From: Kevin Costley

2008-09 Adopted Composer of the Year

Linda Kennedy Studio; Maumelle, AR.

December, 2008


Dear Students;


 What a nice Christmas surprise to hear from you today! Mrs. Kennedy told me you did a great job at your Christmas recital. I know you made everyone at the recital proud!


Here are my replies to you last questions I received today from Mrs. Kennedy.


1)Hayley – would like to know if you are working on any Christmas pieces now (playing and/or arranging).

Right now, I just finished two elementary Christmas arrangements of “Jingle Bells” and “I Saw Three Ships” for 2009 Christmas publications with FJH. I’m happy with the “Jingle Bells” arrangements and think the left hand is creative, when compared to other elementary arragements of this popular Christmas carol.


2) Elizabeth – wonders if you will be playing Christmas music anywhere.

Unfortunately, this year I have no audience to play to in the community; however, I will perform for two Christmas banquets/training sessions next week where I work (Arkansas Tech University). Since my wife, Dana, daughter, Victoria, and I relocated permanently to Arkansas in May, we have not made a lot of contacts in the community; therefore, I have not been asked to play for any community event/programs during this Christmas season as in the past where I would play for several each year when we lived in Missouri. 


3) Maddie – is curious to know what your favorite carol is. 

Wow! This is a very hard question to answer. When it comes to carols, most likely “Silent Night” is my favorite. A close second is “O Little Town of Bethlehem”. Maybe your teacher can play both of these arrangements in my intermediate Christmas collections, titled, “It’s Christmas Again” and “Christmas in the Air.”


4) Madeline – wants to know where you and your family normally go to celebrate Christmas.

My son is 21 years old and my daughter is 18 years old. We have always insisted on a tradition of being home on Christmas morning. Every year we have Christmas dinner with my wife’s family in Heber Springs, AR. 


5) Abi – What is the best Christmas present you ever got? 

Most likely the best Christmas present I got came on Christmas morning when I was a sixth grader. My twin and both sisters ran downstairs to see what Santa brought. He brought us all shiny new bikes! We jumped up and down with joy and thought we were rich. I still have that bike today!


From the group class – What are you wishing for this Christmas? 

I really don’t have any present I wish for. I have everything I really need or want. My wish is that no child in our country goes to bed hungry or sad Christmas Eve and wakes up on Christmas morning to find no gifts under the Christmas tree. Always know how blessed you are to be loved!!!


Chloe – asks, “how much do you practice piano each day?” 

I was hoping you would never ask this question (ha – TRUE!). At my age, I don’t practice every day. I’m no longer taking piano lessons or learning classical literature. My main need is to maintain finger dexterity at the keyboard so when I play publicly, my fingers will do what I need them to do. Fortunately, my fingers have always been very flexible. I do go in and play from time to time, yet after a long-term absence from playing for the public; I can still play for audiences with just a few minutes of finger warmups and rapid arpeggio playing. Since all of my playing in public is improvisation (church and programs), I often practice in my head before any solo performances. Fortunately, if my “brain” is in the right mind-set, I can pretty much get my fingers to do what they need to do.


Kennedy – wonders if you compose everyday. Do you set aside time especially for that?

Although I tell young budding composers to write “something” everyday, I don’t write every day like I used to as a beginning published composer. Now as a more seasoned and successful composer with experience (with more than 145 pieces/arrangments on the market), I usually only compose when I have an assignment from the company and/or when I’m working on a “Kevin Costley-directed publication” (something I want to write). A few weeks ago I began working on a new elementary collection. This collection will have lyrics too. For my own projects (solos, books, etc.), Saturdays and Sunday afternoons are great times for me to compose longer projects.


Joanna – wants to know if you have a favorite brand of pianos, and she wants you to know she likes (and finds very interesting) the way you use G Major in measure 112 (at the allargando) and g minor in measures 113-114 in My Bold Argentina. Is there a special meaning behind that use of both modes?

Although Steinway’s are wonderful, I really like Kawai grand pianos. When I play in public, I’ve notice that Kawai’s are usually very consistent and predictable in sound and quality.


Also, thank you for the question on “My Bold Argentina.” While looking carefully at the music again, I don’t use G major at all at the measures you stated. In both measures you mentioned, the B is flatted (see key signature), making these chords g minor chords. However, in measure 112, notating a G Major chord, the resolving to a g minor chord might have been an exciting thing to do!!! You just gave me another wonderful composing tip! THANKS!


From a Dad who is a fine pianist, too; do you compose equally fluently in all keys or are some keys easier? Do you have a favorite key to which you gravitate when you sit down to improvise/play around?

What a neat question to ask. I don’t compose equally well in all keys. I compose best in the keys that are marketable keys where I have the most experience. When I just “sit around and play”, I often find myself in two different keys: D Major and G. G fits my hands well and songs seem to be very lyrical in G Major. I often gravitate to D Major also for a bright and clear, crisp sound. 


Thanks to Mrs. Kennedy and her students who asked these thoughtful questions. I love talking to you and can’t wait to meet you in May, 2009. I’ll try to get a photo to you very soon so you’ll know how good looking I am and how young I look for my age (smile!)! 


And let me say one more thing...


Think of how important piano lessons are in your life. When you are an adult, you will never regret taking piano lessons from Mrs. Kennedy. On Christmas Eve, you won’t be throwing a ball in your living room nor doing a tap dance. You will gathering at the piano by the Christmas tree accompanying your singing family on “Silent Night.” What a wonderful, precious gift you will be giving to your family, each and every year of your life!!!


Merry Christmas!

Kevin Costley

FJH Exclusive/Major Composer



Linda Kennedy Piano Studio – Maumelle, AR.

Kevin Costley – Adopted Composer of the year, 2008



April, 2009

Kevin C. Costley


Dear Students: 


As adopted composer of the year, I am delighted to receive more thoughtful questions about composition from you. I hope you fully understand and like the following answers.


Who is Carolyn McGowan to whom “Struttin' Uptown” is dedicated? (From Allison age, 24, who has really enjoyed learning this piece!)


Carolyn McGowan is an old friend of mine. We date back to 1976 when I began teaching my first year of elementary school. When we realized we lived very close to each other, we car-pooled together and worked on our master’s degrees together. Eventually we staged some artistic musical children’s plays in the local theatre. I also was co-director and director of music at Pinocchio Preschool with her for 16 years, in addition to being the director of the Keyboard Academy. Carolyn loves jazz and I knew she would love this piece!


When you compose a piece, do you come up with a title first and build the piece around it, or do you create the piece first and then name it? (From Chloe, age 13).


This is a very good question from a 13 year old piano student. 99 out of 100 pieces, I already have the title and image in my mind. Then I sit and use my imagination to creature a sculpture; I call the sculpture a “piano piece.” Seldom have I written a piece without a title. I have to know where I’m going before I write. However, there are highly successful composers who do quite the opposite and produce exceptional pieces for performance and pedagogical study.


Who is your favorite composer from each of the major eras (Baroque, Classical, romantic, Impressionist) and 20-th century)? (From Nicholas, age 18).


This is a difficult question and all teachers with a music history background know that some of the time periods (we commonly call the “classics) overlap in years. However, here are my choices:

Baroque – George Friderich Handel

Classical – Friedrich Kuhlau

Romantic – Claude Debussy

Impressionistic – Maurice Ravel

20th Century – Erik Satie


*Note – I did check the spelling of these composer’s names. I suspect different musical sources might have differing spellings.


What was your inspiration for “Lost Star?” (Elizabeth, age 9) 


This piece has been a very popular piece for over ten years and I am asked this question often. One summer night, while lying on a blanket on the ground in my front yard, I saw a cluster of stars. Then I saw a star way off in the distance. I then thought, “Oh, how lonely this little sweet star must be.” The next morning I remember this inspiration and wrote this tender piece. I don’t want to brag on myself, yet when young children play it at recitals, I’ve often seen grandmas and grandpas wipe tears down their cheeks. No doubt, it is my most favorite piece! 


In “Thoughts for Tomorrow”, are there any specific things, characteristics you would like for me to bring out when I play it at the recital? (Joanna, age 15). 


First of all, Joanna, I am very PLEASED you are going to perform the suite. Second of all, let the piece be yours and take some liberties in how you personalize the piece. Composer’s/Editor’s suggestions are just suggestions. They are important to follow, yet there are those subtle places you need to make the piece your own with a distinctive personal flare. 


One suggestion is to not drag the first piece, keep it going, yet don’t rush it. If you miss any notes, try not to go back and correct them. Audiences can be very forgiving with missed notes when students recover and go on with the piece.


 Be sure the middle piece is lyrical. The melody is vital; bring it out where it can be heard. This piece should have forward movement without rushing. 


 The last piece is meant to be very fast and exciting. Yet, find the tempo that suits you best!!! And don’t be afraid to bear down at the ending and startle us with all of those riveting sounds and rhythms. I know your ending will leave the audience in awe.


 MOST OF ALL, take a little break between pieces so you can relax, think of the beginning tempo, find your hand position, and then play. (I’m sure Mrs. Kennedy has taught you all of these performance concepts). The audience will be willing to wait for you. This strategy also makes the audience wonder what is coming next. THANK YOU, THANK YOU for playing my piece! Don’t be nervous or intimidated. I will appreciate anything you do!!!


I am playing the duet, “Holotafun Rag”, and I noticed when playing with Mrs. Kennedy that both the primo and second parts are supposed to play the same F (a 4th above middle C at the end measure 57). Who do you think should play it, the primo or the second (from Katie, age 13?)


Although I am glad you brought this problem up, apparently there is doubling on this note that I, the composer, and several other editors (also proofreaders) did not catch on the last draft. I will check this error out and proceed accordingly. On to your question, at this point, it would be most likely better if Mrs. Kennedy circled the note and played it herself. This way, you the student player, won’t have to worry about this inaccuracy in the score. After a few run-throughs of the ending, you should be accustomed to her taking on this role. I’m very sorry for this error and will immediately bring it to the attention to the company. 


When you are writing out your compositions, do you write by hand or at a computer in a notation program? If in a notations program, which one do you use or prefer?


Good question. 99 percent of the time I write by hand my compositions. Since I have a composition program, I first write hand-written “sloppy drafts.” I often skip correct rules of composition so I can write as quickly as possible; sometimes these ideas come to me very quickly. Therefore, I use “shorthand” to get my first ideas down. For example, for a left hand having 3 beats of rests in one measure, I might write three check marks instead of properly notating 3 rests. Another example - When a line is repeated again later in the score, in those measures I just write the word, “AGAIN.” Composition programs do wonderful cutting and pasting of places where music is repeated!


I prefer to use an outdated Final-Allegro 2000 program. Newer programs became more complicated, rather than becoming simpler to use! My goal after hand-writing my sloppy draft is to get the first draft on Finale. From there, I run off the first draft and then I rewrite the composition several times until I’m happy with it and think it is ready for submission for publication. 


Students, I am glad you liked the hourglass on “A Walk Through Time.” The graphics artists at FJH are very gracious and often ask for my input on designs. On this piece, they gave me exactly what I wanted. I wanted the artwork to capture the essence of the suite. And also, I want Mrs. Kennedy and students to be happy with the cover design.


In closing, this year you have been such a blessing to me and a highlight in my professional and personal life. I don’t often get to answer composer questions. Thank you for sending them to me! I’m keeping all of your questions and my answers in a memorable scrapbook. You will never know the gratifying feeling it has been being your adopted composer! I can’t wait to see you in May! I know your performances will be memorable, exceptional and dynamic!


A very grateful composer,


Dr. Kevin Costley

FJH Music Exclusive/ Major Writer