The Royal Conservatory Piano Syllabus for 2022 features ten of our house composer Vincent Ho’s works from his Twelve Chinese Zodiac Animals series. The first book of twelve works is intended for younger players and uses the juvenile form of the animals such as foal, puppy and piglet as inspiration. All twelve can be found in our latest edition, The Twelve Chinese Zodiac Animals, Book 1 including illustrations by Lilith Ohan.
It comes with no surprise that these delightfully gestural and charming pieces were set for testing pianists technical abilities.
RCM has set The Happy Foal, The Wandering Puppy, and Monkey See, Monkey Do as Level 2 exam pieces. The Happy Foal teaches cross hand movements and gestural playing with fists, while The Wandering Puppy focuses on coordination between the hands passing melodic phrases back and forth. Monkey See, Monkey Do—whilst still maintaining the challenge of coordination—is a great exercise in mastering articulation, in places allowing the pianist to play with phrasing, choosing between large phrases, two-note slurs, and staccato passages.
Gentle Piglet sees more of an emphasis on expressive playing, teaching pianists phrasing, while giving them the liberty to explore rubato timing and ad lib. pedalling. The third Level 3 piece, Sleepy Lamb, places focus on dynamic control to create the swelling of lucidity as the lamb drifts in and out of sleep. Under Level 3, we also see Playful Snakelets make an appearance in the Technical Challenge category, showcasing bi-tonality to new players with each snake sitting in its own key.
Little Dragon is set as a Technical Challenge Etude for Level 5 and it’s not hard to see why. This piece, although very open to interpretation, gets the pianist to combine dynamic change with acceleration, challenging them to master their ability to morph time in an artistic manner. It also features elaborations on skills featured in earlier works, using coordination, gestures, and cross handed playing to bring the dragon to life.
The final two works in the 2022 Syllabus are Dance of the Tiger Cubs (Level 6) and Mischievous Mouse (Level 7 Technical Challenge). Both combine the challenges of all levels before, pushing the pianist to remember all expressive elements in order to execute. The coordination, phrasing, and dynamic control of these works makes the perfect learning experience for any intermediate pianist. The changing time signatures in Dance of the Tiger Cubs amplify these challenges, keeping the piece in flux as it soars through the pentatonic textures and lilting melodies that give the piece much of its beauty. Mischievous Mouse on the other hand places an intense focus on coordination; weaving lines between the two hands or combining them in contrary motion with pedaling to make for delightful pentatonic textures.
If you’re thinking of going for your RCM certificate or just want the perfect challenge to build your pianistic skillset, pick up a copy of The Twelve Chinese Zodiac Animals, Book 1!
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