Piano Music Reviews
December 2013/January 2014
The FJH Pianist’s Curriculum, Book 1: Energize Your Fingers Every day, by Helen Marlais and Timothy Brown; and The FJH Pianist’s Curriculum, Book 2: Be a Star! Hymns, arranged by Kevin Costley and editing and practice strategies b Helen Marlais. FJH Music Company, Inc., 2012 and 2013. www.fjhmusic.com; 32 pp. each, $5.95 and $6.95.
Designed as a supplement for use with many methods, “Energize Your Fingers” provides exercises for young pianists. Marlais establishes seven skills for a healthy piano technique, and she provides exploration activities to assist teachers in introducing these to elementary students.
The main eight units each contain exercises for weekly practice. The week begins with a creative movement activity to help the students experience concepts such as arm weight. Every drill begins with a descriptive title, a cute cartoon and a subtitle that clarifies its technical goals. Furthermore, the authors have included technical guidance and meticulously written musical markings, distinguishing this from other series. The one- and two-line exercises utilize the most basic staff rotation and rhythm. There is heavy reliance on the first finger and middle C and C position.
The second collection by Costley fills a niche: singable hymn arrangements for the early years of piano study. The five solos and seven duets use unmodified hymn tunes that include the text of the first verse. Pianists read in C, F, G and D major, and play eighth and dotted quarter notes. Position changes are required in the majority of pieces with limited use of finger crossing. The solo and duet arrangements are musically appealing, and the secondo parts (for the teacher) provide great musical and rhythmic interest. In my opinion, the primo parts would not be as effective as solos.
Most pieces would be best suited for the early-intermediate student, even though the book is labeled for late-elementary. The music requires careful voicing of the melody (often split between the hands), most solos utilize overlapping pedal, and the duet playing poses a further challenge for students. These pieces will be equally attractive for adults and families who desire religious experience. –Reviewed by Sara M. Ernst, NCTM, University of South Carolina
January 2012 – The American Music Teacher Journal
Life is Good, by Kevin Costley
FJH Music Company, Inc., 2011. www.fjhmusic.com; 24 pp. $5.50. Intermediate.
Life is Good, part of the Composers in Focus series published by FJH, was composed by Kevin Costley on his birthday to reflect on the “good times” in life, which, in the composer’s view, “far outweigh the bad.” The eight mid-level intermediate pieces in this collection are appealing in character and style, evoking images, among others, of a moonlight stroll in Paris, a jaunt on a trolley, fun in the sun sparkling waters and an autumn sunset. Embracing a diverse range of styles including ragtime, calypso, ballad and country, to name a few, these captivating pieces draw on familiar accompaniment patterns cast in creative settings. Students will enjoy the challenge of coordinating the stride bass in “Dogwood Rag,” the syncopated calypso accompaniments of “Fun in the Sun” and “Tacos for Sale,” the boogie-woogie bass of “Old Town Trolley” and the “boom-chuck” accompaniment of “There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills!” Providing stylistic balance to the rhythmic, upbeat mood of these pieces, three of the compositions are in a romantic vein: “Sparkling Waters,” “Moonlight Stroll in Paris” and “Autumn Sunset” radiate with the colorful sonorities of seventh and ninth chords, harmonic ostinato of seconds and fourths, and graceful melodic lines.
Opportunities for expanding the tonal palette, careful voicing, shaping of melodic lines and sensitive pedaling are found in each piece.
All of the compositions in Life is Good will interface seamlessly with any piano method, reinforcing harmonic function and color, concepts of tone production, the coordination of syncopated rhythms, shifting hand positions, voicing and pedaling. Details of articulation, dynamics, fingering and pedaling are provided for each piece to guide students in developing artistic performances. Any of these delightfully evocative pieces will add pizzazz to a recital and could also be used as springboards to improvisation or composition. – Reviewed by Lisa Zdechlik, University of Arizona
Marth/April 2011 – Clavier Companion
Ozark Dance by Kevin Costley
This lively dance has a real mountain music flavor. Aside from its solid teaching concepts, it would be a great piece for introducing young children to a unique regional American music style. Both hands remain in a five-finger pattern; however, while the left hand remains in C position, the right hand is in an extended position with the thumb always on D. As a result, the fingering might prove to be a bit of a challenge for some students. There are two- and three-note chords included in a left hand punctuated with a few staccatos.
If your studio is equipped with a digital ensemble keyboard, this composition is interesting to orchestrate using the traditional instrument voices of American mountain music: banjo, harmonica, fiddle, and even dulcimer. For example, since the piece is in ABA form, the A and B sections could use contrasting voices such as banjo and accordion. The teacher part could use yet another voice (fiddle, perhaps?) or simply a traditional piano accompaniment. Even small changes in instrumentation add color and flavor to this attractive composition. (FJH, $2.50)
February 2011 Vol. 60 Issue 4
Autumn Portraits, by Kevin Costley. The FJH Music Company, Inc., 2010. www.fjhmusic.com; 26 pp., $6.95. Intermediate.
The fifth “Portraits” collection by Kevin Costley for the FJH Composers in Focus Series, Autumn Portraits, is an eclectic collection of eight intermediate pieces in various American styles. From the quotation of America the Beautiful in the opening piece, “A Day of Thanksgiving,” it is apparent Costley is introducing this collection as a series of regional and historical reflections on a seasonal theme. While the opening and closing pieces are introspective and romantic, featuring cantabile melodies and flowing left-hand accompaniments, the varied inner pieces span ragtime, blues, music theater, country, western and metropolitan styles, respectively. Many different…
Summer Portraits, by Kevin Costley.
This is a varied collection of eight pieces written to celebrate the spirit of summer. Each sets a different mood and each has techniques to develop skills in the young pianist’s hands. Beat the Heat Rocks! would be well received at a jazz-pop festival (chromatics and a boogie feel for the elementary level student). Summer Dreams can help a student develop lyricism in their playing. For playing in a swing style, we have A Sassy Summer Day. For a reflective mood we have A Quiet Summer Night. These are high interest pieces for summer lessons.
(R. Glen Wester, NCTM, reviewer) (FJH Music Company)
June 2009 - American Music Teacher Journal
Winter Portraits, by Kevin Costley. The FJH Music Company, Inc., 2008. www.fjhmusic.com; (800) 262-8744; 24 pp. $5.50. Intermediate.
This collection of pieces by Kevin Costley is published as a part of the FJH Composers in Focus Series, which introduces original compositions by contemporary composers into our piano teaching repertoire. Each of the pieces in this collection paints a portrait of a winter scene or experience. The accessibility of these compositions is appealing for a variety of students. They are musically mature with very artistic titles, making them perfect for teenage, as well as, adult students at the intermediate level. Students will be challenged more through musicianship than technique.
The first piece, “It’s Snowing Again,” has very basic rhythms, but requires the student to have a strong understanding of rubato. This is true for many of the selections. The composer uses ritardandos, grand pauses and fermatas, as well as specific written instructions on the score such as “lingering,” “with forward motion” and “holding back.” Dynamics vary widely throughout. They are very carefully planned, with detailed markings given by the composer. Voicing and balance are extremely important in pieces like “Whispering Snowdrifts” and “Gently Sleep.”
There are a few hand crossing passages, rolled chords, scales and basic running passages that will still provide students a challenge. Most selections are written in easy keys, with “Dancing in the Snow” in C major, “Wolf in the White Wilderness” in G major, and “Winter Shadows” in a minor. “Winterborn,” the last piece in the collection, is in E-flat major, and “The Cold Winter Wind” contains a prolific use of accidentals. The notes are spaced well, with clear pedal markings and fingering suggestions. There are changing clefs and meters within different selections.
A sensitive student could really use Winter Portraits to deliver a rich and truly rewarding performance, which makes these lovely teaching pieces perfect for the teacher who is searching for fresh material that will capture the student’s interest through variety of sound and the intriguing exploration of these great winter scenes. – Reviewed by Rebekah H. Jones, Bogart, Georgia
June 1, 2006 – American Music Teacher; Haroutounian, Joanne
*Be a Star!, Book 1, by Kevin Costley, edited by Helen Marlais. The FJH Music Co., Inc. (Westport Business Park, 2525 Davie Rd., Ste. 360, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33317), 2005. 24 pp. $5.50. Early-Elementary/Elementary.
Be a Star! Book 1, provides little fingers the opportunity to explore the full range of the keyboard with comfortable patterns for small hands. This collection also fits the bill for teachers seeking a supplementary series that provides extra reinforcement of intervallic learning and picturesque solo repertoire for recitals. The series offered by the FJH Music Company comes in three levels—early-elementary/elementary, late-elementary and early- to mid-intermediate. Book 1 contains 13 pieces suitable for students within their first year of piano who are eager to venture beyond the five-finger zones of method books.
A quick glance through the book will entice teachers who are seeking attractive pieces that can be easily taught to youngsters through a combined approach of rote learning, interval reading reinforcement and blocked patterning. Each piece is based on several simple patterns that may combine seconds/thirds, fourth/fifths and so on, and are sequenced by step, skip or octave placements. Each piece presents a practice suggestion in the upper-left corner that can trigger interval and pattern analysis of the piece. I was impressed that the book left this analysis to the student and teacher working through the piece, rather than cramming the page with too much extra teaching information.
Composer Kevin Costley’s appealing pieces are student friendly, colored with extended pedal, echo effects, arpeggiated hand cross-overs and far-reaching final notes for that dramatic finish. Titles include “Waking Flowers,” “Bubbles,” “Dewdrops,” “Dreamland” and a pentatonic “Whispering Butterflies.” “Cowboy Rodeo” offers more challenging syncopated fifths in a rousing gallop tempo.
Editor Helen Marlais describes the pieces that develop technique through repetition of patterns and intervals, as “impressive-sounding without being too difficult.” The series is designed to attract youngsters to read more, while reinforcing interval concepts through repetition of patterns across the keyboard. If teachers find this book useful for solo recital repertoire as well, this is a winner worth trying in your studio. Reviewed by Joanne Haroutounian, NCTM, Arlington, Virginia
January/February 2001 – National Guild Notes
Lost Star, Kevin Costley
This late elementary piece “feels good under the hands.” It is much easier than it sounds, the kind of piece children love to learn and teachers love to teach. The form is an ABA Coda. The “A” section is made up of a lovely “hand-crossing” melody that is sequential in nature and very easy for students to learn. The addition of the pedal adds a lovely tonal dimension. Mr. Costley has written many marks of expression and very tasteful fingering. This piece is in the new Bulletin for the National Federation of Music Clubs Junior Festivals. (Dr. Vicki King, reviewer) (FJH Music Co., 1998, $1.05