Sunday, July 05, 2015

10 Things You Need to Know About the 2015 Royal Conservatory Celebration Series and Piano Syllabus


Every seven to eight years, The Royal Conservatory revises their materials for their Celebration Series and Piano Syllabus, which provides the teaching materials for thousands of teachers and their students across North America. These books also provide the foundation of The Royal Conservatory's enormously popular examination system in Canada and the United States. The last revision of the series happened in 2008, so 2015 is the year that the materials are due for reissue in revised form.

But this time it’s different.

Much different. Rather than a small, incremental change, the 2015 Celebration Series is a compete reboot of the series, with a huge amount of new and innovative material. Starting in 2010, hundreds of teachers were contacted for their input regarding how the 2008 Piano Syllabus could be improved in the next edition. In 2013, the RCM initiated a call for submissions for repertoire to be included in the new syllabus and Celebration Series. As a member of the repertoire committee, we personally went through over 600 piano works for inclusion in both the syllabus and repertoire/etude books.

A considerable number of compilers and reviewers were assembled, resulting in over 40 sequenced books of repertoire, etudes, technique, and musicianship skills. I was involved with multiple aspects of this huge project, so I can appreciate the immense amount of writing, reviewing, coordination, negotiation, design, and editing that went into such a huge series. Now that the series has finally come out, I'm proud to have been a part of this initiative, which represents the input of literally hundreds of teachers and composers across North America.

If you’re teaching with the RCM system, here are some of the key changes that you need to know about:

1. There are both book and online version of the syllabus. We all work in different ways. Therefore, teachers will have the option of either using the syllabus in book form or as a PDF file.

2. A huge number of new selections have been chosen for the repertoire and etude books of the Celebration Series. There are 22 books of repertoire and etudes in the series, which have been meticulously chosen, levelled, and sequenced for both enjoyment and pedagogical value. The 486 works in the series consist of around 75% new selections, taken from composers from around the globe, including a significant number of Canadian and American composers. You'll also see a huge number of works by living composers - this aspect in particular has always been dear to my heart as a musician, and I'm glad to see the works of so many active composers included from around the world.

In addition, the repertoire lists in the Piano Syllabus contains a huge number of repertoire selections that can be chosen for exams that aren't found in the official repertoire books. Take a look through the rep lists for each level - you'll find a lot of gems.

20063167 look inside Celebration Series: Piano Repertoire 1 (2015 Edition). Composed by The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. For piano. This edition: 2015 edition. Celebration Series!. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th century and 21st century. Elementary (Level 1). Method book & listening CD. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.C5R01).

3. All the recordings are brand new. Over the course of several months, pianists such as Michael Esch, Robert Kortgaard, Janet Lopinski, Lang Ning Liu, Peter Longworth, Benjamin Smith, Li Wang, and Dianne Werner assembled in the studio of legendary producer Anton Kwiatkowski to record all the repertoire and etudes in all levels of the series. As Artistic Consultant, I had to ensure that all of the pianists adhered to a high level of artistry while maintaining complete faithfulness to the score. This will ensure that pianists learning the repertoire will always have a reference-quality recording to listen to while learning the music.

Important note: if you buy the first edition of the 2015 Celebration Series currently in stock, you will receive both the compact disc and a download code for the recordings. The reason for this is that CDs are rapidly becoming obsolete, and many young students aren't exactly sure what CDs are for or where to put them. After the first edition is sold out, all subsequent editions of the 2015 series will only include download codes.

4. Technical Requirements are streamlined.  One of the main complaints about the 2008 technical requirements was that they were too complex and arcane (Grades 4 and 7 in particular come to mind). With the new series, the RCM listened, and the technical requirements are now streamlined into a much more effective sequencing. In addition,  the technical requirement books now have sections on Understanding Keys and Patterns, Practice Tips, Keyboard Theory Activities, and Looking Ahead in addition to the full requirements. There's even a progress chart at the back of each book so that students can keep track of their skill development.

18354952 look inside Technical Requirements for Piano: Book 3 Composed by The Royal Conservatory Music Development Program. For piano. Technical Requirements for Piano. Technique. Early Intermediate (Level 3). Book. 16 pages. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.TEC03U).

5. Ear Training materials and requirements are revised. The changes to ear tests for 2015 are numerous. The clapback exercises from Preparatory A through Level 4 now require the teacher or examiner to identify the time signature and count in one measure before beginning the example. Intervals are also presented differently at different levels: ascending and descending from Levels 1 to 4, melodic ascending or descending and harmonic from Levels 5 through 9, and melodic or harmonic, ascending or descending at Level 10 (which now includes the major and minor 9th). Chord identification is now introduced at the Preparatory Level, and the sequencing of chord identification is considerably different. Cadences have been replaced with chord progressions, with specific chord progression options from Level 5 onwards. For more specific information, please consult the 2015 Piano Syllabus.

6. Sight Reading materials and requirements are revised. The philosophy of Boris Berlin's original Four Star books was that the craft of sight reading is a teachable skill, and that its component visual, aural, tactile, and analytical skills could be taught. The new Four Star books stay faithful to the original philosophy, with several changes. Sight clapping exercises now will require that you tap a steady beat for one measure before clapping or tapping the actual rhythm. In addition, sight reading examples at Level 5 and above are now presented as a single example, with a boxed subset of the entire selection acting as the rhythmic example.

7. Online ear training is now available for each level of the Four Star books. Here's how you access it: when you purchase a Four Star book, look on the inside back cover - there will be a unique code that you enter at the website listed below it (one for Canada, one for the US, but offering identical content). That code will enable you to access the online ear training content that corresponds to that level's ear training requirements. One of the genuine benefits of the online ear training is that they are all played on a grand piano in a recording studio, by a human (namely, me). Having genuine and aesthetically pleasing acoustic samples will be immeasurably better for students' aural development compared to the relatively tasteless MIDI samples to be found on most ear training apps for the iPad.

20063162 look inside Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests Level 7 Composed by Boris Berlin and Andrew Markow. Edited by Laura Beauchamp-Williamson. For piano. Ear Training. Four Star Sight Reading and Ear Tests. Intermediate (Level 7). Book and online audio. Published by The Frederick Harris Music Company (FH.4S07).

8. The substitution policy is expanded. One of the important things that we learned through the development process of the syllabus is that teachers want flexibility to assign students material that they believe is both fun and has pedagogical value. With that aim in mind, substitution policies are considerably different, and allow for Syllabus, Teacher's Choice, and Popular Selection substitutions from Levels 1-10. For more specific information, please consult the Substitutions Summary on page 10 of the 2015 Piano Syllabus.

9. There are small changes to the marking scheme for most levels. To reflect the changing priorities of the repertoire, the mark totals for some grades are slightly different. From Levels 1-7, the current 18-18-14 repertoire marking scheme will now be 16-18-16. Levels 8-9 repertoire marks will change from 16-16-12-12 to 14-16-14-12. Memory marks for Preparatory levels will be in line with levels 1-7: 2 marks each up to a maximum of 6 marks for playing from memory. Memory mark deductions for Levels 8-10 will now be 1 mark each (as opposed to 1.5 marks for Lists A and B in the 2008 Syllabus). For more information, the 2015 Piano Syllabus is your best resource.

10. There is a cross-over policy that is in effect from now until August 31, 2016. The cross-over plan this time around is different than in previous years. From now until August 31, 2015, students can freely mix and match from the 2008 and 2015 repertoire and etude books. From September 1, 2015 until August 31, 2016, some elements will immediately move to the 2015 Syllabus, while others will be in a cross-over period. Your best bet is to look at the specifics of the RCM's official cross-over plan to ensure that you're preparing the correct elements for upcoming examinations.

Stay tuned for more follow-up articles that dive more deeply into the details of the 2015 Celebration Series and Piano Syllabus. I'm honored to have been asked to participate in so many facets of this enormous project, and I look forward to hearing how students across North America progress with this new method over the coming years! If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I would be glad to get back to you either on the blog or on the Collaborative Piano Blog Facebook page.






18 comments:

  1. If the 2015 Syllabus is available as a *searchable* PDF, I will be a very, very happy customer.

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    1. Toto, it's easy to search a PDF. You can do it either from a document reader or directly from your browser. On a Mac, simply type Command-F to call up the search box.

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  2. Anonymous7:38 PM

    But they lost the beautiful artwork on the front cover :( Why?

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Anon! I suppose that the folks at FHM decided to go with a piano-themed cover design rather than an art-themed one.

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  3. I am so disappointed that they no longer introduce the title and composer on the recordings. It was too bad that they also did not put Canadian flags beside the names of Canadian composers (and American flags beside American composers). That would have been appreciated!

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  4. God, I hope the marking is a bit lenient during the transition ... some of the ear training directions were NOT super clear and I was super not happy about it. I can't remember specifically .... when I'm back from holidays I'm sure I'll find it and complain properly then. Hahahah

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  5. Do they no longer have the accompanying workbooks? I loved those! Looks like some good updates through the whole series.

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    1. There will be some pedagogical information, but it will be offered as part of the Teacher Certification Program!

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  6. Did they have to get rid of the artwork?!? That was my favorite part :(

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    1. Alas, no artwork this time around....

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  7. I am liking the changes I've seen so far! Do you know when they're slated to release a new Piano Handbook for Teachers that reflects the new syllabus?

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    1. There won't be a handbook per se, but there will be plenty of teaching articles and resources as part of the RCM's new Teacher Certification Program.

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  8. As a teacher in the UK, I like your books but the cost is prohibitive due to postage, so if they become available as PDFs I'll be ecstatic. Will the Four star series so be available in PDFs form?

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  9. Just realised I misunderstood. Very sad that there's no cost effective way for students in the UK to purchase your books ��

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    1. Thanks for the comment Sue! Sheet Music Plus does international deliveries, and you can also check out the Frederick Harris online store - with the weakness of the Canadian dollar these days, the difference in exchange rate might make up for the VAT. Contact me at the link near the top of the page if you need more info and I can put you in touch with someone at Frederick Harris Music.

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  10. The new 4 STAR books... ear training are very confusing. It says to do and ear test at the end of each day but not specification of which exercises to do.... kids are finding them very confusing. When you record yourself clapping back.... how do you know if you got it right or wrong? same with the playing back. I am not too happy with the books and the fact of entering a CODE, i believe it is a way to force each student to buy the book, can't be shared.... I think is a money grab.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Neens! Unfortunately, the technology to record the student's clapback and determine whether it is right or wrong isn't available, but I presume it may be in the works in the next few years...

      As for the code at the back of the book, I strongly feel that a student's work should be private and NOT shared between student accounts. That is part of the reason that a code can only be entered once. However, I think that it's still a spectacular deal for the Four Star book and online ear training. Many companies are charge over $10 per month for ear training solutions that have much less breadth, quality, and pedagogical value than what the RCM is offering for a single price.

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  11. Creating a Teacher Handbook is part and parcel of all good educational series. Why the Conservatory has not done this is really questionable. Teachers should not have to sign up for a certification program in order to have this information at hand. Hope the Conservatory will re-think this course of action they have taken, apparently for monetary reasons.

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