TTTV064: Why Creativity Matters with Dennis Alexander

By Tim Topham | Creativity

Nov 01

tttv064-why-creativity-matters-with-dennis-alexander

Dennis Alexander didn’t train formally as a composer. He always wanted to teach, and that’s what he studied. He stumbled upon composing a little way into his teaching career, and boy are we glad he did!

Dennis’s own teacher embraced his improvisations and flare for creativity. Had he had a different teacher growing up, we might not have his fantastic pieces on our shelves today. It’s no wonder that he believes in nurturing his own students’ creativity.

Dennis_Alexander

It was inspiring to meet Dennis at NCKP 2015 and I’m delighted to have him on the podcast today. Take a listen to one of the foremost pedagogical composers. We’re talking about the importance of creativity, teaching composing and even getting an exclusive performance from the man himself.

Transcript

Please find a full transcript of this episode at the bottom of this page. Alternatively, click below to download a PDF. If you are an Inner Circle Member, you can find the full video and transcript in the Member Resources AreaNot a member? See below for how you can get $50 off your membership today. 

In this episode, you’ll learn

  • How Dennis Alexander got his start as a composer
  • The way creativity was approached in his own piano lessons
  • How you can get your students composing and improvising
  • Why Dennis loved to use the Clavinova in his teaching
  • The place of rote pieces in modern piano teaching
  • Dennis Alexander’s own composing process
  • Some of Dennis Alexander’s personal favourite compositions

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Full Transcript

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Tim: Well, Dennis Alexander, I am so excited that you're able to come on my show today. Welcome.

Dennis: Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.

Tim: Well, it was brilliant meeting you last year at NCKP. I met you and Bill, and we hung out for a little bit. We chatted music. I think you're even interviewed on one of my podcasts back in episode 11, when I did a rundown on the NCKP event. Please feel free to check that if you're listening, and want to know about the NCKP, The National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy. Great event, was really great to meet you. It was kind of weird actually, because you're a little bit of a hero for me, as a student and a teacher. I've played your music since I was a child. And here I was, hanging out with you and having a chat. Do you get fans coming up to you and sort of being a bit wowed sometimes?

Dennis: Yeah. It's always great fun to go to these conferences. You see teachers you hadn't seen for many, many years. And it's always fun to reconnect and it's fun to meet new people like you.

Tim: Yeah, it was good.

Dennis: It was fun to see you in action there too. Congratulations, you're doing great, and it was fun to see the excitement that you generated in your sessions there.

Tim: Oh, thank you. Appreciate it. It was great to have you sitting in the back. I remember seeing you and some of the other guys. That was brilliant. So, look, I'm really interested in chatting with you, just generally, a little bit about composing, and also about teaching and maybe hearing some of your pieces, because I know you've got the piano there. I'm hoping you might be able to play something for us a bit later on. But how did you originally get into composing? Did you start as a teacher and then move into that? What was the story?

Dennis: Tim, I always aspired to be a teacher. That was my main interest when I was at the college. And I attended the University of Kansas. I was actually given a scholarship to Cumberland and ended up going to University of Kansas for summer school and fell in love with the place, and ended up staying there instead. I had a wonderful, wonderful teacher. I just really planned to be a teacher and performer, so I majored in piano performance. I never actually studied competition. It was the furthest thing from my mind.

Tim: It's funny how that happens in life, isn't it?

Dennis: I know. I studied, of course, very extensively theory, and oral perception, and counterpoint, and all those things that are required, but I never took a competition class. It was not until I was teaching at the University of Montana in Missoula, Montana. That's where I taught from 1972 until 1996 when I retired from there. It was actually quite by accident that I got involved in competition. I met Amanda Vick Lethco. You might know that name. She and Willard Palmer were my coauthors of Alfred Basic Piano Library.

I had known Amanda Vick from some performances that I did in Texas. She actually was in Montana in 1996, doing workshops on the method that was just really starting to take off at the time, and she asked me if I would be willing to be a clinician for Alfred, to help she and Willard promote the piano method. And that's really how I started my career as a composer, as a clinician first. I was showing the method the very first summer. And Morty [SP] Manus came to the workshop and took me to lunch, and he asked me if I would be willing to write the duet books that correlated with the method, because I had to write them.

And I confessed to him, at the time, that I had never written a thing in my life. That I had taught piano pedagogy for years. I knew the repertoire. I knew the teaching repertoire very, very well, and I somehow knew that I could do this because I had...you know, in college, I had played in nightclubs. I improvised. I played by ear. I somehow just knew that I could compose. Then Morty asked me, "Well, why haven't you ever composed?" And my answer was very simple. I said, "Because nobody ever asked me." Simple as that.

So I ended up writing those duet books for Alfred, and they ended up being very successful. And thus, my career as a composer started quite by accident.

Tim: How interesting. What a great story. I love it. And so, when you...

Dennis: They just all assumed that I studied composition intensely when I was in college. And I've never had a lesson in composing, to be honest.

Tim: I think it's great to hear it because we know that there's lots of teachers out there, who perhaps haven't gone through a formal training process. To me, that doesn't make them any less effective teachers, or great motivators, or inspirational people. Often the people that don't have that formal training can be absolutely brilliant.

Dennis: Yes, absolutely. I have known lots of teachers who didn't have anything or had almost no training in college and are wonderful, wonderful teachers. And then I have known teachers who have doctorates, who are not so great.

Tim: That's right.

Dennis: But you see, the whole gamut, I think it all has to do with personality, with your interest, your creativity, your personality, and all those things go together to make a great teacher. And sometimes a good composer.

Tim: Also, you said that you naturally played by ear, you improvised. When you learned piano as a student, did your teachers encourage that or show you anything to help with that? Or did you kind of do that naughtily on the side?

Dennis: I often wonder what I would have done as a child had I had access to the technology that we have today. You know, back in the days when I was a child and taking lessons, I was seven years old, and that was...let's see, I'll give you my exact age. I was taking lessons, seven years old. That would have been '54.

Tim: Something. Yeah, okay.

Dennis: Yeah, okay. That was in 1954. In those days, we didn't have the kind of technology that we have today. I was very, very fortunate that my first teacher was so wonderful. She improvised herself. When I would sit down to play my little five finger pieces, she would make up wonderful little duet parts to go with my solos. And of course, I could not believe how wonderful I sounded when my teacher played along with me.

So sometimes I then would be inspired from her to improvise myself during the week. I would sometimes come back playing an amazing version of Clementi C Major Sonatina. Just to see if she was really listening. And she would chuckle and say, "Well, that was very clever but don't you dare do that at the recital or I will kill you."

Tim: You had created your own version of it, had you?

Dennis: Oh, of course. Yes, I loved that sort of thing. And then when I was growing up too, my parents loved music, and they were always playing the big bands on phonographs, records. And of course I loved to sing to that. I would hear those pieces and then go to the piano and play my version of those pieces. So, I had a good ear when I was little, and thought I was very lucky that way. But I was also fortunate that my teacher never discouraged me from playing by ear. Some teachers do that and I think it's very unfortunate when that happens, because you never know when a young child is going to be very creative and maybe be an aspiring composer. I certainly didn't know when I was seven years old, nor did my teacher, that I would someday be making a living as a composer.

Tim: I'd like to think that times are changing and fewer teachers would be putting the brakes on students that are showing creative sides to their personality. Would you agree with that, in what you've seen around the world?

Dennis: I think more and more, because of technology, and because of the emphasis on pedagogy programs around the country, that teachers are very much encouraging young people to be more and more creative. And I love seeing that. To me, it's very sad that young students are not allowed to play popular music or jazz, that they're only given the very, very strict regimens of classical repertoire. Because kids today like everything. They hear everything and they're always wanting to play with their friends. So I think it's important for teachers to have that flexibility, and I'm glad to see that more and more teachers are doing that.

Tim: What are some other important things you think piano teachers should be doing in lessons to encourage creativity in their students?

Dennis: Well, I think...

Tim: Other than just supporting them, if they're showing their own signs. Is there anything they can do to kind of drive it or push it or help?

Dennis: Yeah. Well, I know some teachers who really encourage composition with young students. We're fortunate that we have so many avenues today that teachers can choose, to help them teach composition to their students. My good friend and colleague at Alfred, Wynn-Anne Rossi, has some great books out now that are called Competition Toolbox. They come in six levels that teachers can use to encourage students to compose pieces.

Tim: What was that name again? Wynn-Ann...

Dennis: Wynn-Anne Rossi, R-O-S-S-I.

Tim: Beautiful. We'll pop a link on the show notes page.

Dennis: With Alfred music publishing. These books came out a couple of years ago. They're in six levels. And they're really wonderful for young students to use and give them all kinds of ideas for helping them create wonderful melodies, form, and of course bigger pieces as they move through each level. We also have just fantastic apps today, as you know. Leila Viss, my friend in Colorado...I know you know Leila.

Tim: I love Leila. Yeah, she's great.

Dennis: She's been just wonderful to provide teachers with lots and lots of ideas on different apps that are available for helping students with all kinds of aspects of musicianship, with oral perception, with improvisation, chording techniques. There's just so much going on today in the world of piano pedagogy. It's very exciting.

Tim: Yeah. It's good, isn't it? It is an exciting time, I think.

Dennis: I can't help but influence a lot of teachers to get their kids more involved in being creative. I wish that more and more teachers would have a Clavinova in their studios, alongside their acoustical piano. I know I used to when I was teaching in California privately after I left the University of Montana. I always had a Clavinova next to my grand. And very often if a student came to a lesson unprepared or they called and said, "Mr. A., I can't be there this week because I was too busy with volleyball," I would say, "Oh, no. You come to your lesson and we'll do something interesting that'll be helpful." And sometimes the student would come in and they would sit down at the Clavinova, and I might teach them how to sequence one of their pieces, and create a wonderful little orchestral version of a piece that they're working on. That was very inspiring to the kids. They had so much fun doing it.

Tim: And sequencing, you mean laying down like a bass line and then laying down tracks, yeah?

Dennis: Right, right.

Tim: And so the Clavinova, you can do that straight on.

Dennis: Oh, yeah. It's so easy. It's so easy to do, and the instrument just...it's so exciting for kids to hear their pieces orchestrated. And very, very motivational at the same time. So those kind of things are wonderful tools for any teacher today who has the interest in doing it.

Tim: So I gathered you've retired now from the full time teaching, and composing. I know you're still composing, aren't you?

Dennis: I am. I'm trying to retire. But I just finished doing a student concerto in three movements. And I'm not sure when that'll be out, but I know I'll be getting approved very, very soon. And then after that, I'm not sure. You know, at this point my library is quite extensive and all different levels. So I'm trying to take some time to smell the roses right now.

Tim: Good for you. I think we can all say, yeah, I think you've earned it. What does a week look like for you now then?

Dennis: What's a typical day look like?

Tim: Yeah. A typical day, a few days.

Dennis: Well, it used to be that every single day I had deadlines to meet for composing, especially when we were working on the piano method on Albert Premier Piano course. But now that that is all finished, I find that my days are much more relaxing. I like to sometimes just sit down at the piano and play for fun. Old repertoire that I used to do or popular music, or I have been working very hard recently getting my chops back in order. I did two recitals this past weekend with a wonderful violinist.

Tim: Oh, wow.

Dennis: Here...one in Albuquerque and one at a university in the eastern part of the state. We did a Mozart Sonata, the César Franck sonata. And some pieces by Bach. So it was fun for me to get really back into serious practicing, which I haven't had time to do, with all the composing I was doing. I also do some volunteer work at a hospital one day a week. I really want to spend time sitting down at the Clavinova and getting a lot more proficient at sequencing, and maybe creating more MIDI accompaniments for some of my music. That's something that I want to spend time doing. I like to read. So I find that, in my kind of semi retired state right now, the days fly by very quickly and I don't know how the hours get so filled up, but they always somehow manage to do so.

Tim: I can't believe...my parents have retired but, you know, they're busier than ever, it seems. I have to book time to see them weeks in advance. It's amazing. But it's also great. You know, how sad would it be if you're retired and you don't do anything at all.

Dennis: Yeah. And I also spend, I will admit, probably too much time on Facebook.

Tim: You are prolific on Facebook, I must say.

Dennis: I like to see what everybody else is thinking and doing, and that's always kind of fun. I'm trying to catch up on reading things like Clavier Companion. And A and T magazine. So I try and keep current as much as possible with what's happening out there in the world of music, and the world in general.

Tim: And you're still doing the odd master class and some live kind of events and things too? Is that right?

Dennis: Oh, I am, yeah. In fact, I just came back. A week ago, I was at the University of South Carolina doing a two-day residency there with Scott Price.

Tim: Yeah, I love Scott.

Dennis: Yes, recently you had a wonderful podcast with. I enjoyed reading that transcript. It was very interesting.

Tim: He had so many great ideas, really.

Dennis: Yeah, wonderful. It was great fun to be back there. I did some work with college students. I did the master class with some of them. I did master class with Dunn [SP] students. Several lectures to masters and doctoral students in pedagogy. They have a very wonderful program there at the university. I'm going to be going out to California at the end...no, the middle of October. We're going to be in Spain. We leave for Spain on Tuesday for two weeks for a vacation. And then as soon as I get back, two days later, I go out to Long Beach, California to do some presentations out there for their state conference.

I'm looking forward to seeing Marvin Blake and staff at that conference. I know Mark for many, many years, and will be sharing several presentations there. And then I'll be going to Chicago in early December to speak to the Chicago Institute Association.

Tim: I'm exhausted listening to it. It's yeah, definitely only a semi retirement. It's just bordering on the side of it maybe, just because you've given yourself some holiday time, which I think is great.

Dennis: Well, you know, I often laugh about it all. Because compared to my years when I was teaching at the University of Montana...I was there from '72 to '96, and then for the last 10 years that I was there, I was writing full time for Alfred at the same time. So when I look back on those days and realize how many hats I was wearing and how much performing I was doing, and how much teaching at the university, and teaching young students on the side as well.

And then going home sometimes at 10:00 at night after faculty recital, student's recitals. And so I need to compose from 10:00 until 1:00 in the morning. Today it feels very relaxed.

Tim: It feels relaxed compared to that, I can imagine. Now, you recently published a book of wrote pieces, or co-published, which I think is great because I think the mood now is changing. There was this view that if you teach something by rote or if students just copy you playing something, then it's bad teaching. And I'm glad that that that view is starting to change. I personally think rote teaching is great. It's just one of the tools you use in your teaching studio. Why did you feel it important to bring out a book of rote pieces?

Dennis: I did this book with a very good friend here in Albuquerque, a wonderful pianist by the name of Amy Grier. And it was actually Amy's idea to do this book, and she asked me if I would be interested in doing it with her. And when I spoke to my publisher, they were very interested in having us do this, and it ended up being a very fun project. As Amy does too, we both feel very strongly that there's a lot to be learned from rote teaching. And it's gotten a bad rap, I think, over the years. Sometimes teachers think that rote teaching means that you won't learn to read music. And nothing could be further from the truth.

But we did these pieces in the book together. She did some of them. I did some of them. I did most of the accompaniments for the rote pieces as well. In fact, it was interesting, just today, someone posted on my page, a video of a student playing a little piece called Desert Rose. It was fun to see that video, and I wrote back immediately and congratulated the student who would have just six weeks of lessons.

Tim: Oh, it's brilliant, yeah.

Dennis: And it’s a beautiful piece with their teacher on the piano. So it's great fun to see how teachers are using the book, and a lot of teachers are excited about it. It's been very gratifying.

Tim: And that's the thing, the student can have big quick wins playing hard-sounding beautiful music without slogging away at it for months. That's kind of the point, in my opinion anyway. Would you agree?

Dennis: Yes.

Tim: Yeah.

Dennis: Lots of students, if they start lessons in the fall, and if the teacher has maybe a Christmas recital, or a fall recital, after maybe just three months, if that student tried to play something from their method book, it might not sound so great. If they have a really fun rote piece which they learned by rote and learned it rather quickly, they'll be playing things that encompass a much wider range on the instrument and it's gonna sound more impressive. And they'll be more motivated to have pieces like that.

Tim: Yup. Particularly when they're first learning and maybe they're only using a couple of notes, and a couple of fingers, to suddenly be able to, at the same time as they're learning to read those simple notes, be able to play something expressive and wide-ranging. It's just great fun.

Dennis: I'm actually using the book right now with a new adult beginner.

Tim: Oh, great.

Dennis: Yeah. And he's just really enjoying a couple of the pieces that we're working on. I gave him a piece called Jubilation just last week to start, and he came back one week later and had most of it figured out. He was very proud of himself.

Tim: Not bad. Yeah, it is. It's great. I call those quick wins. They're great fun. So what's your process for composing? I love asking composers this because everyone seems to do it differently. Are you a melody person or are you a harmonic person, or is that something completely different, or does it all depend?

Dennis: You know, it all depends. There are so many factors involved. When I was working on composing the pieces for the piano method, in that particular situation, I was given very strict parameters that we had to stay within, depending on which level and which part of the book, and how the pedagogy was being presented at the time. So, in situations like that, I might be given instructions by the pedagogy team on the method to write a 16 or 24-bar piece in a certain key, that uses a certain rhythm pattern. So that's how I would start the piece.

I'm actually very melody oriented by nature. I love beautiful melodies. And so, a lot of the pieces that I've written for my own library, are pieces that were inspired by a melody that came to my head. And I recall when I first started composing for Alfred, in those early days I would sometimes...I'd be hearing so much music in my head it made me crazy sometimes. During the night, there's something and I had to jot it down.

Tim: So you can get it out of your head.

Dennis: Right, right. Because I couldn't get it out of my head. And I knew I'd forget it. It was so good, I didn't want to forget it, you know?

Tim: Of course.

Dennis: I would jot it down, and then the next morning I'd finish the piece. Sometimes I'll get a rhythm pattern in my head that I really like, and a piece evolves from that rhythm pattern. Sometimes I'll have a good title that I really want to use, and the piece evolves from the title. So there are just so many different ways that pieces evolve. You know, when you write as much music as I've written over the years, you really have to draw from many, many different sources. Sometimes I'm really inspired by nature. Sometimes I would take my dog for a walk, and while we're walking, I would get something in my head going and immediately come home and jot it down. So, living in Montana all those years, I was surrounded by gorgeous scenery.

And even here in New Mexico, we have beautiful, beautiful places that are inspiring. And when I travel, I see things that inspire me and give me ideas for new pieces. So, the inspiration comes from so many different sources. Sometimes my own students might inspire me by how they're playing, or a piece that they're working on might give me an idea for something original.

Tim: Yeah, that's brilliant. And every composer I've ever asked that question to, it's always the same. It could be anything. So, I would love to know...you know, you have so much music out there. Do you have a couple of favorites, and is there any chance you could play a couple for us? Or is that asking a bit much?

Dennis: Sure. You know, when people ask me what are two or three of your favorite pieces that you've ever written, that's like picking your favorite child. That's very hard to do because I have a lot of favorites in the repertoire. You know, I mean, I think I've written something like 2,000 or 3,000 pieces over the years. I can't even remember some of them, and sometimes I'll hear students in a recital play one of my pieces then. And honestly, …...

Tim: You know you've written a lot of music when that happens.

Dennis: Yeah. I know, yeah. One of my biggest fears is writing something that I've written before. That actually happened a couple of years ago. I turned a piece in that I was so proud of, and my editor called me, she said, "You know, Dennis, this is almost identical to a piece you wrote about 25 years ago." And I was shocked and I went back and she told me what the piece was. And I found it and I thought, "Oh, my gosh, this is really getting bad." You know, we keep some of these ideas in our heads and in our subconscious, once in awhile they'll come back to haunt us.

Tim: Yeah. I'll tell you what, that's ...finger on the pulse.

Dennis: I have several pieces, you know, two or three here if you'd like to hear them.

Tim: I know viewers and listeners would love to hear you play a couple of your pieces. It would be great.

Dennis: Okay, okay. I hope that...I'm gonna move this around so that you can see the keyboard. I don't know. Can you see me all right?

Tim: I can. I don't know how well the sound will come through, but we'll give it a shot. It should be okay.

Dennis: Let's see. Let me do this. This is a real favorite. It's a big favorite in the library right now. It's called Rhythm Roulette.

Tim: Oh, I know this one. Yes, love it.

Dennis: It's a real motivational piece. I've seen a lot of students play it on recitals. It sells very well, so I know that teachers are teaching it and that they enjoy it. But it's what I call a pattern piece. So it has lots of repetition in different areas of the keyboard. It has a little low four note motive that...oh, you know what? I can turn my piano back on. Before I forget when I let it sit for awhile. So it's warming up right now and... Anyway, I was just gonna say that it has a left hand melody all the way through that...I like to do this sort of thing, with a lot of pieces. Write something that sounds harder than it is. And this is the secret, I think, for a lot of good pieces that students really latch on to. If they sound really good and it doesn't take them forever to learn it, it's usually a winning combination.

Tim: Absolutely. Dennis, you're not gonna believe this but I was doing some live training just yesterday here in Melbourne, and I high referenced this very piece because I was talking about pattern...

Dennis: For real?

Tim: Yup, this very piece. It's really weird. We haven't planned this, people who are listening. And I was talking about using...because it's so chordal and pattern based, it's a great teaching piece for helping students understand the harmonic structure of it, and the key and the chords that are being used. So, listen out as Dennis is playing. It's a fun piece but it's also got lots of great pedagogy in it.

Dennis: Okay, here's Rhythm Roulette.

Tim: Very good. I love hearing composers play their own music. It's brilliant.

Dennis: Well, it's a real fun piece of it to practice, I think. You know, earlier in the piece, it has this little..Which always starts of as a black key, and goes to white keys. So it starts on C sharp and it goes up to G sharp. And then C sharp again. And once they learn that little pattern at the end of the piece, they have the same exact pattern on the last line with... With that little...with the right hand, which makes it easy.

Tim: Yeah, it's great. Dennis, it's such great writing. You make it look so easy. But I know, for people listening, just to wonder how you've done that is awe inspiring for us non-composers. But I really do love that piece. And I love the simplicity of the tut, tut, tut, tut, tut, tut. That accenting, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, one. It's just in four, four but just that slight...that little pattern there. And this is something that teachers can use with their students when composing to make things sound more interesting. It suddenly brings it alive, doesn't it?

Dennis: It's the little motif that you can even give to a student, and ask them to improvise their own melody. See what you can come up with. You know, with something totally, totally different. We try to use something totally contrasting...

Tim: Let's do that. And you better tell people what book they could find that piece in, that Rhythm Roulette.

Dennis: This piece, Rhythm Roulette, is actually a sheet solo.

Tim: Oh, great.

Dennis: Yeah, it's a sheet solo. One thing that teachers might want to know, is I have a very extensive personal website. And if they just go to dennisalexander.com, they can see my entire library.

Tim: Oh, brilliant.

Dennis: I have a link, my compositions link, and everything is organized by levels and whether they're sheet solos or collections. I have new releases at the very top that list of categories, and I have at the bottom of that list there's a whole section on Christmas music, as well. Teachers can hear me play all of my sheet solos. So if they want to hear me play that on the website, they just simply go to dennisalexander.com.

Tim: Oh, Dennis, I thought this was an exclusive.

Dennis: Yeah. And look for intermediate sheet solos. And they'll find Rhythm Roulette right there.

Tim: Great.

Dennis: They'll see the first page of the music, as well. And if they don't happen to have a music dealer close to them, they can order the music off my website, as well.

Tim: Fantastic. Oh, that's brilliant. All right, thank you for that. What have you got next? This is great. It's like my own little concert with Dennis Alexander.

Dennis: Did the sound come through okay on there?

Tim: Yeah, it sounded great.

Dennis: Good. I am a romantic at heart. I love romantic repertoire. I've always loved music by Chopin, Brahms,... list. I played those composers so much when I was giving solo recitals. And so, in my writing, some of my favorite pieces to write are pieces in a romantic style.

So, I have three collections called Especially in Romantic Style. They're all intermediate levels - early intermediate, mid intermediate and late intermediate. This is a piece from book three, which is the late intermediate, and it's called The Promise of Spring. It goes like this.

Tim: Bravo, Dennis. Really lovely. That's brilliant. Actually, I haven't heard that one. That's new to me.

Dennis: Oh, that's one of my favorites. I have a lot of very romantic style pieces at all different levels. And in fact, one of the very first pieces I ever wrote for Alfred was that style piece, but in five finger position.

Tim: Right. Okay.

Dennis: The teacher copied that.

Tim: Oh, brilliant. That series was called what?

Dennis: Especially in Romantic Style.

Tim: Beautiful. Yeah, great. Well, I'll try and add some links to these on our show notes page.

Dennis: Yeah, yeah. I have a whole Especially series. There's Especially for Boys, Especially for Girls, Especially in Jazzy Style, Especially for Christmas.

Tim: Yeah, obviously Especially for Boys Volumes One and Two before, that's for sure. That's really lovely. Thank you so much for sharing those with us. How are we going for time? We're looking all right. There might be time for one more if you happen to have one ready. Otherwise we might start wrapping it up. But did you have one other in your repertoire? I'm enjoying listening to those, yeah.

Dennis: Oh, I had something totally different.

Tim: Let's finish with one more then.

Dennis: Okay, if you have time?

Tim: Yeah, yeah. Let's do it.

Dennis: Teachers sometimes have asked me, "How many Toccatas have you written?" Because I've written a lot, of all different levels. And I finally made a list of them, and they're on my website. So, if teachers want to see all the different Toccatas that I have, they can go to my website and under "Teaching tips," the newest article there is a listing of my Toccatas and where they're all located.

Tim: Great, great.

Dennis: This is the piece called Rhythm-a-catta [SP].

Tim: Okay.

Dennis: It was a piece that I wrote for the Musical Arts Center of San Antonio, Texas. I have a friend down there who started that school. It's a wonderful program, and they had me down there a couple of years ago, and I wrote this piece as a surprise for them.

Tim: Oh, brilliant.

Dennis: And another popular one that time.

Tim: Great. Wow, very, very cool. Oh, kids will love that one.

Dennis: Yeah, that's a fun one.

Tim: Yeah, it's great. All of the keyboards. Again, patterns, tut, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat. Great. Love the rhythms. Yeah.

Dennis: Yeah, very rhythmical and lots of rests that they have to observe. So, rests are golden.

Tim: I try to tell my students that the silence is just as important as the sound. Doesn't always go through, but it's so important. Looks, it's been brilliant chatting with you today. Thank you so much for sharing your life of music and your compositions, and playing for us today. It's been brilliant.

Dennis: I really appreciate your including me in your wonderful broadcast. I wish you the best. I will look forward, hopefully, to seeing you in the NCKP next summer.

Tim: Absolutely. Yup, yup. I'm there. We're gonna go out for dinner or something like that. We must catch up properly again.

Dennis: Have a meal together.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. We'll do that. And for those of you who haven't met Dennis yet, come along to NCKP next year. Because, you're a person that will just chat and share things with anyone there.

Dennis: I have to admit that one the biggest highlights of my career was last summer when they presented me with that lifetime achievement award.

Tim: Oh, yeah.

Dennis: That was just...it was so wonderful to be recognized by my peers. I have so many wonderful friends in the business and so many brilliant composers out there, and teachers, whom I've known for so many years. And to have many of them there and supporting me in my field. My friends are there, it was a very, very special evening. I'll never forget it. So you were at that conference, and like I said, I hope to see you next summer.

Tim: Absolutely. One hundred percent well deserved. And just a quick reminder, your website is dennisalexander.com

Dennis: Yes.

Tim: And I assume your music can also be found...you're published by Alfred. So, alfred.com is it, over in America?

Dennis: Yeah. Yes, all of my music has been published by Alfred. I have an exclusive with them.

Tim: Great. Well, they've chosen a great man and a great composer to have on their catalog.

Dennis: Thanks so much.

Tim: You're welcome, and I'll see you soon.

Dennis: All right. I hope to come back to Australia.

Tim: Well, yeah. When are we gonna get you over here?

Dennis: Well, there's some talk about the Pedagogy Conference. I'm not sure yet if I'll be there, but there's some interest... So maybe I'll see you there.

Tim: Oh, that would be great. Well, if you do that, then we'll definitely catch up over here too.

Dennis: It’s been 9 years so I’ll be there.

Tim: Is it really? Well, we've got to get you over here again. All right, thank you so much, Dennis.

Dennis: You're welcome. Bye-bye.

Tim: Bye.

What’s your favourite Dennis Alexander piece?

Do you have one piece or book of his that you turn to again and again? A piece that’s been a student saver for you?

What stood out to you about his approach to creativity and composing?

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About the Author

Best-known for his blogging and teaching, Tim is also a well-respected presenter, performer and accompanist based in Melbourne, Australia. You can check him out on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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