Interview with E. L. Lancaster & Gayle Kowalchyk of Alfred Music

Linda Christensen
Linda Christensen

We spoke with teachers, editors, and authors Gayle Kowalchyk and E. L. Lancaster of Alfred Music on using Alfred publications in collaboration with Piano Maestro. Here’s what they had to say!

When did you first hear about Piano Maestro? We first heard about Piano Maestro at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) convention in Anaheim several years ago. The program was in the early stages of development at that point and personnel from Alfred met with personnel from JoyTunes about cooperating in our work even then. We have followed its development since that time.

What is it about Piano Maestro that excited/interested you as a publisher?
Piano Maestro provides a fresh approach to teaching and playing the piano for both students and teachers. It is an easy way to bring the 21st century into the piano lesson. And it provides motivation for students, something that teachers strive for continually.

Besides Premier Piano Course, tell us about other Alfred material in Piano Maestro.  Why did you think these titles are a good match for the app?
In addition to Premier Piano Course, other Alfred materials include our pre-school music course, Music for Little Mozarts (Christine H. Barden, Gayle Kowalchyk, and E. L. Lancaster), the elementary-level sight-reading exercises from Alfred’s Group Piano for Adults (E. L. Lancaster and Kenon D. Renfrow) and supplementary collections by Tom Gerou, DogGoneIt! and KittenKaBoodle! These materials were chosen to allow students at all ages (from pre-school to college non-keyboard music majors) to “reap the benefits” of using Piano Maestro in their study. These materials also had interesting background accompaniments, making them a natural fit for Piano Maestro.

What makes Premier Piano Course unique?
The most unique feature of Premier Piano Course is the music! The music is written by Dennis
Alexander and Martha Mier, and throughout the entire course, it does not sound like “method” music. It was written to engage 21st-century piano students, and to that end, the pieces sound fresh, are fun and exciting to play, and the titles and lyrics are ones to which today’s students relate. Pieces from the Lesson Books and the Performance Books consistently appear on student recitals and contests. In addition, the course truly develops good sight-readers by introducing reading by using the best aspects of several different reading approaches. Students are first introduced to landmark notes and then read up and down from those notes using steps and skips, then intervals. Once a note is introduced, it is played by different fingers so that students do not associate a note name with a finger number. Also, the word “position” is never used in the course. From the very first book, students learn to move and play freely all over the keyboard. Finally, the approach to rhythm also reinforces reading. Students identify rhythm patterns from the beginning rather that moving from one individual note to the next. Rhythm patterns are identified in a similar manner to scale patterns and intervals.

Are there any special tips or tricks you can give for teaching with the Premier Piano Course?
There are several activities featured in the books that take the student and the music “beyond the page,” making this a course that is flexible enough to use with any student. Once a concept is introduced, it is reinforced through optional activities that can be done with every student. For example, in the Lesson Book, students can be a Premier Performer through activities that require them to play more than just the notes and rhythm. A Closer Look invites them to take a closer look at the music and encourages them to discover important theoretical concepts in the music that aids with memory. In the Theory Book, students compose and create with the Imagination Station activities and hone their sight-reading and listening skills with Now Play This and Now Hear This. And, the special Learning Links feature allows them to discover facts related to history, science, and interesting subjects from daily life.

Is there any other Alfred material you would like to see added to Piano Maestro?  Why?
Alfred would like to continue to give teachers and students choices in the materials that are used with Piano Maestro. Our goals would be to add materials from other popular Alfred methods including Alfred’s Basic Piano Library and the Music Tree. We also look forward to further developments with Piano Maestro that allow students to access more advanced-level material from Alfred.

What makes Alfred and Piano Maestro a great collaboration, and why did you decide to put Alfred material into Piano Maestro?
Alfred and Piano Maestro have similar goals – to help students experience the joy of making music. Playing with the orchestrated backgrounds helps to develop skills in listening, keeping a steady tempo, and creates an ensemble experience for the students. And, the game-like features of Piano Maestro enhances the learning experience that is the basis of all Alfred educational product.

Are you using Alfred method books in your lessons? Let us know in the comments section!