Hold - Quajira
The title of this piece is a variant spelling of Guajira, originally a form of Cuban peasant music (Musica campesina).
It would switch between major and minor keys in the course of the song, which would have lyrics relating to countryside themes. Traditionally it would be sung by a single voice to a guitar accompaniment. The mixture of ¾ and 6/8 time is typical.
There is also a style of Spanish flamenco with the same name but that is not the style intended here.
The composer, Trevor Hold, who died in 2004, strongly believed in supporting music in local communities, and was a noted specialist in the traditions of English song. It is not surprising to find him taking an interest in the local music of other countries.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This will suit a student who enjoys exploring the sound of other cultures.
If they have genuine difficulty coping with the alternating time signatures it may be best to steer them into something more straightforward, however, many students have no difficulty once it has been demonstrated in a way that fits their learning style (see Teacher Strategies).
They will need to have large enough hands to span, or accurately jump, octaves in the both hands.
Confidence and fluency in a lively style will be needed for a good performance.
A good grasp of staccato technique is essential, at least by the time of performance!
However, this piece is not only good for the lively and energetic student – it would also suit those with an interest in more lyrical styles, who can imagine how the right hand lines might be interpreted by a different instrument.
Style & Tempo
The main feature of this piece is the alternating 3/4 and 6/8 beat structure, coupled with a recurring 2-bar left hand pattern.
Once established, any change to this pattern is a strong musical signal to the listener (e.g. bars 12-18 where the harmony also changes and the music modulates).
The style definitely favours the rustic over the elegant. However, this is not an effect achieved by lack of attention to detail!
Phrasing & Articulation
Phrasing is an interesting mixture of the repetitive 2 bar LH figure and the longer RH lines which very clearly fall into two 8-bar periods followed by two more of 9 bars.
For the listener, significant patterns are formed by the interplay of long notes and bars of simultaneous staccato quavers which disrupt any sense of cosy regularity.
Having pointed out the vocal origins of this style, it has to be said that the melody over the top is in an instrumental rather than a vocal idiom, with some rather unsingable intervals. It may be helpful to think of a guitar duet or a pair of wind instruments (the bass line can easily be imagined on a bassoon).
Thinking in terms of wind instruments will help with phrasing, where the long notes would require a momentary easing of the quaver movement to allow for a breath.
Tone & Texture
The tone is clear and confident, with the articulation and accent pattern giving it most of its character.
There is a longer or tied note in most phrases which will need to be given a good singing tone with arm weight, to ensure it carries through the accompaniment.
Although the texture looks contrapuntal, it is in fact a melodic right hand over an accompanying left hand. There are a few block chords at cadence points. Variety is provided by the tied notes held over staccato accompaniment, so the music does not sound dry.
This is an excellent piece for developing a versatile staccato technique.
As noted under “Articulation” there are several different staccato touches required.
Staccato can cover a multitude of unorthodox fingerings!
However, it is very important, in a piece like this where coordination is crucial, for the student to adopt consistent fingerings.
There is no place for the type of note-grabbing necessary in sight reading. Having said that, there is no need to insist on the printed fingerings if the student prefers something else.
To ensure the student is comfortable with the two time signatures, work within their learning style (visual/looking, aural/listening, kinaesthetic/moving). Simply clapping it (emphasising the accents) and letting them copy you may be enough to get them on the right track.
If you sense difficulty, try one of the following strategies:
• Clapping the rhythm whilst counting 6 quavers in each bar.
• Tapping quavers with the right hand and playing or tapping the rhythm in the LH.
• Saying aloud very steadily “One and two and three and One and a two and a” – as they get used to saying the words over and over, encourage them to hear and feel the difference between one bar’s and the other’s main beats.
• Getting them to beat time in three and two. This could follow on from any of the previous exercises. Play along to ensure that they do not make the beats equal and turn it into 5/4!
• For kinaesthetic learners, get them to play along with you, matching your movements and exaggerating the accents
• Words – nonsense syllables (e.g. nah nah nah diggery diggery) or something suitably clear in syllable length (e.g. “Three fine geese” for the crotchets and “Cat in a catapult” for the quavers). Use Kodaly time names (e.g. Ta ta ta tri-o-la tri-o-la) if that is part of your method.
• Visual learners with a scientific bent may appreciate a diagram of how the three crotchets/dotted crotchets map on to the six quavers
Some bars are much easier than others to play – allow yourself time and space to work slowly on the ones that are trickier such as 4, 8, 20 and 22. In these bars, both hands play quavers and the patterns do not match between the hands. This should be taken slowly and always with consistent fingering.
Wherever it feels uncomfortable to keep going steadily, take a smaller chunk and repeat it until it feels better. Aim to end each “chunk” on a strong beat so that the music will flow from beat to beat without hesitation.
It is easy to become lulled into a repeating pattern and then trip up when it changes, as at LH bar 12.
As soon as the main pattern is comfortable, work on the variants to make them just as confident and easy to place. Encourage students to move early to new hand positions wherever possible. Many are not aware of, and have therefore not practised, what happens between the notes they play.
The better they know their scales and arpeggios, the fewer problems this can cause, as a well-drilled set of muscles will make the right moves (although it does not guarantee the right sound!) but jumping can often be problematic.
In most cases they will look at the hand they are about to move and the note(s) they wish to go to (to take aim). If this is left too late or there is uncertainty, hesitations and/or mistakes will be hard to eradicate. Where there is the luxury of a rest (bars 15,16, 27, 30, 31), have the student work out the best moment to make the move and practise making it consistently at that point and no other.
An Excellent performance would be like a breath of sunny Cuban countryside air. It would combine clear and crisp staccato with skilfully placed shifts in accent to give an impression of effortless mastery of something quite complex. The left hand would support a lively variety of RH articulations and the RH lines would alternate between long notes and staccato with something approaching exuberance. Dynamics and phrasing would provide light and shade and the fluctuations in dynamics and tempo before the end would prepare the listener for a good-humoured send-off in the last six bars.
A Good performance would show all the technical security of an excellent performance, with rather less of the character and warmth. The tenuto and accented notes would be different from the normal ones but without all the subtleties having been explored. There would be an awareness of the style and mood of the piece. Dynamics and tempo would be well-chosen, and there would not be any hint of the perfunctory, or of struggle in the execution.
A Sound performance would keep a steady pattern of interplay between the two time signatures and would show a secure ability to move around the keyboard. The accents would be mostly observed but might not be very well executed. There may be a few imprecisions in placing staccatos together between the hands and the phrasing could be left to happen on its own rather than shaped in performance. The pauses and tempo changes towards the end might be incorporated rather uncertainly. However, the dynamics, especially at the end, would contribute to a satisfactory experience for the listener.