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Reviewed by Randy B. Lichtman for Readers' Favorite
Donna Gielow McFarland’s Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano—Level 3 is a fun collection of Christmas songs with a variety of pieces for Christmas presenting different challenges for the Level 3 piano student. The selection is a good one, combining the traditional (such as "Jingle Bells", "O Little Town of Bethlehem", "Carol of the Bells", "12 Days of Christmas") with Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet favorites ("Waltz of the Flowers" and "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies"), spiritual (“Go Tell It On the Mountain”) and a modern “Horses and Bells” in swing (which was one of my favorites).
The collection presents different challenges for the piano student, presenting harmonies in varying styles. Most are in 4/4 with exceptions of “What Child is This?” and “Waltz of the Flowers” in 3/4. “Horses and Bells” presents an additional rhythmic challenge with swinging the eighth notes. Some pieces such as "Jingle Bells" and "12 Days of Christmas" are just fun with good counterpoint and broken chords. The arranger treats the spiritual “Go Tell It On the Mountain” in a dignified way with a consistent left-hand single note rhythm and chords formed with the addition of dyads being added in the right hand. The arranger also uses dyads in the left hand as “Carol of the Bells” begins building momentum. “What Child Is This?” has a nice flowing left-hand accompaniment which presents a special set of challenges for the student in fitting the harmonic line with the melody presenting a beautiful setting for the piece. "Carol of the Bells" moves the left hand down to explore different octaves, starting in treble clef and moving into bass clef with a nice accompaniment.
Some pieces use parallel motion accompaniment such as “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” while others use effective contrary motion such as “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” presents a nice contrast between the left hand and right hand with a variety of devices including moving the melody from right hand to left hand. Donna Gielow McFarland has presented a nice volume of Christmas Songs in Follow the Star: Christmas Songs for Piano—Level 3, providing a variety of styles and challenges in the arrangements. The arrangements are fun to play and a great learning resource for piano teachers and their students. An excellent book of arrangements. Highly recommended!