Piano Music For Worship: A resource list

What instrument leads your congregational singing?

In past decades, the answer to that question was quite predictable. Nearly every church had an organ, and that instrument was central to the music of each service. Today for a variety of reasons (including the cost of organs and the lack of trained organists) other instruments are taking on that leadership role. Many congregations, including my own, are led by the piano each week.

As with the organ, the key to successfully using the piano to lead worship is selecting music that best complements the instrument and the pianist. Thoughtful and sensitive planning can help the worship leader use hymn- or Scripture-based piano arrangements to proclaim or respond to the Word in a meaningful way.

The following guideline questions may help worship leaders who are searching for appropriate hymn-based piano music:

  1. Is the text appropriate to the theme of the service?
  2. Does the arrangement complement the hymns meaning?
  3. Does the arrangement enhance or overpower the original hymn tune?
  4. Do the arrangers introduction and interludes capture and maintain the mood of the text?
  5. Does any arranging technique (extended arpeggios, octaves, scale passages, chord inversions, key changes) draw excessive attention to itself rather than the hymn?
  6. Is the arrangement suitable for my performance skills?

After you've made your choice, remember to always interpret and mentally sing the text as you play. If you, the presenter, lose the text's focus, those who worship with you don't have a chance. The piano's characteristics give you the opportunity to reflect the power, passion, peace, joy or turmoil of the text in your playing. Worship at the piano.


A short bibliography of fifteen collections of solo piano hymn arrangements follows. Those IVe included in the list are what I feel are the best of the more than fifty books I considered. However, the list is neither complete nor flawless. (Not included, for example, are collections of organ music for manuals only which are also appropriate for piano.) Piano music is a rapidly growing area of publication. Church pianists may consider this a kernel from which to continue building a repertoire.

Amazing Grace, compiled by Sharron Lyon. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1988. Distributed by Genevox (4571-50). Easy/ Medium.

This reasonably priced collection allows a pianist to sample many arrangers' styles in one publication. Includes arrangements for three hymns rarely included in other collections: "Jesus, Lover of My Soul" (ABERYSTWYTH); "Like A River Glorious" (WYE VALLEY); and "We Have a Gospel to Proclaim" (better known as, "Where Cross the Crowded Ways of life" [GERMANY]).

Folk Hymns for Piano (1987, code no. 240);
Carols for Piano (1987 code no. 232);
Spirituals for Piano (1990, code no. 262);
Hymns for Piano (1991, code no. 920).
All by John Carter. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing Company. Easy.

John Carter, a composer of long standing in the field of sacred music, has given us a series of very worshipful piano arrangements, filled with rhythm and life. They are well-suited to liturgical movement, but would also energize the congregations singing when used as alternative accompaniments for hymns. The folk hymn and spiritual settings are powerfully simple. Worshipers will not disregard these arrangements. In fact, don't be surprised if they hum along.

Just A Closer Walk, by Bill Wolaver. Van Ness Press, 1988. Distributed by Genevox (4181-11). Difficult (until you master the style).

Bill Wolaver makes a contribution in the gospel-jazz idiom, arranging spirituals and revival hymns. 'Amazing Grace," "Revive Us Again" or "There Is Power In the Blood" would be useful for a youth service, a service celebrating the diversity of God's people, or for any Sunday, depending on your congregations taste in music.

Piano Preludes on Hymns and Chorales, arranged by Reginald Gerig. Carol Stream, IL: Hope Publishing, 1959 (code no. 251). Difficult.

Reginald Gerig's purpose for this collection was to adapt the chorale prelude, whether originally for organ or orchestral instruments, for a single keyboard. All 17 chorales are familiar and include the timeless "Jesu, Joy of Mans Desiring" and "Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying," both by J. S Bach.

Performance of these chorale preludes requires an understanding of Baroque keyboard playing and the ability to voice a single line so that the chorale tune can be heard. To aid in the interpretation of the chorale prelude, the original chorale, with text, precedes each prelude. An effective prelude or offertory would include a choral or vocal solo presentation of the original chorale, followed by the chorale prelude.

Portraits of the Cross: Eight Piano Solos for Holy Week or Holy Communion, by Penny Rodriguez. Columbus, OH: Beckenhorst Press, 1992 (PC3). Medium.

This collection ranks far above other collections by Rodriguez in its sensitive approach to text and tune. Especially effective are "Hosanna, He Comes! All Glory, Laud, and Honor," a persuasive processional for Palm Sunday, and "Christ the Lord Is Risen Today."

Praise Him with the Gospel (Books I and II) by Charles F. Little. Lexington, KY: C.F.L. Music, 1983,1986. Distributed by Dove Music. Difficult (Demonstration tapes are also available).

If you dream of learning to play in the style of African-American gospel, this book is for you. Charles F. Little transcribes, by hand, his own gospel accompaniments to 24 traditional hymns .seven piano solos and one choral anthem are also included in Books I and II. The rhythms, extensive octaves, and elaborate chords are a challenge, but don't give up. Mastering these gospel arrangements will help you develop an energetic, commanding piano style. In addition, you will hopefully learn to imitate the impro-visational style and apply it to your own arrangements.

Praise Hymns for Piano, by Lloyd A. Larson. Delaware Water Gap, PA: Glory Sound/Fred Waring, 1985 (HE-5033). Medium.

Energetic and refreshing settings for 15 traditional hymns. The arrangements, ranging from meditative ("O Come, O Come, Emmanuel") to grand ('All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name"), represent hymns for general use and for the various church seasons.

Sanctuary: Hymn Arrangements for Piano, by Ken Medema. Nashville: Genevox Music Group, 1989 (4181-16). Medium.

Medema's music is "earthy and direct, full of stories and humor" (publishers forword). E These arrangements are most suitable for meditation arid may need to be prefaced with the original hymn.

The Stephen Nielson Collection for Solo Piano. Nashville: Laurel Press, 1985 (KK333); and The Artistic Impressions of Stephen Nielson. Lindsborg Press, 1989 (LO403). Distributed by Antara Music Group. Medium/Difficult.

For two reasons, Stephen Nielson deserves notice as an arranger of hymn tunes and a place in the church musician's library: First, he says, "It has been my goal to choose hymns which powerfully fuse words and music. I have attempted to convey the textual message of these hymns pianistically." Nielson has achieved that goal. Second, the hymns that Nielson chooses to arrange are refreshingly different and are prominent hymns in Reformed tradition; e.g., "Let All Things Now Living"; "Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven"; "If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee"; and "Lift High the Cross."

Thy Name We Praise, by Albin C. Whit-worth. New York: Carl Fischer, 1984 (SGB504). Easy.

The accessible level of difficulty of all of Whit-worth's arrangements is this collections strength. Segments of these arrangements can be used as alternate accompaniments for congregational singing, with interludes and intensifying key changes for final verses.

Ordering Information

Antara (Christian Network) 1-800-933-7161

Beckenhorst Press 614-268-3010

Carl Fischer 212-777-0900

Dove Music 414-444-4447

Fred Waring
(Shawnee Press) 1-800-962-8584

Genevox Music Group 1-800-458-2772

Hope Publishing
Company 1-800-3234049

Helen Breems is a member and director of music at Pullman Christian Reformed Church in Chicago, and is choir director at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois.

Reformed Worship 33 © September 1994, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.