It’s high time we took a look at perhaps one of the lesser-known composers on our syllabus, Mona Rejino. American composer, performer and educator, she is very much welcome on the RSL Classical Piano syllabus.

Lifelong Pianist

Mona describes herself as a “lifelong pianist”, which is bang on the truth considering that she began by playing little tunes by ear on her grandma’s piano. It started off with little nursery rhymes and folk songs, and eventually her parents noticed her clear talent and interest in the instrument. They bought an old second-hand piano from a neighbour in their Texas village, and the rest is piano-playing history.

Mona has loved teaching the piano ever since she graduated from her music degree and has ran the Rejino Piano Studio out of her house for a whole 27 years!

But one of the things we love most about Mona is that she has truly proven that it’s never too late to start. Until the age of 35 she had never composed a single piece of music, but whilst working on the Hal Leonard Student Piano Library books, she noticed that there were a few holes that needed filling in. She decided to jot down some tunes and, lo and behold, they were chosen to be included in the book!

Since then she has had a whole host of compositions included in the famous Keys Magazine, and has written collections of piano compositions too. Now, she’s always got a pen and paper handy, ready for when the inspiration comes to her!

Portraits in Style

But the collection of hers that we’re most interested in is her 2004 suite, Portraits in Style. The collection features six solo piano pieces which are said to encourage pianists to perform artistically, using imagery to paint an aural picture. We had to include one of these masterpieces in the RSL Classical Piano Grade 3 syllabus, and we chose “Nocturne”. It’s a truly charming piece. A good performance of this will be beautifully elegant and flowing, with a lyrical melody that sings reflectively. We’d not be surprised to hear this one a LOT in the exam room.

To really grasp the mood of this piece, we’d recommend listening to as many nocturnes as you can get your ears on (think Chopin!). It’s got to be a lovely legato without over use of the pedal as we don’t want to muddy the glorious melody. You can also use the four-bar phrasing, where the peak is in the third bar, to shape your expression and feel.

Mona herself has always maintained that good sight reading, in combination with having a good ear has been a real benefit throughout her career, so if you’ve ever needed a nudge to keep practising those technical exercises then this is it!

If you’ve enjoyed learning a bit more about Mona Rejino then do have a read about some of the other composers in our syllabus whose names you may not have heard before, including Valerie Capers, Zenobia Powell Perry and Ignatius Sancho. Enjoy!