Teaching Contemporary Piano Techniques to Intermediate Students with Alexina Louie’s Star Light, Star Bright

We would like to thank Lynn Worcester Jones for this insightful article on teaching Alexina Louie’s Star Light, Star Bright. Want to learn more about music by women composers? Check out our course, Hidden Gems: Four Centuries of Piano Music by Women Composers. Learn more and enroll here.

Introducing intermediate piano students to twentieth-and twenty-first-century compositional techniques and styles is essential, especially as we move from Gen Z students to those in Generation Alpha (born in the early 2010s). In Star Light, Star Bright (1995),1 both generations will find an established, musically rich collection of nine pedagogical solo piano pieces tailored for this purpose by Alexina Louie,2 an internationally recognized, living female composer. Students will gain greater rhythmic control, perceive their sound differently, explore new freedoms in their technique, and appreciate the importance of score study. Effective performance of these techniques will build a student’s inner conductor as they absorb the importance of rhythmic values and new approaches to time and space. Beyond the pedagogical benefits, these pieces may also help teachers retain students who are resistant to, or need a break from, traditional repertoire.

Star Light, Star Bright comfortably and brilliantly engages the intermediate-level student with minimalism, frequent meter changes, unmeasured music, and new presentations of musical notation. The pieces sound sophisticated and advanced beyond their pianistic requirements, and alone or in combinations are excellent choices for study in lessons, recital performances, and competitions. One approach in teaching this set is to study and perform the pieces in pairs. Each piece is brief—two to four pages—with the right number of contemporary musical techniques, styles, and new challenges. Louie provides musical directions that are succinct, specific, and inviting for students new to the way these techniques sound, feel, and appear on the page; and students and teachers will appreciate her pedal markings, ample fingerings, tempo alterations, articulations, and dynamics in the music.

Eight out of the nine pieces are listed in The Royal Conservatory Piano Syllabus, 2015 edition (RCPS)3 and they offer Gen Alphas an opportunity to be intrigued by stars, planets, and galaxies as they explore new sounds and colors emanating from this celestial set.

“Distant Star”
“Distant Star” is one of the most accessible pieces to learn in this collection and is a seamless introduction to frequent meter changes in a contemporary style for the intermediate student. Pianists will discover eleven meter changes in this brief twenty-four-measure piece with the quarter note receiving the main beat throughout. “Distant Star” begins in the lower register of the piano with two bass clefs and does not move into the ledger lines above the treble clef until the last four measures. Pianists with small hands will find one manageable octave stretch on F sharp that appears three times in the left hand in a moderate tempo. There are open fourths and fifths and the extended chords set an expressive mood that produces an other-worldly atmosphere. “Distant Star” is listed as Level 6 in the RCPS, p. 54.

We hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Lynn Worcester Jones’s insightful article on teaching Alexina Louie’s Star Light, Star Bright. To read the full article, check out our course, Hidden Gems: Four Centuries of Piano Music by Women Composers. Learn more and enroll here.


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  1. The Star Light, Star Bright collection of intermediate piano solos, by Alexina Louie, was most recently available in print at J. W. Pepper, jwpepper.com/Star-Light-Star-Bright/5982051.item#.YVcHNtNKjPZ, accessed October 5, 2021; and is available for purchase as a pdf download through the Canadian Music Center Online Library at cmccanada.org/shop/14154/, accessed October 5, 2021.
  2. Born in 1949, Alexina Louie is a Chinese Canadian female composer who has achieved international acclaim, and whose works have become part of the standard repertoire. Read more about Alexina Louie in her biography found on her website at alexinalouie.ca/full-bio.
  3. The Royal Conservatory Piano Syllabus (RCPS) may be accessed online at files.rcmusic.com//sites/default/files/files/RCM-Piano-Syllabus-2015.pdf. RCPS page references listed in this article are taken from this document, accessed on October 5, 2021.

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