Top Banana is a collection of 20 performance pieces for young string players (Grades 1–2+), for solo or group playing, composed by Celia Cobb and Naomi Yandell. Drawing on a wide range of moods and styles, the pieces are intended to inspire communicative and committed performances in any concert or exam situation. Each piece aims to capture the musical imagination and to motivate the young player to practise, play and perform.
From the teacher’s perspective the pieces include clear teaching points, and incorporate a range of techniques, such as harmonics, glissandi and left-hand pizzicato, intended to encourage the student to develop good technical habits for the future, while having a considerable amount of fun along the way.
The keys throughout are compatible, meaning that friends learning violin, viola or cello can enjoy playing the pieces together.
The complete Top Banana range:
They have co-authored a number of books for young string players, including Take your Bow, a collection of 20 concert pieces for beginner string players, and Sight Reading: A progressive method (Initial to Grade 8), for violin, viola, cello and double bass, published by Trinity College London Press. Naomi Yandell is also the author of the Trinity College Theory of Music Workbooks.
Celia Cobb and Naomi Yandell have done it again. Here is another volume that will both delight and inform the young string player. It also expands the repertoire for teachers looking for pieces that are fun while, as is always the case with Cobb and Yandell, keeping sound pedagogy at the heart of the message.
Top Banana is a set of 20 concert pieces at the level of ABRSM grades 1 and 2, designed to light the fire of musical creativity and communication in young players. In every piece there is something that will wow an audience and encourage the performer to think and feel beyond their own instrument. In Fanfare, the performance direction is ‘Bold as brass’; players are exhorted to sound not like a cellist or violist but like a trumpet, and also not to sound too pretty. Later in the volume, ‘ghastly’ sounds are called for. Extremes of dynamics are everywhere. In Spooky Story one can sense the trepidation in the pianissimo footsteps, before a door slams or something jumps out; while in Emerald Sea, the final notes are marked ‘al niente’, to create one of those magical effects where the music carries on long after the final notes have finished sounding.
It is all very well writing music full of ideas and extremes; it is another to make it really doable. The musical demands in each piece are designed to promote healthy improvement of technique as well. There are plenty of harmonics and glissandos that help to develop freedom of movement and easy hand positions. Playable double-stops are introduced, and there are first steps towards many bow techniques too.
Each piece comes with a few points or ideas for the pupil and teacher to explore as they start to learn the music. In the eponymous Top Banana one instruction: ‘enjoy the snap pizzicato on the last note – count carefully’ promotes the fun while gently reminding the player of the timing. These helpful and always positive notes are no more than a sentence or two each. This will allow plenty of room for a teacher to take ideas further, or bring their own to the pupil, as well as letting the pupil add their own thoughts and personality to the performances.
These pieces can be taught to more than one pupil at a time and also to small ensembles. There are many places where notes differ from violin to viola to cello, but they all fit together. This said, the strength of these pieces is not really that they can be played with mixed forces (there is no double bass volume); they are best viewed as performance pieces for the young soloist. The first ten pieces are about Grade 1 level while the second ten are about Grade 2. I would not be at all surprised if some of these wonderful pieces made an appearance in the next exam syllabuses.
ALEX LAING, The Strad, July 2022