Category - Sacred Piano Music

NEW Christmas Piano Solo: “Once in Royal David’s City”

As Christmas carols go, this one usually doesn’t appear on the top ten list. It is beautiful and poignant, nonetheless. The carol was first published in 1848 by Cecil Humphrey in Hymns for Little Children. A year later, the English organist Henry John Gauntlett set it to music. Humphrey also penned the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful.

The stately tune and nativity poem holds a treasured memory for me. Our high school concert choir sang all four verses in unison every year as a we processed with lit candles into our annual Christmas concert.

Fast forward to 2017. Most Sundays, fellow musician and worship director and I “jam” on a hymn tune during communion. He’s on guitar (or electric guitar) and singing while I’m at the piano. Eventually our meditative improvisation is followed by the congregation singing a of couple verses.

Once he chooses a tune, he or I come up with a chord chart featuring anything but the standard chord progression. We both have a passion for colorful harmonies! When he recently suggested “Once in Royal David’s City,” I accepted the challenge and fell into this chord progression sprinkled with a bluesy interlude which lends itself well to improvisation.

It got me thinking what it must have been like for Joseph pulling a donkey transporting his very pregnant and most likely uncomfortable wife away from home to “David’s city.” Could the obedient and hopeful couple carrying the light of the world or “royal cargo” have felt a little blue? Thus the subtitle “The Royal Blues.”

It’s my hope that you, like me, treasure the words and tune of “Once in Royal David’s City” and in addition, accept the invitation to step out and enjoy the freedom of playing beyond the page. The score indicates a repeat between measures 74-77. This is your window to ad lib and play the blues as many times as you wish!

In the video (click here) below you’ll hear what I do with these measures. Feel free to do less or more.

If you are uncertain where to begin, experiment with any of the pitches of the blues scale notated in the score in any order and within any rhythm. Use notes from the melody, borrow my ideas and expand upon your own and see your gift of creativity blossom.

Both the single use and studio license are on sale NOW.

Get the STUDIO LICENSE here.


Merry Christmas!


Free Holiday Sheet Music!

The organ is known as the king of instruments. Unfortunately, it’s reign has significantly dwindled in today’s worship services.

When I meet people, they frequently say one of three things to me:

My grandma’s name was Leila.

My grandma played the organ.


My grandma’s name was Leila and she played the organ!

At times, I feel like I’m in a time warp and should be sent back to the 1930s!

With the decline of the organ in church services and a shortage of those who play the instrument, it makes me even more passionate about playing the instrument and more importantly, finding music that’s fun to play with crowd appeal.

That’s how this arrangement of “Tidings of Joy” came about back in 2008. Mercy Me is a Christian worship band that regularly creates arrangements of holiday tunes that rock! Their setting of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was just TOO FUN and I was compelled to bring it to the organ.

This year, I dug it out of the archives, updated the score and am sharing it with you! Read More

NEW! “Now Thank We All Our God” Piano Solo Arrangement

Now thank we all our God,
With heart and hands and voices
who wondrous things has done,
in whom His world rejoices;
who from our mothers’ arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

A minister named Martin Rinckart wrote the words to this hymn in 1636. He and his family lived during the horrors of the Thirty Years War and suffered from famine and disease as refugees. With the tragic events that have occurred over this past year, the words from someone of the past afflicted with the same pain many are experiencing now, connect us to the past and give us hope for the future.

As a child, I attended church with my mom and dad and sister every Thanksgiving morning. Mom would pop a stuffed turkey in the oven and off we’d go. Along with We Gather Together and Come, Ye Thankful People Come, Now Thank We All Our God was sure to be sung—all three verses. The organist would pull out all the stops on the last verse. As a church organist myself, I now enjoy “adding the kitchen sink” on the last verse to power up this magnificent hymn of thankfulness and hope.

The “Norman Rockwell” memories of a joyful Thanksgiving morning service with a pipe organ and a roasting turkey awaiting our family’s arrival back home are precious. As shocking world events continue to rock the security we hold so dear, it’s when Rinckart’s profound poetry (translated by Catherine Winkworth) and Johann Cruger’s majestic hymn tune, Nun Dunket, become even more profound.

With these thoughts and memories in mind, I was inspired to move this favorite hymn tune from the organ to the piano and create my own version with a 21st-century twist.

The syncopated rhythms, fresh chords and returning interlude make it a prime prelude choice for welcoming worshippers as well as a possible postlude for ushering congregants out the door with grateful hearts.

Both the single use and studio license are ON SALE. Get them just in time so you can play it at your Thanksgiving service or ANY time it’s appropriate to give thanks.


Single Use License

Studio License

Don’t forget to register for Monday’s 88 Creative Keys webinar!

Among many other things, learn how to inspire your students to create their own 21st-century twist on Baroque Classics.

Follow THIS link.


Solemnity: A new and appropriate piano solo arrangement for the times

Hurricane Harvey etched a devastating path of destruction throughout the southern United States. Our son who lives in Jupiter, Florida, is now anticipating the arrival of Hurricane Irma. He’s on staff at the Loggerhead Marine Life Center which rescues and rehabilitate sea turtles.

A biologist cares for a 200-pound turtle injured by a boat.

The center is shuttering doors and filling and stacking sand bags. At the same time, our son Carter, is packing up his own things and plans to evacuate his 2nd story apartment today.

With 3/4 of a tank of gas, it looks like he’ll make his way to a friend’s house in Tampa on the west side of Florida. We are not sure if that will be much better than Jupiter (on the East coast) as Irma is twice the width of Florida. From all appearances, it doesn’t look good for any one in the path of Irma.

Sometimes words aren’t enough. On sobering days like these something more solemn is appropriate and strangely comforting.

Contrary to what you may think, my latest contemporary setting of Beethoven’s symphony movement was inspired long before these unnerving days. I was reminded of this pensive movement a while back when watching the movie, The King’s Speech. The music powerfully sets the scene when King George VI, played by Collin Firth, awaits the delivery of his speech announcing that Great Britain would be joining World War II. The repetitive melody and soulful counter melody made such an impact on me that I wanted to play it myself. After months of doodling with it, my abridged interpretation has been completed.

Over a year ago, I knew I wanted a cover image to fit the pensive mood of the piece, and decided upon a photo of a window painted with raindrops taken by my mom, Joanne Alberda.  It reminds me of one of those days filled with resolve to get through whatever the tasks and trials that lie ahead. Sometimes words just can’t express the determination and dedication of resolution. Music and images speak when words can’t.

Solemnity is an arrangement “owed” to Beethoven and dedicated to all those resolved to get through a day, a month, a year,—a storm—that is anything but sunny.

ALL the proceeds generated from the sales of Solemnity during the month of September 2017 will be donated to the MTNA benevolence fund which supports musicians and teachers devastated by disasters like Hurricane Harvey.

Because of this, I’m offering only a studio license priced at $10.

When a “feel-good” tune just doesn’t seem right, Solemnity will. Listen to Solemnity here.


Purchase it here and your $10 will be donated

In case you’d like to hear the full symphony, I’ve included a video of it below.

New Arrangement for Piano Solo: “It is Well”

Perhaps you know the tragic story behind the lyrics of the hymn, When Peace Like a River? They were penned in 1876 by Horatio G. Spafford after losing four daughters in a shipwreck. His wife survived the wreck. This was just one of many tragedies this couple endured. You can read more about their life here.

Unfortunately, and as you know, tragedies are a common occurrence. I’m surrounded by family and a community in which I witness the faithfulness of saints—despite dire circumstances—on a daily basis.

Photo by Joanne Alberda

Photo by Joanne Alberda

“A river might bring to mind a damaging flood, but the paradox of being flooded by peace is the rich insight of the poet.”   – Joanne Alberda

The testimony of saints who persevere and profess “it is well” although it may seem anything but, inspired me to write this arrangement. You’ll hear calm waters, ripples growing into rushing rapids, the rolling of sea billows and the trumpets resounding.  The simple yet profound tune composed by Philip Bliss, lends itself to wonderful possibilities for harmonic and rhythmic color! Read More

Essentials for the Worship Team Pianist

Equipping a student with reading and memorizing skills may develop a capable pianist but, nowadays those limited skills aren’t going to cut it. Most pianists are or will be called upon to play beyond the score and read chord charts and play with bands or worship teams. Preparing for this position requires good ears, knowledge of chords and a willingness to collaborate.


Drew Collins

In our next 88 Creative Keys Webinar, we (Bradley Sowash and me, Leila Viss) are excited to have Drew Collins join us. He’s spent over twenty years leading worship and training worship leaders and musicians. This past summer, I invited Drew to a worship team workshop for my students and found Drew’s ideas so worthwhile that we decided to feature him in our next webinar: “Essentials for the Worship Team Pianist.”


Drew sharing words of wisdom at my summer studio workshop.

Drew Collins has spent twenty years leading worship and training worship leaders and musicians. He earned his B.A. in Music from the University of Northern Colorado and his M.A. in Ministry Leadership from Crown College. A singer, songwriter, and liturgist, he lives with his wife and daughter in Denver, CO. I have the pleasure of being on staff  with Drew at South Suburban Christian Church, in Littleton, Colorado.

In the first portion of the webinar, Drew and I will discuss:

  • The three roles of a worship team pianist.
  • The latest tech tools used by most worship teams.
  • Tips on how to build required skills.
  • What worship leaders expect of a pianist.
  • Common mistakes pianists make when playing with a band.
  • Characteristics of a strong worship team pianist.
  • Some tricks of the trade.

Bradley Sowash

In the next portion, Bradley will cover:

  • What to play when unrehearsed background music is needed.
  • Heighten your awareness of thinking and playing in musical layers.
  • Tips for pianists about feeling the groove in a band.
  • Improvising and/or arranging a traditional hymn for contemporary worship.

Don’t miss this workshop! Even if your students don’t play in a worship band, with this webinar you’ll be able to coach those who may wish to play in a “garage band.” You’ll find all the ideas we feature in the webinar will crossover to any band experience. Your students will thank you. Bonus: it may give you the skills you need to play in a band yourself!




Celebrate the Season with Winter Window Frost, a Piano Solo


Around a Late Intermediate Level

Growing up in Iowa made me extremely thankful for the promise of Spring. While we waited for a hint of green grass, my family hunkered down on winter break afternoons in down vests and heavy sweaters to stay warm in the house. My dad made every effort to keep the heating bill to a minimum by setting the thermometer to a balmy (?) 65 degrees.

Since the wind chill usually made it too cold to go anywhere, Mom would set out a 1,000-piece puzzle on a card table. After mixing some hot cocoa and marshmallows (of course!), we’d slowly sort and fit the pieces. There was never a rush to complete it as we enjoyed the company and the Vivaldi album blasting from the console.


Digital Download with Single or Studio License

I can’t recall the first time I heard the Winter movements but I’ve always felt they carry an energetic resolve to power through the bleak, gray sky, icy floor and frigid landscape of the season. The melody of the second movement —Largo—offers a glimmer of hope with its enchanting beauty. I immediately thought of this short movement when I saw my mom’s photos of frost she captured on her winter windows. The beauty that the unforgiving combination of cold and moisture can bring to a window pane is breath-taking. With a contemporary twist, my setting weaves the warmth of the hot cocoa and the puzzle table with snippets of cold winter winds on the other side of the frosted window pane.

A good portion of my inspiration to create is thanks to my mother,  Joanne Alberda. She was a dynamic professor of art and art education for over 30 years at Dordt College in my home town of Sioux Center, Iowa. Since her retirement, she continues to explore her favorite mediums: textiles and photography. Before she secured her college position, she was a pianist, an organist, a 5th grade classroom teacher and a piano teacher. I did not fall far from the tree!

Borrowing from her vast collection of work for the “cover” of this digital download seems logical and suits my style. In my setting and in her photo you’ll see and hear that we both like to experiment with colors, magnify the wonders of nature, and discover an unexpected angle. Follow this link if you can’t see the video below of my performance.

Speaking of borrowing, you’ll notice that Vivaldi is quoted throughout this piano solo. 

Mom says this:

“It’s not true that we are better if we are totally original.  Standing on the shoulders of great artists is totally valid.  They did the same thing! -Joanne Alberda

Winter Window Frost is on sale and available for purchase with a single user or studio license. Get your copy by clicking on the frosted window below.


Have you listened to Infant Holy, Infant Lowly? It’ a markedly different arrangement of this sacred lullaby for flute and piano that could work for violin as well. It’s on sale, too! While your there, check out my growing library of sheet music.

Merry Christmas and blessings to you and yours in 2017!


How to Boost Creativity with the Power of Chords

Perhaps you had a startling revelation like I did? Watch the video and see if your story is like mine. Click here if you can’t see it.

Take the challenge and take charge

My shortcomings were made apparent and a challenge came my way shortly after grad school. Ever since, I’ve plugged into chords and taken charge. Now I enjoy reading chord charts and I treat myself to improvising at the keys when all my “chores” are done.

If you want to feel more confident and yes, charged up about improvising, then you need to take the challenge yourself and learn your chords. The best place to do that is with me and Bradley Sowash (co-founders of 88 Creative Key Keyboard Improvisation Workshop and Webinars) at our next webinar called Chord Boot Camp. Click on the plug below to sign up.


What you’ll learn about chords

  • Why the four-chord pattern“Heart and Soul” is a shoe-in for improvisation.
  • How to boost your own improvisation skills using that pattern. If I did it, you can too!
  • How to teach your students to improvise with it.
  • How to explain chord spelling, quality, inversions and function with something that relates to musicians of all ages: ice cream.
  • What apps are best suited to reinforce chord mastery.
  • What off-bench activities to use to lock in understanding of chords.

Learn from one who’s paved the way

It’s too hard to measure the influence Bradley Sowash has had in my creative journey. His significant mastery of improvisation, his books, his music, his presentations continue to mold me into the creative musician I am today.

Bradley and I constantly brainstorm on how to connect those who own a similar story to mine with the wonders of improvisation. We both conclude it comes down to knowing chords.

Watch his video to learn what chords have in common with power cords and what Bradley will include in his portion of the webinar. Click here if you can’t see it.

What you will learn about chords

  • Understanding Chord Symbols – principles, common practices and variations in pop/jazz chord nomenclature.
  • Pencil Practice – how to practice chords “off bench” with just a pencil and paper.
  • Chord Drills – practical exercises for daily chord practice.
  • Roots and Birds in Chordland – three easy rules to keep in mind when playing 7th chords.
  • Scaling the Chords – strategies to send reluctant improvisers happily down the path toward more creative music making.

Look what happens when you plug in

Need some evidence of the impact of knowing chords? Below is a video of  me–a past read-only, recovering, classically trained pianist–playing my original setting of a favorite hymn tune. Click here if you can’t see the video.

The arrangement was completed soon after Bradley and I decided to hold our first 88 Creative Keys workshops in Denver in 2013. I’ve never forgotten it and I’ve finally written it down so I can share it with others.

Register for Chord Boot Camp and get something at NO CHARGE!

My setting of “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” is brand new and for sale at $9.99 (studio license) but I’m offering it for FREE to all those who sign up and pay for Chord Boot Camp by Sunday, November 13th, 11:59pm.

Once you register, email me at and I’ll email your complimentary score.

Register by clicking on the boot below. We look forward to seeing you there!


Favorite Christmas Music to Celebrate the Season

I know it’s a little late to be sharing this list. If you’ve already chosen all of your music for your students, various church services and gigs, then consider these options for next year. That’s the nice thing about music–it never goes out of style! In fact, I’ve included links to my favorite holiday sheet music from years past so you can check those out, too.

From Leila Viss

Life happens and I’m SO happy to share that I will have a lovely flautist (and another female) in the family! In June 2016, my son is marrying Brittany who is a senior in college earning a degree in education and music. This called for an arrangement for piano and flute to celebrate the occasion!

Here’s my setting (with some expert input from Brittany) of “Infant Holy, Infant Lowly.” It IS notated–anybody need a Christmas piano and flute duet? Read More

forScore and Cicada: A Match Made in Heaven


A recent weekend in Idaho marked a major milestone in my use of my favorite device, the iPad. I played piano at my niece’s wedding and read all the music scores from my iPad with the help of an app called forScore and turned the pages with my PageFlip Cicada Bluetooth Page Turner Pedal. Ahhh…a match made in heaven!

This decision was due to the fact that the happy couple requested Jon Schmidt’s “Waterfall” as a recessional. As there wouldn’t be time for me to memorize the piece and because I dislike depending on someone else to manage the tricky page turns, I determined this tech-savvy combo was the logical choice. Read More