School started last week. Yep. Read it and weep. The summer is over. Over.

But as much as I never like the idea of summer ending, the truth is that the beginning of a new school year has a certain appeal. I love the notion of a fresh start, no matter when it might occur in the calendar. The beginning of the school year allows me to look ahead to autumn, however relentless the heat might be at the moment. And fall means yellow cottonwood leaves, the smell of roasted green chile, pumpkins, boots, sweaters. I can’t wait.

The beginning of school also means school supplies. Sharp pencils, blank notebooks, pink erasers that have yet to wipe out a mistake. But these days I find myself less enamored with the notion of acquiring new materials, as I am of shedding my life and work of things that no longer earn their rent on my shelves. Maybe watching my friends move away and witnessing their process of organizing and sorting and sifting through their stuff has inspired my thinking. After all, there is something very basic and simple about the question, “Do I still need this?”

And so, I’ve spent the summer clearing out my workspace, files and shelves. I’ve read through dozens and dozens and dozens of pedagogical pieces and thrown away more than I kept (I can hear the gasps now. Yes, I threw away music.) I organized and ordered my pedagogical materials so that I can access them more quickly. I even went through my precious rote notebook and pulled out music I had collected but I have never taught. It’s not that I am opposed to the new or the novel. It’s just that to wiggle its way into my teaching repertoire the piece, the technique, the practice strategy, the whatever has to be good. Really, really good.

It was in the middle of my tossing music and materials right and left that two new collections came my way. Paula Dreyer, a piano teacher and composer from the San Francisco area, wrote and asked if I would take a look at her two collections of rote pieces. While there are more and more teachers and pedagogical composers beginning to join the rote-teaching parade, we have a long way to go to make rote teaching as ordinary and commonplace as teaching theory or scales. There may be a saturation of pedagogical music in the piano teaching world, but we need more composers writing highly patterned, creative, interesting music that can be easily taught by rote. “Sure,” I wrote back to Paula. “Send them my way.”

Little Gems for Piano are two collections, each containing 27 pieces intended to be taught by rote. Each collection includes a CD for instruction and reinforcement (I cannot begin to count the number of times I have had to reteach a rote piece because a kid left my studio and immediately forgot it. A CD is a great resource.). The pieces themselves are creative and evocative with poetic titles like “Portuguese Pigs,” “Falling Stars,” and “Nights of Spain.” More than that, each one is everything a rote piece should be: very patterned and very appealing, easy to teach and fun to play. While it’s true that many of the pieces are quite similar, owning these two collections would give a teacher a depth of resources for incorporating rote teaching into the lessons of beginning piano students for months and months. In other words, Paula has given the rote-teaching repertoire a huge boost in terms of both quality and quantity.

So while I may be sorting and sifting, tossing and fussing with my teaching materials and asking myself over and over again, “Do I still need this? Does this stay or go?” Little Gems stay.