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A few words about my hymn arrangements ….
Like many pianists, much of my early exposure to music came from church. I still remember as a toddler sitting on Dorothy Baker’s knee at the organ in Shipshewana, Indiana as she showed me around the manuals. Later in childhood, in Wilmore, Kentucky, I marveled at hearing evangelistic-style pianists like Lynn Smith and Albin Whitworth holding forth with their own hymn arrangements, using extraordinary virtuosity to draw the audience in to deeper consideration of the hymn texts.
When I was ten, my parents moved our family to Rome, Italy to create a non-denominational church, a highly improbable but surprisingly effective project. We stayed there for ten years basically running an international Christian community center, and from the beginning I was in charge of the music. I concocted and performed myriad arrangements week after week, year after year, trying to bless and entertain audiences both in Europe and throughout the United States.
I held church music jobs well into my twenties, and have subsequently performed sacred music frequently throughout my career. I still retain hundreds of hymns in my memory, and they continue to feed my soul in a special way. I hope you will experience the same with this album.
The Reformation anthem A Mighty Fortress portrays a colossal struggle between good and evil with Christ triumphant, and I have sought to imaginatively text-paint Martin Luther’s words, so crack out a hymnal and follow along for maximum impact. Teaser: my brilliant recording engineer Alex Lusht commented that the introduction “sounds like a thousand cathedral bells tolling!”
Praise To The Lord, The Almighty is my mother’s favorite hymn, and I composed this set of variations especially for this album, which is dedicated to her, a true handmaiden of the Lord if ever there was one. She gave me every possible musical and spiritual opportunity in life, and my profound gratitude is boundless.
I will always associate It Is Well With My Soul meaningfully with Asbury University, my undergraduate alma mater, where excellent music abounds. Hymns Of Solemn Comfort is a medley offering solace and strength in dark times. (For fun, I irreverently call it “The Funeral Medley.”)
Although you can hear it to some degree throughout these arrangements, Blessed Assurance is my homage to that specific evangelistic style of pianism I referenced earlier. Having performed this bombastic piece for decades, I must now confess that I appropriated the opening thematic idea from Lynn Smith’s own glorious arrangement – in fact, I can’t imagine playing it without her added flourish!
Jesus loves me is probably the most cherished Sunday School song of all, and I hope you like how I’ve “Tedrinized” it to make that declaration even more personal. Likewise, precious lord, take my hand and just a closer walk with thee are earnest devotional hymns from the jazzier gospel tradition.
How great thou art is another of my arrangements carefully crafted to depict the text, so get that hymnal back out, and praise God with me!
I composed my meditation on Great is thy faithfulness way back in college, and it still warms people’s hearts, and my own, whenever I play it. My altar call medley also moves me, with the powerful urge to response and release these beloved old hymns still evoke.
Finally, my thanksgiving medley combines the three hymns most commonly associated with that holiday, bringing the whole album to a fitting close with the Doxology, the traditional response of thanks to God as we bring our offerings.