Celebration Series is a collection of piano books published by the Frederick Harris Music Co. Its contents are used as exam material at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

The series was first published in 1987. Revisions are published roughly every seven years, with new editions appearing in 1994, 2001 and 2008.

The series covers 11 levels, ranging from the introductory level to the 10th grade. Each level has an array of books: a volume of repertoire, studies and a student handbook.

There is also a recording, with the pieces played by Conservatory faculty members, available for each level. (I still have my grade two cassette tape somewhere. They're CDs now. They're not on iTunes yet. I looked.)

The books

Each repertoire volume consists of pieces from the baroque, classical, romantic and 20th century eras. Some also feature inventions and exercises. They are divided into sections based on said eras. The current editions' sections are described using the historical periods. The 1994 edition unimaginatively called them "list A," "list B" and "list C." (There may have been subsequent "lists" in the higher grades.)

The study albums are, according to the introduction in the 2001 editions, "especially suited for building technique." The 1994 edition, at least, seemed more like a collection of more interesting repertoire pieces. The 2008 edition lists the skills each study is designed to build. There is now a study album for each level; the 1994 edition combined some of the grades into a single volume. My original studies book covered grades one and two.

The student workbooks delve into the performance aspects of each piece (i.e. what the student should be trying to get across while playing), as well as historical context.

In addition to these, there is also a Celebration Series "handbook for teachers," which piano teachers can use as a reference. It includes information about all of the Celebration Series pieces as well as suggestions for practicing that can be passed on to students.

The cover of each book contains a piece of artwork. My memory of the 1994 edition is that all of the books featured a piece of Canadian art. The 2001 edition covers "span the European and North American artistic past and present," according to a note opposite the title page.

The recordings

As noted above, the Conservatory has some of its faculty members record the repertoire and study pieces from each level as an aural reference for students and teachers alike. According to the Frederick Harris Music Co. website, the recordings are often an invaluable reference when it comes to what RCM examiners will be looking for in terms of tempo and dynamics.

Since the repertoire and study albums get thicker towards the end of the RCM grades (what with all those full sonatas), the recordings for grades eight and up span multiple CDs.

The more things change

When I set up my first meeting with my piano teacher, she told me to bring whatever books I had available. All I had at my apartment was my 2001 edition Celebration Series grade two piano repertoire book. I once had the grades one and two repertoires as well as the combined grades one and two study books from the 1994 edition, but those are in a box at my parents' house if I even still have them.

I showed it to her when we met, noting it was a little out of date. I expected to need a new book, but she said no, that the pieces still held up. She dug her copy of the RCM syllabus out of a drawer and started cross-referencing the "current" pieces with the table of contents.

Of the 32 pieces in the book I'd brought, 20 were still current exam material. And you don't need to play that many pieces at an exam.

"No sense buying a new book," she said. "See, they swap out a few pieces every year and put out a new edition. I wonder if that's how they make their money."

I'm sure she was kidding, and I wouldn't have minded buying a new one had it been necessary, but would you turn down the chance to save $15? (I might still need a new studies book, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. And when I finally break out of the grade two holding pattern I've been in for 17 years, I'll finally get to experience the 2008 edition.)

Having said that, sometimes major changes are made. While flipping through some of the books in the 2008 edition at a music store recently, I noticed that at least one piece that was classified at the grade two level in 1994 was now in the grade one book.

Unauthorized copying

Both the RCM website and notices inside the Celebration Series books make it plain that material published by the Frederick Harris Music Co. is copyrighted, that composers and publishers rely on book royalties as a way to make a living, and that photocopying is therefore strictly verboten. Unless, of course, we're talking about the performance of a multiple-page piece at a recital or an exam, in which case the Frederick Harris Music Co. would be delighted to extend permission to photocopy a single page "for the purpose of facilitating a page turn." And now you know.

A final note on exams

Celebration Series repertoire pieces and studies aren't the only RCM exam material. First, the exams involve technical elements such as scales, arpeggios and chords. And some Celebration Series pieces can be swapped out in favour of pre-approved "popular selections," including music from TV and film.


Celebration Series: The Piano Odyssey. The Frederick Harris Music Co, 2001.
Celebration Series: Perspectives sampler — Frederick Harris Music. Co. 
Photocopies at RCM examinations — The Royal Conservatory of Music