Rowcroft - African Dance
John Rowcroft is a contemporary British composer of music, much of it film and TV soundtracks.
This piece is taken from a collection in different styles. Its inspiration is the dancing found in the townships of South Africa.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This would suit a pupil with a strong sense of rhythm and movement. They would need to have large enough hands to play the LH chords and move between them securely and also to jump confidently from one hand position to another across the keyboard.
Style & Tempo
It is helpful to imagine the dancing that this music would accompany. Encourage your more physical and creative pupils to devise an actual routine which they could dance through accompanied by this piece.
The given tempo (crotchet=132) is fast although there is an editorial suggestion that crotchet=100 would be acceptable for a grade 1 performance.
However, the liveliness is all-important, as is a very clear sense of pulse and rhythm.
There is only one dynamic marking, given at the start of the piece. This should not be taken to mean that it needs to be carefully kept mf throughout.
Strong contrasts of dynamics are not needed but light and shade most certainly are. The phrasing and articulation will help towards achieving this.
Phrasing & Articulation
The phrases are clearly built from pairs of gestures into pairs of bars which build into 4-bar units throughout the piece.
If you have watched the dance on the video link you will see that each phrase could represent a new set of “moves” which would then be repeated.
The staccato crotchet which starts the piece and appears at the end of nearly every bar is clearly intended to be a unifying feature of the music – perhaps the dancers give a clap or a jump. Where there are homophonic chords in bars 11 and 15 this absence of the staccato crotchet emphasises the contrast of texture.
Tone & Texture
This piece is mainly melody with accompaniment, apart from bars 11 and 15 which moves block chords into a cadence with a plagal feel – a distinctively African sound.
The melody switches between the hands but fortunately the accompaniment is mostly static chords so there is no need to make adjustments to correct the balance.
Where there is a staccato chord at the end of the bar this gives extra emphasis, in the same way that some styles of music emphasise the backbeat.
This music calls for clarity and firmness of touch. The chords which form the basis right from the outset need to be played without weak or straggling notes, so work may be needed on the left 5th finger to ensure it can play its part equally.
The chords in bars 11 and 15 do not need attempted legato at this grade but neither should they be jerkily separate.
Bar 4, last beat: the given fingering 421 could be substituted by 531 for a small hand.
There are only four different chords in the left hand and five in the right hand.
Start by getting the pupil playing them confidently and recognising the difference between the F triads and the other chords (F in inversion and Bflat in its various versions).
F major is one of the set broken chords for grade 1 so you can link this exercise with the different inversions of the triad in this piece. It should not be too big a leap for the pupil to be guided into seeing how this works on a Bflat chord as well.
Encourage pupils to look and think ahead in this piece, where minims regularly provide breathing space for preparing the next move.
It is important to make all the movements from one chord to another confident and accurate. The feel of moving the R thumb on and off a black note (bars 9-12) needs to be smooth and not an occasion for fumbling. Practise moving the arm backwards and forwards to ensure the thumb is in position on time.
Having practised the hands separately in their different roles as melody or accompaniment, pay attention to making good (hesitation-free) joins and clear transitions between one role and another.
Putting the hands together will require a much slower tempo and an awareness of whether the tricky moments were just about achieved or were actually secure. A metronome will help to show up any places where the dance would be held up by a stumble in the music.
There are several places where fluency may break down, especially where accurate jumps are needed. “Can you get it right three times in a row?” is a good way to check that it really has been practised enough.
If there are problems with playing the chords, look for the notes which do not change and then trace now the other parts of each chord move. Use as many different ways as you can think of – how does it look on the keyboard, how does it feel to move the fingers, what is the expected sound, what is the name of the chord, and so on – find out which ways appeal most to your pupil’s way of remembering.
An Excellent performance will be not only lively, fluent and confident but also full of sunshine and cheerfulness. This is happy music and will really succeed where it leaves the listener smiling. Rhythms will be neat and consistent, with a real sense of phrasing. The lack of dynamic markings should not be apparent! Plenty of colour and contrast is welcome. A performer with an attitude of fun and enjoyment, even celebration, will lift this music.
A Good performance is secure and fluent in its rhythms and in the swapping of melody from hand to hand. There will be light and shade in the performer’s phrasing and dynamics. The sense of enjoyment, relaxation and a real dance should be apparent.
A sound performance may lack some of the freedom and creativity of the good or excellent performances. Nevertheless fluency will be vital, as will crispness of chord playing. Rhythms will be correctly interpreted and any stumbles will not be allowed to interrupt the flow. Within the mezzo-forte dynamic, there should be a clear sense of where the rhythm and articulation provide accents and contours.