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Philip Keveren is one of my favourite arrangers and composers whose music has a contemporary popular vibe. He is also clearly industrious: this year alone has seen the release of his clever Circles: Character Etudes in 24 keys (reviewed here) and the hugely appealing Piano Calm (reviewed here), both of which are quickly establishing themselves as firm favourites with my students.
Now Keveren brings us the sequel to the latter collection, Piano Calm Christmas. And if it lives up to its recent predecessors, we can look forward to something very special indeed.
So let’s find out…
15 Reflective Solos
Piano Calm Christmas offers “15 Reflective Solos for the Season”, with Keveren returning to the role of arranger for these classics:
- Away in a Manger
- Candlelight Carol
- The First Noel
- The Holly and the Ivy
- The Huron Carol
- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
- In the Bleak Midwinter
- Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
- O Come, All Ye Faithful
- Silent Night
- Sing We Now of Christmas
- Still, Still, Still
- Tender and Mild
- We Three Kinds of Orient Are
- What Child is This?
Some of these Christmas favourites will be more familiar to readers in the US than they are here in the UK, but given the seasonal cheer and ambience of all this music it perhaps hardly matters. And happily, Keveren manages to cleverly interweave both the US and UK melodies for Away in a Manger in his arrangement here, which in my experience is a welcome first.
While the music has the Christmas stamp on it throughout, I am happy to report that the piano writing and style of arrangement is in a similar vein to the previous Piano Calm book, making this a perfect fusion of seasonal cheer and relaxed piano vibe.
According to Keveren:
“Every year, as the holidays approach, my wife and I resolve to slow down and not let the commercial craziness engulf us. It’s hard to accomplish. However, with intentionality, one can find ways to “stop and smell the evergreen.” My hope is that these arrangements will provide you with a peaceful moment or two at the piano during the Christmas season.”
The publishers tell us that these arrangements would suit an intermediate player (so around UK Grades 3-5), but given Keveren’s recurring penchant for lush modulations and the tricky keys his arrangements thus often find themselves in, I would place it towards the upper end of that estimate.
These arrangements are, however, easier than those in his Christmas Carols with a Classical Flair, which I have previously reviewed here and also highly commend. And while those arrangements occasionally flirted with schmaltz, here the tone is predominantly poignant and more reflective.
As with all Keveren’s writing though, there is a brilliance of musical ingenuity throughout, from the simplicity of his Holly and the Ivy arrangement to the twinkling beauty of his Silent Night, in which only a careful attention to voicing will allow the melody to emerge from within the broader piano figuration with clarity (making this a wonderful learning tool as well as a gorgeous piece to just sit and play).
The book arrives in a gorgeous cover that maintains the house style of The Phillip Keveren Series while also referencing the visuals of the first Piano Calm volume:
Within, the 40 white pages, staple bound, include a short introduction, credits and contents pages at the front, with catalogue listings for the series at the rear, the main bulk of the book given over to the scores of the 15 pieces.
The notation is cleanly presented and easy to read. As ever, Keveren includes ample but not excessive articulation and phrasing in his pieces, some pedalling suggestions, and modest fingering recommendations appear throughout.
In short, this is a typical Hal Leonard publication: classy, eye catching, produced to high standards, enduring.
At intermediate level, the best Christmas music books become more enjoyably diverse, from increasingly engaging classical arrangements through to more jazzy alternatives.
Piano Calm Christmas offers something distinctive and very warmly welcome.
I’m a bit of a sucker for a well-presented music book, and this certainly scores highly on that front, but what really makes it a special release is the quality of Keveren’s musicianship, which as ever is sky-high here.
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