theme. If you have any suggestions for other music with this theme, please post in the comments to share with others.