Alex Laing reviews Kathy and David Blackwell’s books for young viola players seeking to improve their skills
Kathy and David Blackwell
Book 1: 56PP ISBN 9781786015860 £10.95
Book 2: 64PP ISBN 9781786015877 £11.95
Book 3: 68PP ISBN 9781786015884 £12.95
The ABRSM has recently released the string syllabus for 2024 (see October issue). Grade packages have been created for the violin but not for the viola (except at the new Initial level). These three volumes, Viola Mix, are the next best thing: 20 new arrangements for Initial grade to Grade 1 level; 20 for Grades 1 and 2 level, and 19 at Grade 3 level. The volumes are compiled and edited by Kathy and David Blackwell, so we know we are in very safe hands.
Many of the arrangements are on the ABRSM viola syllabus and, because they are carefully graded, all the pieces may be chosen by pupils and teachers for performance grade exams. There is a super variety of repertoire to choose from. At Initial level, ‘Autumn’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons finds itself next to folk music from China, Sweden and Ukraine while at Grade 3, pupils will be inspired by arrangements of famous and familiar tunes by Beethoven (Für Elise) and Holst (‘Jupiter’) while discovering the jaunty, syncopated Rabbit Foot by Florence Price.
All the pieces come with a piano accompaniment, as expected. Some also include a second viola part, which is great for non-piano-playing teachers and for encouraging stronger chamber music skills for pupils at an early stage. Older, more experienced performers can help the younger ones practise while developing their own teaching and mentoring skills. Even greater flexibility for the teacher is provided with the option of guitar accompaniment for some of the pieces.
Each arrangement comes with a small programme note and fun facts which I am sure will open doors for curious young musicians to discover more about a hitherto unknown composer or national style, culture or way of life. Even as a not-so-young musician I was pleased to read about Francesca Lebrun (of whom I had not previously heard), who was famed for being able to sing stratospherically high.
These volumes are a terrific resource for the young violist and viola teacher. It would be excellent if recorded accompaniments could be made available in the same way that they have been for the new violin syllabus, but again the ABRSM is to be congratulated on providing another set of fun, varied and interesting volumes for the young learner.