Dr. Alan Huckleberry, associate professor at the University of Iowa School of Music, is one of two pianists working on the Iowa Piano Pedagogy Project.
Big ideas in the music world tend to take root in places like New York or London. However, two men from Iowa City, Drs. Alan Huckleberry and Jason Sifford, are working on something that could raise the eyebrows of millions of pianists and piano instructors worldwide. It’s called the University of Iowa Piano Pedagogy Project, and the overall mission is simple: make a video recording of every intermediate song from the Iowa Music Teachers Association syllabus, and upload the clips to YouTube. What’s not so simple is the fact that over 9,000 pieces need to be covered.
There is no known collection that rivals the size of the UI Project.
Huckleberry, a professor at the university and a seasoned performer, came up with the idea when working with a student. In a 2012 interview with music magazine Clavier Companion, Huckleberry recalled the day: “I was teaching one of my pre-college students and told her to go to YouTube to listen to the piece she was playing—I think the Khachaturian Toccata. She came back and said she couldn’t find anything. I said, ‘Come on, there’s got to be something good out there.’ So I went on my computer and looked for it, and, lo and behold, I could not find a really good recording of it.”
So in 2011, with nothing more than a camera, a Steinway grand piano, a mountain of sheet music, and a part-time assistant, Sifford and Huckleberry created a channel. They immediately began uploading clear, loud, and straight-to-the-point recordings.
Their exact target became every song labeled “elementary” to “early advanced” in the syllabus’s immense repertoire list. With pieces ranging from Baroque to contemporary, a 400-year timeline of music is available to browse.
No method of picking what was going to be recorded next was devised, but Dr. Sifford revealed, “We take requests from Iowa teachers if there’s something specific they’d like to see. But otherwise, we try to balance the levels and styles as we go through the list.”
This haphazard approach is helpful to the channel’s visitors because they won’t have to wait for works from a certain genre or level of difficulty to be covered.
Since it’s a one-of-a-kind project, there’s no way to determine when it will be completed. Sifford estimates that they will need about seven years to work their way through the list. In the meantime, the channel has collected thousands of subscribers and millions of views.
“I’ve been surprised at how well the project has been received!” Sifford said. “Our channel is nearing two million views, and we’ve received a lot of wonderful messages from people all over the world. We knew Iowa teachers would be interested, but the project has a truly international following!”
For those looking for recital ideas, performance examples, or an unusually large playlist of piano pieces, search “UIPianoPed” on YouTube to begin your journey.