ABRSM Pop Performer! Review

Motivation in the preliminary stages of learning to play an instrument can often be given more than an initial kick-start or impetus if the repertoire is chosen that the pupil loves and is really keen to play. If a student is a great fan of ABBA, then it makes sense that he/she would be really thrilled to be able to play one of their top hits by themselves.


Pop Performer!

Twenty graded arrangements (Initial – Gr 3)
ABRSM, distributed Hal Leonard
ISBN 978 178605112 (£12.95)


Certainly, the likes of Wet Wet Wet’s ‘Love is all around’ or ‘Be My baby’ from ‘The Ronettes’ makes more than a slight change from the Anna Magdalena Bach notebook or Schumann’s ‘Album for the Young’ (not to mention Bartók’s Mikrokosmos!). And that is the point: Piano Lessons can encompass all kinds of approaches, and repertoire building can be made all the more varied, inclusive, and inspirational if pieces (‘songs’) are included that pupils love and want to make their own.

Within these pop anthologies there is a wide variety. ABRSM has done teachers a great service by dividing material into two stages (elementary and early intermediate). In the elementary collection the range of characterisation, colours and tonality is impressive. Justin Bieber rubs shoulders with Leonard Cohen and Billie Eilish. ‘We are the champions’ from Queen will surely be extremely popular, as indeed will ‘Imagine’ from John Lennon. The material could be rote learnt, or used as the springboard for further elaboration, with added pedal, extra low bass notes, repetitions at different ranges of the keyboard, or as a sketch for further improvisation and elaboration, with more confident and experienced players adding their own decorative flourishes


Pop Performer!

Sixteen Graded arrangements (Gr 4-5)
ABRSM, distributed Hal Leonard
ISBM 978 178601529 (£13.95)


The Grade 4-5 collection also lends itself to flexible learning and use. Pupils can add their own dynamics, articulation, and vary the speed at which they can play. Nothing to prevent them singing along with the music or contracting it to take out any difficulties that may prove awkward in performance. This is music to be used, enjoyed, and experimented with.

We will all have our own favorites- for me in book two it was ABBA’s ‘Dancing ‘Queen’- an excellent arrangement, though I missed the ‘signature’ descending piano glissando from the original 1970s hit: This is something I would unquestionably add if I every wanted to play the piece in a concert or to friends informally. Lots of fun and a great motivational resource for all kinds of students.

Donald Thomson’s Book Review

Piano collections by Donald Thomson are colourful, immediate, and arrestingly communicative anthologies of solo piano music and all three are more than fair reflections of Donald’s most persuasive personality.

As a fellow Scot, I was immediately attracted to ‘Celtic Piano Music’, the impressive compendium at the intermediate to advanced level which is in fact, made up of several anthologies that initially appeared independently.

Read recent interview with Donald Thomson >


Donald Thomson’s books offer a tremendous variety in the most effective combination of the pedagogically sensible with the musically exotic. Children and piano teachers alike should be most grateful for such a synthesis of compositional endeavour.

Murray McLachlan



Winter Piano Music

Thomson’s latest collection is pitched at the Advanced Level. The five contrasting pieces that make up Winter Piano Music show the immediacy and a refreshing take on some familiar, well-loved melodies.

ISBN 978-1-911359-42-5
Copyright © 2022

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Starlight and Snowflakes is presented in a mysterious but glistening texture, complete with quirky harmonic twists and surprises to keep both listener and player on their toes.

And what about the scherzo that is Thomson’s version of God rest ye merry gentlemen? Here is a quasi-tarantella take on the famous Christmas Carol, complete with open fifths (a Thomson speciality) and some exciting octave and chordal figuration. 

Thomson’s take on Silent Night sees the piano morph into a string quartet in all but name, with rich textures and some exciting double third pianism for players to get their teeth into. In complete contrast,

Listen to this excellent performance of Sleigh Ride, a wonderfully optimistic study in energy that brings its charm and character in a way that is quite different from Leroy Anderson.


1. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
2. Meditation on Silent Night
3. We Three Kings
4. Starlight & Snowflakes
5. Sleigh Ride
Preview and hear the pieces


Celtic Piano Music

As a whole, this large collection of approachable pieces pays testament to a composer who projects and communicates an intense love not only of Celtic folk music but also of the Scottish landscape.

ISBN 978-1-911359-40-1
Copyrights © 2022

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Guddly Burn immediately sets the bar high with the evocation of Scots fiddle playing with dance rhythms and elements from the pentatonic scale. Left-hand accompaniment figurations are never ‘copied and pasted’ from phrase to phrase: Thomson typically takes care with the details of phrasing and articulation. He is also prone to harmonic surprises and unexpected colouristic moves… 

In Silvery Tay, it is the clarsach (a Celtic harp) rather than the violin that initially is evoked, though the melodic line does resemble a fiddle air in character. To me, the gentle dotted rhythms in the melody nostalgically evoke hints of the old folksong ‘Comin’ through the Rye’.

Indeed, there is much that is exquisite in this twenty-bar miniature. Bitonality and hemiolas (alternating 6/8 and ¾ rhythms) make The Corryvreckan Whirlpool a colourfully charged bravura piece. Young players with smaller hands could omit the left-hand octaves at the end, but they make an excellent springboard for developing post-grade 8 virtuosity.

Stern quasi-Brahmsian chords yield to flowing folksy quavers (echoes of Lord of the Rings?) in the Legend of Loch Ness. Here Thomson introduces some potentially challenging technical hurdles (double thirds from bar 25 and rotary movement from bar 32), which are pedagogically excellent. Indeed, one of the things most striking about the anthology as a whole is that it eloquently introduces pianistic challenges necessary to conquer at an advanced level, but in short bursts of activity. 

Developing techniques in small doses rather than in obsessively charged repetitive studies could prove less daunting for many students, providing them with a springboard towards the more challenging études of Czerny, Moszkowski and Cramer.

Thomson’s substantial melodic gift is most prominent in St Mary’s Loch (also filled with harmonic surprises), whilst the pentatonic bias of much of the collection returns in the playfully persuasive l Brownie of Ballachulish (for someone like me, from the North East of Scotland, this appears as a distant descendant of the folksong ‘The back O’Bennachie’).

The collection continues with the expansively rich, sonorous study in legato pianism that is Song of the Selkies. We then have an essay in bravura entitled The Kelpies’ Jig (grade 7 students who enjoy the finale of Kabalevsky’s C major sonatina will be very much at home here) and a slow, spookily characterised essay in right-hand double notes and left-hand sonoroso called The Grey Lady.

Moving on, Fairy Pools sounds like Scottish Walter Carroll, with the clarsach again evoked in textures that have ethereal sparkle. This could be a pedagogically crucial piece if the chords are firstly played on their own- introduce young players to the harmonic skeleton in this wistful miniature and a whole new facility in reading and understanding could develop, Heriot Water, with its opening Scotch snap figure and brooding nostalgia initially seemed a close bedfellow of Peter Maxwell-Davies’ ‘Farewell to Stromness’, but it soon opens out into something more extensive, with 54 bars of development.

In total contrast, Grey Mare’s Tail is a 37-bar filigree study with a noble left-hand legato makes an excellent vehicle for progressing with finger staccato facility. The parallel triads in the left hand are exploited in a manner that Thomson uses in many of the other pieces in this collection and elsewhere- and again, this is an excellent way for students to understand how music can be structured and connected harmonically.

Innerleithen Air is whimsically poetic- a short exercise in parlando that is utterly charming. Melrose Abbey brings the church organ into the tonal palette for the first time in the collection. The chordal legato textures are essential for students to develop if they wish to move on to the great works of Brahms and Rachmaninov.

Certainly, it makes sense to start here and continue with the pianistic legato fingerings and connections that are necessary for success. Luskentyre Lullaby is an excellent study for the development of textural projection and control. Harris Tweed again returns to fiddle figuration for its main musical impetus- but the left-hand articulation, with small groups of slurred notes set against separate detached sounds, certainly adds to the charming flavour. 

The Isle of Staffa in C minor brings tonal variety and is a valuable study in pedal control- with a need for flowing pianism to capture convincingly the special wistfulness of characterisation. Callanish Stones brings an element of wondrous fantasy to proceedings. Colonsay Ceilidh is adorned with appropriately extroverted colour and bravura, finishing in radiant F major. Finally, Two Golden Circles brings this most generously rich selection of Scottish music to a wistfully lyrical conclusion.


Scottish Waters
1. The Guddly Burn
2. Тhe Silvery Tay
3. The Corryvreckan Whirlpool
4. The Legend of Loch Ness
5. St Mary’s Loch
Myths & Legends
6. The Brownie of Ballachulish
7. Song of the Selkies
8. The Kelpies’ Jig
9. The Grey Lady
10. The Fairy Pools
A Borders Suite
11. Heriot Water
12. The Grey Mare’s Tail
13. Brodie’s Jig
14. Innerleithen Air
15. Melrose Abbey
A Hebrides Suite
16. Luskentyre Lullaby
17. Harris Tweed
18. The Isle of Staffa
19. The Callanish Stones
20. Colonsay Ceilidh
21. Two Golden Circles


Halloween Piano Tunes

Charming Halloween Piano Tunes from Donald for EVC is specifically for the Pre-grade 1 – Grade 4 level student. This most recent addition to the catalogue presents no less than nineteen pieces with titles is intriguingly diverse! 

ISBN 978-1-911359-38-8
Copyrights © 2021

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Midnight Feast (excellent introduction to tritones at Pre-grade 1 level), Greedy Goblin (compound time and slurs in groups of two and three notes) and Freaky Frogs (developing both control with acciaccaturas and staccato pianism) would give many a Pre-Grade 1 pupil much fun and fulfilment in the highest register of the instrument.

Whilst Gloomy Forest creates contrasted lugubrious hints via left-hand parallel fifths, Cobwebs and Candlesticks at Grade 1 is an inspirational way to introduce pedalling from an early stage.  

Syncopated rhythms and hand movements in thirds and sixths feature in The Ruined Castle.

Coordination between the hands is also encouraged via Sneaking in the Shadows (hands in parallel and contrary motion), whilst the mixed staccato and slurred articulation in Broomstick Race encourages care over detail. 

In Grade 2, Ghosts in the Air seems like a modern descendant from a famous Schumann Album for the Young Piece (also in 6/8). With its flattened supertonic harmonies and sharpened seventh-degree.

Harry Potter is undoubtedly just around the corner in Halloween Ball at No.13.

Moving on to Grade 3, Creaky Door is an excellent theoretical tool for the study of tritones and bitonality. 

Trick or Treat? has novelty value in that you need to click your fingers at the start (it is constructed as a ground bass pattern and certainly develops a ‘swing’ rhythm).

Skeleton Guards’ Parade is excellent for instilling rhythmic discipline and order consistently whilst Debussy’s ‘Cake Walk’ and Scott Joplin’s are just around the corner with the jaunty ragtime rhythms present in Vampire Vamp. 

Jittery Jig could make a valuable vehicle for building velocity, whilst Haunted Highlander, with its open fifths and wistful bagpipe drone bass, will instil a sense of harmony with the youngest students. 

Witches’ Cat is an excellent left-hand solo with a Hindu Raga twist just before its da capo!

Finally, in Grade 4, Valse Macabre requires nimble right-hand position shifts. Try playing this piece without the ‘extra’ accidentals first, then add them in (they make for spicey augmented/diminished intervallic leaps on the page) as additional colourings.


1. Midnight Feast
2. The Greedy Gоblin
3. Freaky Frogs
4. Scuttling Spiders
5. he Gloomy Forest
6. “Cobwebs and Candlesticks
7. The ruined Scottish castle
8. Sneaking in the Shadows
9. Broomstick Race
10. Ghosts in the Air

11. Halloween Ball at No. 13
12. Creaky Door
13. Trick or Treat
14. Skeletons Guards Parade
15. Vampire Vamp
16. Jittery Jig
17. The Haunted Highlander
18. The Witch’s Cat
19. Valse Macabre
Preview and hear the pieces >

Review – Graded Pieces for Piano by William Gillock, Edited by Andrew Eales

In the UK Gillock is especially loved for a handful of memorable miniatures that regularly appear on set repertoire lists for grade examinations. ‘New Orleans Nightfall’ in particular has proved to be an outstandingly popular choice for grade five candidates, though ‘Mister Trumpet Man’ and ‘Carnival in Rio’ are also firmly established as frequent choices for young players at festivals, concerts, and exams.

William Gillock

Missouri-born William Lawson Gillock (1917-93) is one of the outstanding figures in twentieth-century educational piano music. His astonishingly prolific oeuvre as a whole embraces a wide range of influences but is always sympathetic to pianistic concerns, displaying consummate craftsmanship and elegance.

This new, elegantly produced series of three volumes is invaluable for presenting many Gillock pieces which are unfortunately not so well known or frequently presented in concerts. It is really useful for UK teachers and players to have the repertoire presented in three clear graded categories. In America, the system does not embrace our exam system in quite the same way, so Gillock’s pieces would not necessarily have been written to fit into particular categories. Indeed, they would not have been composed with exams in mind specifically- and for me that is why they are so attractive!

Gillock’s work may embrace a very wide range of moods…but it always shows an awareness of what he communicates to an audience. His music is full of colour, display, contrasts, memorable tunes, exciting rhythms, and exotic touches to ‘wow’ the listener. This is apparent even in the most modest pieces from the Grade 1-2 album. Check out the exotic pedaling and crossed-hand arpeggio work in ‘The Harpist,’ the immediacy of ‘Summertime Blues’ or the quaint homage to the baroque that is ‘A stately Sarabande.’ This is music that literally jumps off the page and sticks in the musical memory with ease!

In grade 3-4 book Gillock’s wonderful evocations make the music highly appropriate for inspiration and further study- if a student warms to Gillock’s ‘Slumber Song’ then they could easily move on to slightly more challenging but equally reflective numbers from Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. Or if the exciting scale figurations in ‘Journey in the Night’ proves especially inspirational, then work on some of the minor key Czerny studies could prove a good move forward afterwards.

Volume three contains wonderful music which will provide excellent material for display in school concerts and festivals by intermediate players. In addition to the well-known and already mentioned ‘New Orleans Nightfall’ there are many other jewels awaiting discovery, such as the expansively beguiling ‘Dusk on the Bayou,’ the elegantly stylized ‘A memory of Vienna’ and the energized and immediate ‘Bourbon Street Saturday Night.’


All credit to Andrew Eales for arranging, selecting, and presenting this vibrant music in such a structured and inspiring manner. The programme notes are concentrated and to the point. Colourful, elegant, and user-friendly in terms of layout, these books seem destined for a long and successful lifespan. Certainly, teachers and students alike will be grateful for such an immediate and vibrant music collection.

Graded Gillock books are available to order on the Musicroom >
Published by The Willis Music Company/Hal Leonard

EVC Music: Press & Reviews Roundup Winter 2022

January and February 2022 brought some great press, reviews and feedback from our customers.

International Piano Magazine featured the newly released Celtic Piano Music by Scottish composer Donald Thomson in the Jan-Feb 2022 issue.

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Andrew Eales (Pianodao.com) gave the book a fantastic review: 

A Celtic Treasure

For those wanting to play well-crafted music combining creative originality with a Scottish flair, I cannot but agree with the publisher’s assessment that Thomson really is the “National composer” to look to. This is a supremely evocative collection.

These 21 pieces offer engaging variety, imagination, and above all relaxed enjoyment. The Celtic Piano Music collection is quite simply superb.’

Read full review here >

Launch at the Blackwell’s in Edinburgh on the 12 February was a well attended event and a resounding success according to audience and staff.

Composer performed a selection of the pieces from his award-nominated series and shared the stories behind the pieces that celebrate the beauty of Scotland.

Their marketing team tweeted: 

‘This past Saturday we had the very great pleasure of welcoming contemporary Scottish composer Donald Thomson along to launch his superb new collection Celtic Piano Music, pick up your copy in-store or by phoning us on 01316228222.’

A happy customer left a review

‘I’ve just received my copy from @EVCMusicUK. I’ve spent the whole morning revelling in the music; they are all absolutely beautiful to play.

EVC in the Press & Reviews

December 2021 was filled with the news about EVC.

International Piano magazine featured Heather Hammond’s newly released Ballads Without Words.

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Music Teacher magazine published Meet the Sponsor Elena Cobb interview with Harriet Clifford, the editor of the Music Teacher magazine.

Andrew Eales (Pianodao.com) gave a glowing review for the Recital Piano Solos book 1 and 2.

Elena Cobb is without doubt one of the single most inspiring educators and committed visionaries that I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

Elena Cobb deserves the highest praise as an educational composer. Her piano music combines her deep-seated understanding of pianism and pedagogy with a wonderful ability to cast a magical spell on both players and listeners alike. This is music which will surely inspire practice and equally enthuse audiences!

As she continues in her passionate drive to promote the music of others, we must hope that Elena Cobb also continues to exercise her own wonderful, musical voice.’ Please read more >


EVC book reviews by Andrew Eales

Andrew Eales offers balanced, independent reviews of a wide range of music suitable for players of all levels. The aim of the Pianodao website is to inform, encourage and offer practical wisdom to help and support piano players and teachers.

Piano Tales for Alice by Nikki Iles

April 27, 2018
Elementary repertoire
The rise and rise of EVC Music Publications as an exciting and innovative music publisher can’t have escaped the notice of any player or teacher active on social media, and like many I have watched their emergence over the last three years or so with growing interest.

Read more >
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Piano Tales for Peter Pan by Nikki Iles

July 30, 2020
Elementary repertoire
In the few years that I have been reviewing music publications on Pianodao, there have been a few standout releases which have gone on to become real favourites with my own students. An obvious winner in this sense is the brilliant Piano Tales for Alice, composed by Nikki Iles and published by EVC Music, which I reviewed here in 2018. Hot off the press, the much anticipated sequel Piano Tales for Peter Pan is out now, and for those who have been keen for its arrival I have good news:

Nikki Iles has done it again! Piano Tales for Peter Pan delivers another equally delicious mix of wit, imagination, and jazz-tinged brilliance.

So let’s take a look…
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A Tea Party for Alice

A few months ago I had the pleasure of writing a world-exclusive first review of Nikki Iles’ latest piano collection, Piano Tales for Alice, published by Elena Cobb’s EVC Music.

At the time of the review, I concluded:

“All in all, Piano Tales for Alice is an absolute delight – perhaps EVC Music’s most exciting publication and essential purchase to date. Hats off to publisher Elena Cobb, composer Nikki Iles, and all involved in bringing this exceptional publication to market.” 

Read more >

Next Level by Sam Wedgwood

December 20, 2020
Intermediate Repertoire
Son of best-selling educational piano composer Pam Wedgwood and younger brother of jazz musician Olly, Sam Wedgwood has carved out his own unique and highly successful career, firstly as a member of the Jamie Cullum band, and more recently as a songwriter and composer whose music has featured in many of the BBC’s most popular and successful shows.

Read more >
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Birds Études-Tableaux by Andrew Higgins

Advanced Repertoire
As a reviewer I get to discover a surprising amount of great new pedagogic music, but it’s predominantly at the beginner to intermediate level. So it is particularly exciting when something arrives that is more challenging, and yet just as appealing.

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Seasons by Andrew Higgins

From time to time I review a music book here which subsequently establishes itself as a favourite with my students; such a book was the brilliant Birds: Études-Tableaux composed by Andrew Higgins, which I reviewed here. I was therefore naturally pleased to receive Higgins’ latest collection, Seasons, which is again published by the forward-looking publisher EVC Music, whose many recent useful and eye-catching publications have made such a positive mark on the pedagogic repertoire in recent years.

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Sound Sketches by Graham Lynch

March 23, 2018
Elementary Repertoire
Graham Lynch is a composer whose works have been performed by (among others) the BBC Symphony Orchestra, The Hilliard Ensemble, and in venues as diverse and prestigious as London’s South Bank and the Wigmore Hall, the Paris Conservatoire and the Merkin Hall New York. One of Graham’s more recent projects was his series of progressive piano repertoire books called Sound Sketches.

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Art Preludes by Graham Lynch

Advanced Repertoire
A recent review that I read elsewhere suggested that Elena Cobb’s EVC Music has “cornered the market in pedagogical, developmental publications for piano”. While this is something of an overstatement, it is certainly great to see EVC at last receiving its due recognition for a published catalogue that has continued to go from strength to strength. EVC Music is not just about pedagogy though; the company has been steadily bringing to market a growing and glowing range of performance works by contemporary composers, the latest of which is Art Preludes, a suite of five new pieces by British composer Graham Lynch.

Interested in finding our more?

Then read on…
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New York Nights by Philip Martin

Advanced Repertoire
Philip Martin has long been well-regarded as one of our finest concert pianists, recording artists, pedagogues and composers, writing music that combines the influences of the folk music he grew up with, the British classical scene he trained in, and a longstanding passion for American classical and jazz music. Now, in what must be regarded as a landmark publication, a retrospective collection of his more jazzy solo piano pieces have been published by Elena Cobb’s EVC Music Publications Ltd.

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