Category Archives: Music Reviews

The Berry Basket: The Story of a Rescued Piano Book


One of the perks of having my own blog is that I can sit at my computer and ramble on about anything. Today, I’m going to tell you about a little out-of-print piano book I found on the internet.

I’m not sure what sent me to a site on Etsy that sold vintage ephemera, which is a fancy word for old printed collectables.  Somehow I found myself looking through a selection of used vintage piano books the shop was selling to cut up and use for crafts. How sad, I thought, that these old books, once lovingly handed to young children and toted back and forth to piano lessons with the hope that the children would fall in love with piano, are now reduced to being cut up for who knows what.

As I was looking and reminiscing, I came upon a 1953 piano book that looked so charming I had to take a close up look. It was named The Berry Basket, and it had the cutest vintage art on the cover. The seller had some pictures of the inside art (with no mention of the music), and I knew I had to get it.  The price was only $3.00 so I clicked the buy button. In a few days, there it was in the mail, saved from destruction and in the hands of someone who could appreciate it!

The book is written for beginners, and the first pieces are only 8 measures long, with sweet, vintage drawings on every page. Each little piece has simple, child-like lyrics.

I was happy to discover the music is in different 5-finger positions and keys. There are no C position pieces in the entire book!  The lyrics are very simple and childlike, back when young children were more innocent and didn’t know the questionable lyrics of today’s popular music.

Since this is a previously used book, there are markings from the teacher.

“Work out notes H.S. Don’t Guess.”  



Some things never change in piano!

According to the preface, the music and words were written by the Sisters of the Holy Cross attending a music workshop in Salt Lake City, conducted by Bernice Frost, a well-known composer of piano teaching music last century.

I wonder what Bernice Frost said in her workshop that inspired the Sisters of the Holy Cross to compose this music? The preface says the book offers, “… development in the basic requirements of elementary musical training. Foremost among these are ear-training, singing, keyboard range and feel, essential points of technic, and pianistic style.”  Maybe Bernice Frost gave them ideas of all the many things that can be done at a piano lesson besides just playing the music. I like to think so.

Maybe the child who used this book is now a piano teacher in his or her golden years, with hundreds of former students who love piano music! I like to think that, too!

The Berry Basket Published by J. Fischer Bros

The Berry Basket
Published by J. Fischer Bros



Filed under Music Reviews, Teaching Business

Giveaway: ‘Just Because It’s Halloween’ by Susan Paradis


You’re probably wondering why I’m posting about a Halloween piece in June. Well, I just got a package in my mail box and it is my new piece, published by Alfred Publishing! This was the first time I had seen the cover,  so you can imagine how exciting it was to open the package! Thank you, Alfred, for the cute cover! I can’t wait to show it to my students!

When I wrote this piece I was thinking about the first Halloween I can remember. I  was three years old,  just about a month before my 4th birthday. It was the first time I had a costume and was going “trick or treating.” My older cousin came walking in the room with his mask on, and it scared me to death! Then my very sweet aunt told me not to be scared, he had on the mask because it’s Halloween! So thankfully, I was not scarred for life and went on to have many fun Halloween nights. These days I get to re-live my childhood when I write Halloween music!

My favorite costume back then was my cowgirl costume, which probably really dates me! Anyone else remember Annie Oakley?

Just Because It’s Halloween is an elementary piece that is very easy to learn if students have some experience with skipping notes. Both hands are in the D minor 5-finger scale position and there are just enough finger numbers to help out if they are not used to that position.  This is a great piece to help a student who is having trouble playing out of middle C position. It a good piece to give a transfer student who needs something fun to work on while you get to know their skills.  There are words for singing along and a teacher duet that is easy enough for an intermediate sibling.

The first and last section feature staccato notes while the middle section is legato. There are plenty of opportunities for your students to add expression and imagination by using forte and piano and “stretching” the beat at the end of the B section.

This is hot off the press, so it’s not widely available yet. If you’re in the Dallas area, Nadine’s Music Manor is stocking it. In Houston, you can get it at Valentine’s House of Music and they also take online orders. I like to support local music stores if you are lucky enough to have one nearby. On the Alfred site, you can see a preview of the music and here is where it is listed on Amazon. Just Because It’s Halloween

To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below by Monday, July 7, 2014, at midnight CST telling me your favorite music store to buy Halloween music, either local or online! I’d love to hear from you!

The winner must have a U. S. address and will be randomly selected and announced  after the deadline.  The lucky winner will receive a copy of the sheet music in the mail!

(Comments are moderated, so your comment might not show up immediately.)

[The contest is over and the winner is Patricia in Tucson! Thank you to everyone who entered. I enjoyed reading about where everyone lives and where you buy your music. Thanks for all the congratulations, as I really appreciate all your kind words. This is the first give-away I’ve had on my site and it’s been a lot of fun for me!]



Filed under Halloween, Music Reviews

Tasty Tunes by Wendy Stevens



Wendy Stevens has a new book published by Willis Music Company and she shared a copy with me.  Tasty Tunes is an early to mid-elementary book with 10 original pieces all about food.  I know from personal experience that food is definitely one of the top topics for elementary age children. They love to talk about food and make jokes about different food combinations. So why not a music book all about food?

The idea is cute and  the cover is a beautiful color picture of French fries, but what about the music? Well, the music is very nice. There are appealing lyrics to most of the pieces. Children are going to enjoy reading the lyrics and talking about them. Lyrics are a great starting point for playing with style and artistry.  Also, at this level lyrics are used as a tool to learn the rhythm of a piece.

Some of the titles are Macaroni Pizza, Rock ‘n’Roll Rotini, A Pickle Sandwich, French Fries, Ice Cream, and 6 more. Wendy has several children, so I know she was was writing to appeal to them!

Each piece has a different musical style, from folk, to tango, and a rock/boogie sound. Many of the pieces have clever rhythmic ideas that make the melodies fun to play. As the book progresses, the music increases in difficulty, making the book work right along with a method book. I like the fact that several hand positions are included. Use this book with a student in the 2nd book (elementary, often called Book 1) of most method books, after the primer level. The music contains accidentals, all the notes on the grand staff, and no eighth notes.

Wendy has made a clever video to showcase the book. It’s here:

The thing about Wendy’s music is that it is always imaginative. It is hard to compose music appealing to students within the bounds their abilities, yet musically interesting. Wendy was able to accomplish this in Tasty Tunes. I think your elementary students will enjoy this book!

Tasty Tunes (6.99) is published by Willis Music and is available from your favorite music store.

You can visit Tasty Tunes on Wendy’s site to read more and see other places to buy this book.

[Disclosure: Wendy sent me a copy to preview. I am never compensated for my reviews, and the opinions are my own. I only review material I use with my own students.]

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Wendy Stevens’ Thanksgiving Prayer


Thanksgiving Prayer by Wendy Stevens

Are you looking for something musical your families can use for Thanksgiving?  What about a family performance for grandparents and relatives at Thanksgiving get-together? Well,Wendy Stevens has created something just for you.

She has written a Thanksgiving ensemble in her own special style called A Thanksgiving Prayer. I think most of us agree that there is just not enough Thanksgiving music around that modern students can relate to. Wendy took a lovely, child-friendly Thanksgiving poem and set it to a melody that students can sing and play. The multi-faith lyrics are appropriate for students of all religions.

When you buy A Thanksgiving Prayer, (very moderately priced at $2.99 for 9 pages, single use) you will receive an ensemble for piano, voice, and guitar. Wendy thoughtfully included several versions, all included for the same price, and this is quality, professional music.

The piano version is in the key of C. The right hand stays in middle C position and has mostly quarter notes. There are a few easy syncopated eighth notes that give it a modern sound. The left hand accompaniment has mostly half notes, starts in C position and then moves around slightly. There are a few simple flourishes that students will love and you can teach by rote if necessary. Only the white keys are used.

The second version that is included in the set is for piano and guitar. Guitar players who play chords such as Csus2 will be able to comfortably play this, but there are also guitar chord symbols if they need them.

The other version is for piano and easy guitar. These chords are easier, C, F, G, and Emin, and it also has chord symbols. I’m not that good on the guitar, but I can play this guitar version. I’m so glad it’s in C, so I can also play it on my autoharp, minus the Emin, which is missing on my autoharp.

Here’s another idea. Since the melody has a small range, students who are learning recorder in school can play the melody on their recorder, adding to the ensemble. I tried it with my recorder playing the melody only, and it was very charming.

Don’t be afraid to give this to older students in levels 3 and up if you’re going to use the ensemble version. This is a good opportunity for your older students to be the ensemble leader.  

There is not very much Thanksgiving music published that is about the real meaning of Thanksgiving. I am so happy Wendy has added this timeless and thoughtful addition to our holiday repertoire.  This music is available for single or studio license. The studio license allows you to print as many copies as you want.

You can read more about Thanksgiving Prayer and listen to Wendy sing and play it on her website. 






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