When our local music teachers association dubbed our first meeting of the year a “New Music Review” I knew exactly what I wanted to play. I had recently received Wendy Stevens’ newest book, How Sweet the Sound, and fell in love with the first arrangement – Day of Arising. It’s a gorgeous setting that just makes the piano sing (of course, it helps that the teacher’s studio where I performed it is the new home to a magnificent Kawaii grand piano!).
Each of the other intermediate/late-intermediate arrangements are also enjoyable, offering the fresh, vibrant, elements that players of Wendy’s music have come to expect and love.
In How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds and Amazing Grace, I was pleasantly surprised to experience an arrangement of Amazing Grace that didn’t leave me feeling disengaged due to overuse, as often happens on those songs that have almost become too familiar.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence exhibited a somber character with lots of open 5ths and a pretty drawn out feel, complemented nicely by the passionate, thicker-textured section toward the end.
Take Up Your Cross, the Savior Said was, like a number of the hymns in this collection, unfamiliar to me. This is a fun, lively arrangement in 3/2 with a quick triplet figure and crisp staccatos leading the way into the theme. You can almost feel a bit of suspense or mystery in the sound as you play that grabs the attention and keeps the listener engaged.
There Is a Balm in Gilead was a pleasant and easy read with an overall soothing quality, set in large part in the upper register of the piano.
The collection finishes out with arrangements of Thine Is the Glory, This Is My Father’s World, ‘Tis So Sweet, and We Walk by Faith and Not by Sight. As is often the case with unfamiliar melodies, a couple run-throughs are helpful for assimilating the style and drawing out the character of each arrangement. But I found them all to be very accessible and a welcome addition to my collection of sacred piano solos. I look forward to incorporating them into my Sunday music selections and know that many other church pianists and congregations will also enjoy them!