Monday Mailbag – Christmas Music for Students

??I was just looking into Christmas music for my new student and was curious as to what books you recommend?

In my studio, the Christmas recital has traditionally been our big event of the year. So I am always on the lookout for great music for my students to play. At the end of October, I spent several hours at our fabulous local music store (Senseney Music) and bought a ton of Christmas books. Then, a couple of Saturdays ago, I spent about eight hours playing through hundreds of pieces and trying to find just the right ones for each student. I have several “rules” that I use to help make the selections:

  1. Each Christmas song may only be played once on the recital program. In rare instances, I have made an exception, but I really want everyone to enjoy the recital. And hearing 4,000 renditions of Jingle Bells does not contribute to an enjoyable experience. 🙂
  2. I have to enjoy playing and listening to the piece. Regardless of the level of difficulty, if I don’t think it’s an interesting arrangement, there’s a pretty good chance my student won’t either. In fact, this year I returned more books than I ever have in the past because the arrangements just didn’t grab me. I always like to check out the new releases, but there are plenty of tried-and-true books and pieces that I turn to repeatedly.
  3. Don’t repeat the same arrangement of a song two years in a row. Again, I have made exceptions, especially on earlier level pieces, but I try to incorporate lots of variety to keep the recital interesting for those who attend every year.
  4. Incorporate a variety of instrumentation. I don’t do this every year, but in keeping with the Year of Collaborative Music theme this year, every student is involved in some sort of ensemble. This year’s program will include solos, duets, quartets, quintets, and more. It will be exciting to see how it all turns out (hopefully!)!
  5. Take each student’s personal preferences into consideration. I love being able to give a student a piece and say, “I found this Christmas song that is absolutely perfect for you! I think you are going to love it!” Even more than that, it makes all the time and effort worth it when the student comes back after a week with a glimmer in their eye and says, “I LOVE my Christmas song!” 🙂 This year I gave my students a survey in September asking them for special requests. I take those into consideration, but then try to match the arrangements to the students. Lyrical, harmonically rich arrangements for the students who love to be dramatic and expressive; big chords and scale runs for the students who like to play fast and loud; syncopated rhythms for the ones who like a touch of Jazz; and so on.

Now, without any further ado, here are some of my favorite Christmas music selections:

  • Beginner Praise for Christmas by Ellen Banks Elwell (late elementary, with a couple of duets; we especially love the One Small Child duet and the Mary, Did You Know? solo)
  • Christmas Traditions by Phillip Keveren (elementary solos with nice short intros and simple, but attractive arrangements; the rendition of Go Tell It On the Mountain is especially fun!)
  • Christmas Medleys and Variations by Catherine Rollin (intermediate/late intermediate; especially great for the student that will be playing for a Christmas party or other festive occasion!)
  • Christmas Duet Fantasies by Robert Vandall (intermediate/late intermediate; big sounding pieces that are accessible and patterned; definite favorites!)
  • Christmas Delights by Martha Mier (three volumes of varying levels; nice arrangements of familiar carols)
  • Famous and Fun Christmas by Carol Matz (five volumes of varying levels; these aren’t that exciting in the way of arrangements, but they are perfect for providing students with lots of familiar Christmas songs to play during the season – excellent for building reading skills!)
  • Christmas at the Manger by various artists (late elementary; my favorite new find of the season! I truly loved sitting and playing these arrangements of contemporary Christian songs)
  • In Recital with Christmas Favorites by Helen Marlais (all levels; there are some real gems in some of these books!)
  • First Favorite Christmas Duets by Lynn Freeman Olson (early elementary; great little equal parts duet arrangements that are perfect for young students!)
  • Celebrated Christmas Solos by Robert Vandall (five volumes of varying levels; unexpected harmonies spice up these arrangements and give them a mature sound)
  • Traditional Carols for Two by Carol Klose (elementary; equal parts duet arrangements with a nice balance of sharing the melody between the two parts; the Pat-a-Pan rendition includes optional rhythm instrument parts that we’re planning to use this year!)

I’m sure I could go on and on because there is so much great Christmas music available! But I’ll stop here for now. If you and your students have any favorites in your studio, please share!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Share and enjoy!

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