Category - Sacred Piano Music

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.

-Leila

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.

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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.”

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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!

-Leila

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Celebrate the Season with Winter Window Frost, a Piano Solo

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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.

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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.

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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!

-Leila

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.

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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 lviss@me.com and I’ll email your complimentary score.

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

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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

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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

A New Favorite Christmas Arrangement for Piano OR Organ!

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Thanks to the wonders of social media, I stumbled across Paul Sweet’s dynamic arrangement of “O Come All Ye Faithful” a couple of months ago. When I heard his captivating performance featured in the video below it struck me that this piece could be a possible hit on the organ as well.

Here’s Paul’s performance of his arrangement on the piano

Here’s my performance of his piece that I arranged for the Allen Renaissance organ

Read More

Free Christmas Piano Solo and More!

Garden ColorIt seems my creative juices kick in on occasion. In fact, I’ve recently arranged a couple of hymns but need to make time to notate them. Hopefully it won’t take me 11 years for that to happen. Read on…

This setting of “Go Tell it On the Mountain” was originally conceived in 2003, and was finally notated in Finale this year. I still find it appealing after all these years, so I figure you might, too.

Make sure to sign up HERE for my newsletter (if you haven’t done so already) to receive your complimentary score. The score will be delivered in the upcoming newsletter out by this weekend. If you don’t see the 88PianoKeys.me newsletter in your inbox by Monday, November 24th check your spam folder. If you still didn’t find it, then contact me and I’ll email you the link to the score.

MERRY CHRISTMAS and THANK YOU for hanging out with me at 88pianokeys!


Looking for more Christmas arrangements for the upcoming holiday season?

As the season is short, I try not to add too many Christmas books to my already full shelves but each year I can’t resist the temptation.  Here are some I purchased this year that I know you and/or your students will enjoy as well.

From James Koerts, Koerts Music10702096_10152561006137981_3210811240333681638_n

Koerts keeps kicking out great arrangements for church musicians. Here’s a digital edition that will only take space on your iPad in the forScore app but not your book shelves!

Sacred Christmas Volume One

From Wendy Stevens, Compose Create

You can count on Wendy Stevens to provide innovative and imaginative arrangements and she has not let us down this year with her setting of  “Oh Christmas Tree.”

O Christmas Tree

From Larry Shackley, Hope Publishing8622

The title intrigued me so I purchased Shackley’s latest release. Turns out the hymn arrangements are fresh and energetic. Shackley writes in his foreword: “In this collection you’ll find carols from several countries and centuries, all interpreted with the harmonic and rhythmic colors of Celtic folk music.”

Celtic Hymns for Christmas


One more piece of good news! For those of you who have not secured your copy of The iPad Piano Studio or have a friend that would appreciate the book as a gift, below is a promo code for a 20% discount code.

Hurry as the offer ends November 30th!

 IPPS20SAVE

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An Ancient Tune Stands the Test of Time

This past week I received a request from a congregation member to play “Be Thou My Vision” as communion music since he was dedicatingbethoumyvision his meditation on that particular celtic hymn.

Here’s a portion of what he read before I began playing this favorite hymn beautifully crafted into an arrangement by James Koerts.

“This is the story of the song:  It was the night before Easter in the year 433.  St. Patrick defied an edict by High King Leary that no candles were to be lit until the lighting of the blaze on Slane Hill that would usher in the Spring Equinox.  Patrick chose to honor God in spite of the threat of death, and the first flame was lit by him to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.  Instead of executing him, the King was so impressed with St. Patrick’s brave devotion that he allowed him to continue with his missionary work.

Inspired by these events, a 6th Century Monk penned the words to “Be Thou My Vision” as a tribute of St. Patrick’s loyalty to God.  The poem was not translated into English until 1905 and then coupled with an old Irish folk melody.  The inspiration found within the words of this hymn is a reminder of the sovereignty, the strength and the joy of Jesus.” -Bob Cox

I’ve included the historic setting of this old hymn because I’m fascinated with how words and tunes unite to create timeless hymns. In addition, I’m amazed at music’s powerful thread that continues to bond and inspire generations of believers.

Below is an informal video of me playing Koerts’ fresh arrangement of this ancient tune that continues to withstand the test of time. If you haven’t done so, make sure to take advantage of this promo code, good through October 15th, and share James Koerts’ timeless music with your friends and congregation.

Special Offer for 88 Piano Keys readers! Be-Still-COVER-115x150

Receive 30% off virtually everything in the store (except for the $50 bundle package) using this code:

Code: 88pianokeys

The code must be entered at checkout. Reminder: enter the code BEFORE you check out.

Offer is good through October 22, 2014

Click HERE to purchase your copy of this arrangement found in the book Be Still