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.
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.
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.
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.
from The Collaborative Piano Blog