Phillip Keveren’s ‘Piano Calm’

Products featured here are selected for review by ANDREW EALES

Phillip Keveren’s name will be known to many readers for The Phillip Keveren Series of music books published by Hal Leonard, numbering nearly 100 volumes published in the US, with many now also available here in the UK.

Keveren, described by his publishers as “a multi-talented keyboard artist and composer”, is a superb arranger. His publications, suitable for intermediate to more advanced players, include collections of music from rock, pop, gospel, folk and jazz favourites, as well as several volumes dedicated to the music of stage, screen, worship service and Disney hits.

Those I’ve seen are uniformly excellent, combining musical authenticity with pianistic intelligence, and are rapidly becoming an indispensable resource within my teaching studio.

For his latest addition to the series, Piano Calm, Keveren has turned his hand to composing 15 original pieces, suitable for intermediate players, which he describes as ‘reflective solos.

And I think they are excellent, so let’s take a look…

The Publication

Piano Calm retains the house style of The Phillip Keveren Series, albeit with a cover that adopts a more subdued nocturnal colour scheme suiting the mood of the contents beautifully:

Behind the shiny cover lies a 40 page book printed on white paper, with title page, short Preface and contents pages leading to the 15 new pieces. At the rear there’s a listing of popular titles from the series, many of which you may find yourself wanting to purchase!

The notation is cleanly and spaciously presented. Tempi are indicated with a metronome mark only, while the composer includes dynamics, phrasing and articulation to convey his intentions with clarity, but without stifling the performer’s own interpretation.

Fingering is basically absent (in common with the other titles I’ve seen in the series), and I would have preferred it throughout; useful finger suggestions are such a good support for independent learning.

The Compositions

Keveren’s 15 titles are:

  • Alpine Meadow
  • By the Pond
  • Dawn
  • Dreaming
  • Floating
  • Frosted Windowpane
  • Gentle Breeze
  • Hush
  • Johann’s Music Box
  • Lavender
  • Nightfull
  • Peaceful Stream
  • Pianissimo
  • Rain
  • Winter Sky

As you’ll see from the contents, the book is presented with the pieces in alphabetical order, rather than progressively or following a particular artistic sequence. Players should certainly feel free to dip in and out of the collection according to their whim.

Introducing the set, Keveren writes in his Preface:

“The world is a stressful place. Music can be a beautiful, calming part of tuning out the noise and recalibrating the mind, heart and spirit. Playing music can be an even more effective transport into a more peaceful, restful state of mind.
Piano Calm is a set of pieces that the intermediate pianist can enjoy as a respite from “it all”. Originally composed for a recording of the same name, I am pleased to bring it to you in sheet music form.”

Playing through these pieces, one of the most immediately striking features of the collection is its variety. Those expecting monochrome post-minimalism or just another Einaudi imitation will be surprised by the breadth of influence, and perhaps by the strong melodic content of these pieces, apparent in the opening Alpine Meadow:

Many of the pieces are infused with delicious soft jazz and pop-inspired harmonies, the major seventh and ninth chords, along with other delightful twists adding considerably to their distinctive and enjoyable character.

And although all the pieces here qualify for the “calm” tag, there’s a range of mood that encompasses the downbeat (Hush, Nightfall), the more optimistic (Dreaming, Floating), the exotic (Lavender) and even the gently syncopated (Peaceful Stream):

The most unexpected is perhaps Johann’s Music Box, which channels the well-known Pachelbel Canon in D, using its recurring harmonic sequence as the basis for a fresh and decisively contemporary piece.

In terms of difficulty, the designation intermediate is basically spot on; they would be lovely “quick study” pieces for those at the upper end of intermediate, too. But given their aim to be “respite from it all”, I would imagine that many more advanced players will (as I did) find enjoyment and satisfaction playing through the collection.

It’s worth noting that some of the pieces are easier for those with large hands (notice the wide stretch needed in the RH opening of Alpine Meadow above, and the LH mobility in Peaceful Stream). Also deserving mention, Keveren clearly likes his key changes and seems to gravitate toward the flat keys: there are pieces with 4, 5 and even 6 flats in the signature.

Legato pedalling is fairly essential in some of the pieces; used in a pedagogic context, they would make great material for teaching and learning a range of effective pedal techniques.

Summing Up

Piano Calm has proved itself one of the most enjoyable intermediate collections that I’ve come across in quite a while, and I expect it to be especially popular with my teenage and adult students. From cover to cover, the pieces are well written and engaging enough to hold the player’s interest; they sound lovely too, and will enchant listeners.

It’s no mean feat to produce such a varied collection of quality pieces that are consistently both relaxing and musically interesting; Keveren must be congratulated for such an absorbing success, and I have no difficulty at all in picturing many pianists sat at their instrument, losing themselves in these pieces of an evening after a stressful day. The book is superb.

All together now: Breathe in…

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Published by

Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales is a widely respected piano educator, writer and composer based on Milton Keynes UK. His book HOW TO PRACTISE MUSIC is published by Hal Leonard.