When I was a young piano student, I always looked forward to the Christmas season because I knew that I would receive new Christmas solos from my piano teacher. Each year the pieces were a little harder, which was sometimes challenging. However, they were always a joy to practice and perform. Christmas is a fun time of year filled with events that create a lifetime of memories. I remember the huge Christmas tree at my grandparents’ house, homemade holiday treats, the reading of the Christmas story from the Bible, and, of course, Santa’s visit! But Christmas music was always the highlight for me and truly captured the spirit of the season.
In that spirit, I have written Grand Solos for Christmas, Books 1, 2 and 3 to provide a memorable Christmas experience for today’s students at the piano. These are pieces that will help them progress technically and musically. Book 1 contains arrangements at the early elementary level while the pieces in Book 2 are at the elementary level. Both Books 1 and 2 contain optional duet accompaniments. In the remainder of this article, I will focus on two favorites from Book 3, which are both at the late elementary level: “Deck the Halls” and “Ukrainian Bell Carol.”
“Deck the Halls” begins with a festive introduction that includes a left hand crossover in measures 1–6. (See #1 on the score) Make sure that students use finger 2 for the crossover to create a strong bell-like sound. Measures 5 and 6 are a bit trickier, requiring a stretch to F# on the second half of beat 2 with finger 5. (See #2 on the score) Also, note that the pedal holds for 2 measures at a time through measure 6. The tendency is to change the pedal every measure, but the extra dampening provides resonance for the ringing sound. (See #3 on the score) Measures 7 and 8 may require extra practice to play the G Major scale with the descending left hand movement. (See #4 on the score)
The main theme begins in the right hand at measure 8, but the melody moves to the left hand in measures 13 and 14. (See #5 on the score) The piece concludes with the same festive theme as the introduction, but with a decrescendo and poco rit. in measure 27.
Year after year, one of my students’ favorite Christmas pieces is the “Ukrainian Bell Carol,” found on page 20. This version begins with the familiar motive played pianissimo, but the dynamics change on every line. (See #1 on the score) Dynamics are an integral part of this piece, adding color and contrast to the repetitive themes. Review pedal changes with students since the damper pedal is down for the first four measures, but then varies throughout the remainder of the piece. (See #2 on the score)
Measures 13–16 have tricky left hand chord changes that should be practiced hands separately before playing with the melody. (See #3 on the score) Notice how the right hand changes fingers on the same notes in measures 22 and 24. (See #4 on the score) Also, isolate the right hand and practice the scale passages in measures 25–28. (See #5 on the score)
The added middle section in measures 33–48 expands the thematic material to include crossovers using the A minor, G Major and F Major triads. These crossovers may be somewhat challenging at the brisk tempo. (See #6 on the score) A hint of the bell motive appears in measure 45 leading back to the main theme in measure 49. The final page is very exciting, with scale passages and crossovers to end the piece with a flourish!
I hope you and your students will enjoy this collection to use at holiday recitals, nursing home performances, community events, or family fun.
Blessings to you this Christmas season!
Author, Arranger, Composer
Thank you for sharing your expertise of experiences on teaching these Christmas music pieces. They were very good teaching points.
Heather Whelan from Abingdon of Marylan
I enjoyed your mini Advent recital on YouTube. I am a piano teacher on Massachusetts, I have many of youR wonderful books. If the pieces you played are in print, could you please tell me the names of the books? Thank you so much!