Dyson - Air
George Dyson (1883 – 1964) was an English composer, born in Yorkshire, who is probably best known for his choral music for Christian church services, although he also composed a symphony and a violin concerto.
Many children, unless they are choral scholars, may find Dyson’s choral music less approachable for listening than his instrumental music. The following link leads to a performance of the Dyson Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra. Sir Neville Mariner conducts the Academy of St Martin in the Fields orchestra and the soloist is Julian Lloyd Webber.
It is worthwhile reminding ourselves that our younger pupils may not yet be aware of the concept of a composer as an actual person who wrote music in a distinctive style. Children are interested in hearing stories and may like to know that the life of George Dyson was quite an eventful one in which he travelled to Italy and Germany in his studies as a musician, fought in World War 1, worked as a school teacher, became director of the Royal College of Music in London and later received a knighthood.
Pupil Match & Suitability
This piece is short and technically undemanding, with notes that lie comfortably under the fingers of small hands. It does, however, require a sensitive musical interpretation and a singing tone is needed, with independent hands.
It is not always possible to find recordings of easier piano pieces but your students may find it encouraging to listen to the four year old Charlotte playing Dyson’s Melody, which is similar in its singing style to this Air.
Ellie, aged 6 years, plays Dyson's Air:
Style & Tempo
Most of Dyson’s musical output was for choirs and it is interesting that, even in this little piece for piano, Dyson has chosen to present a singing melody that reminds us of his love of the expressiveness of the human voice.
The singing melodic style of Dyson’s instrumental music is shown in his Children’s Suite after Walter de la Mare, particularly in the second movement, Pastoral: Tranquillo. Ask your student to notice how the melody line changes from one instrument to another, as this is similar to what happens when the melody changes briefly from RH to LH in this piano piece at Bar 9. The Children’s Suite is appealing to all ages, perhaps because of Dyson’s thirty-year school teaching career. A good recording is to be found at the following link:
Phrasing & Articulation
The structure initially takes the form of two, four-bar phrases, each comprised of a two-bar, legato question followed by a two-bar, staccato answer.
Tone & Texture
A quiet dynamic is required throughout the whole piece although the phrasing should be shaped sensitively, using crescendo and diminuendo in the ‘question’ phrase, with a quiet staccato ‘answer’.
A singing tone is needed for the RH melody, keeping the LH accompaniment quieter if possible.
The challenges are musical rather than technical in this piece, although it is necessary for the student to understand how to create a smooth legato, contrasting with an elegant staccato.
Use the analogy of walking along, transferring the weight from one foot to the other for the legato bars, rather than hopping from one foot to the other, as in the staccato bars. If space allows, the tune can be sung whilst actually walking or hopping.
Fingering choices are reasonably obvious here. As a basic rule, the RH begins the phrases with finger 2, as in Bar 1:
Pedalling is not normally expected at Grade 1 Level and inexpert use of the pedal would detract from the simplicity of the melodic lines in this piece.
A particularly confident student may like to give little touches of pedal to add resonance to the minims at Bars 16, 17 and in the final bar, but this is entirely optional.
Begin by echo clapping of the rhythms in Bars 1 -2, then Bars 3 -4, progressing to teacher and student doing question and answer clapping, eg:
Teacher claps phrase 1 then student replies with phrase 2, then reverse roles.
Teach bars 1-2, then ask the student to identify any two-bar phrase that looks similar eg Bars 13 -14, in which you need to explain why a natural accidental is given in Bar 13 (ie to remind the pianist to cancel the sharp indicated in the previous bar).
Ask the student to identify the difference and also the similarity between Bars 1-2 and Bars 5 – 6, in both the LH and RH parts.
This process of looking for similarities and differences can then be applied to teaching Bars 3 - 4, compared with Bars 7 – 8 and Bars 15 - 16.
Look, finally, at the middle part of the piece, Bars 9 – 12. This phrase is different from the outer phrases but you will be able to show that the LH tune is created from the LH pattern in Bar 1. Also point out that the RH at Bars 10 – 11 is just a fragment of a G minor scale.
The student will realise from your teaching that this is a piece that can be learned easily through analysis of similarities and differences.
The student should practise the relevant scales, such as D minor and G minor prior to learning this piece, so that evenly controlled playing is more likely in the little scale passages. Practising scales both forte and piano, with crescendo and with diminuendo is useful.
Separate hands practice is essential when starting this piece, as is beginning hands together practice very slowly to ensure continuing accuracy.
The first barrier to creating a lovely tone in younger pianists may be a tendency to bounce the hand in order to make the sound, rather than letting the weight of the arm do the work.
Imagery can help here – for legato playing, encourage effective use of arm weight and supple wrists by suggesting that any movement is more in the manner of turning a door handle, whereas for staccato playing the movement is rather like gently patting a pet dog’s head.
An excellent performance will be one that shows sensitive phrasing, a beautiful, singing tone and a sense of the rather plaintive character of the music. Articulation will be neat and well detailed. Rhythmic control will be even and there will be clearly defined textures, showing awareness of the melodic lines. Accuracy and fluency will be assured and the final rallentando will be convincing.
A good performance will be one in which the mood is characterised in appropriate pace and tone. There will be phrasing definition, although the hands might not yet be sensitively balanced and there may be a few stumbles in accuracy. There will be detail in articulation but legato lines may not always be consistently smooth.
A secure performance will show overall continuity despite a few slips. Rhythms will be secure and the dynamic will be suitably quiet but phrasing might not yet be convincingly shaped. There will be some attention to the legato / staccato articulation, as yet perhaps partially successful in control.