Tag Archives: piano

In Search of Advanced Offertories

Like many church pianists, I am constantly searching for new piano solos that are advanced harmonically and technically while still maintaining a worshipful quality for use in the weekly worship service.  Sadly, this proves to be more difficult than one would expect.
Before the Christmas holidays began, I ordered some choral music from Word Music to preview for the new year and noticed that there were several new folios of piano solos.  I decided to take a look and was encouraged by the description of two books in particular:  Hymns for the Spirit arranged by Matt Hyzer and The Best of Cindy Berry.  Both books are included in Alfred’s Sacred Performer Collections and are labeled as “early advanced piano.”
When I received the music, I was sadly disappointed!  Cindy Berry’s arrangements are of her original choral works — so not terribly useful in a blended worship setting.  This was a fact that I missed in the ordering.  Hyzer’s arrangements are simple, but nice. However, they are almost too easy to include in a normal service, but might be nice to include in a youth emphasis service or a week that has a lot of thick textures in other parts of the service.
While I am not thrilled with the content, I realize that the source of my irritation is due to the marketing by Alfred’s.  The label of “early advanced” suggests that there will be some level of mature playing required to navigate the arrangements;  what I found should be appropriate for a piano student with 5-6 years of study under their belt.  Have all of our labels been dumbed down to make pianists feel better about their skill sets rather than giving an accurate representation of the content?  I’m frustrated by the situation, I don’t have a solution to recommend, but I know that I probably won’t be purchasing any more solo books via the internet in the foreseeable future.  Thankfully, I have some wonderful arrangements by Marilynn Ham and Bill Wolaver to rely on for a few weeks.  
Which arrangers do you return to when you need something musically satisfying for your weekly offertory?  I’d love to get some recommendations of collections to check out.


Musicianship Development: Keyboard Skills

As we continue to perform a self-evaluation of our skills as musicians, consider your ability at the keyboard.  Can you play a simple melody to teach a song or vocal part?  Do you have the skills to play a vocal reduction or a standard hymn setting with both hands?  If necessary, could you provide adequate accompaniment for a service?

Each question reveals varying levels of piano proficiency.  It is essential that all worship leaders be able to at least play a simple melody on the keyboard.  It is not unreasonable to expect that they can play a four-part hymn or a basic vocal reduction that you would find in the majority of the choral anthems of the church.

The ability to play for a service may not be necessary in all situations.  If you are guitarist, you can probably get through an acoustic set and not inhibit the service at all.  Accapella music can be beautiful, but it is not always an option for a congregation that does not practice this type of singing on a regular basis.  If you are a vocalist leading worship, I feel as though you should be able to provide a simple chordal accompaniment at least.  I’m not suggesting that you must be able to play a beautiful solo on the instrument.  I am simply suggesting that when you receive the inevitable phone call on Sunday morning that your pianist is ill that you have a basic skill set to get through the morning if a replacement is not available on such short notice.

How do I develop these skills?  All of you reading have already realized that piano lessons are one avenue to accomplish this goal.  As a pianist, I am a huge proponent of this approach, but I also realize that it is a tremendous commitment and may not be the best option for your circumstance.  There is another method to consider.  Rather than enrolling in traditional lessons, seek out someone who can teach you to play “by ear.”  A thorough knowledge of chord progressions and the various ways you can play chords can give you a head start on getting yourself through a service, especially if you want to hear more than the notes that are printed in the hymnal.  Many students find that instruction in “playing by ear” allows them to progress more quickly and begin playing pleasing arrangements right away.  The best situation, in my opinion, is to have a teacher that can provide instruction in both methods — chords and reading — and learn to marry the two over time.

I hate to tell you, but there is no quick fix to this developmental issue.  It takes time, commitment, and practice to develop skills at the keyboard.  Rather than focusing on the negative aspect, see the potential that this practice time can have;  you will see connections right away between what you are learning and your primary instrument.  Hopefully you will find that the study of the piano is also promoting growth in this other area.  Above all else, ask God to help you as you pursue this new skill so that you might bring Him more glory through your music.