The Sacred Piano
James Michael Stevens
2019 / James M Stevens Music
Review by Kathy Parsons
The Sacred Piano is a collection of mostly well-known and much-loved hymns arranged for solo piano and performed by James Michael Stevens. There are nineteen tracks on the album, but since there are a few medleys, the total number of songs is a bit higher. James Michael Stevens is the chairman of the Music Department at Welch College in Nashville, TN and has released an impressive assortment of a recordings and songbooks that include original compositions as well as his arrangements of hymns. Many of these hymns and spirituals go ‘way back and Dr. Stevens has modernized them with an emphasis on the beauty and heartfelt emotion of each melody. All are played at a relaxed tempo that allows more discerning listeners to savor each note and provides a soothing and uplifting musical accompaniment for those who keep the music in the background. (The companion sheet music book is also excellent and reviewed on MainlyPiano.com.)
The whole album is an inspiration, but there isn’t space to tell you about all of the songs. I can mention some of my favorites, though. The Sacred Piano begins with a lovely arrangement of “In the Garden,” one of my favorite hymns. Published in 1912, it expresses feelings of peaceful contentment and inner joy - a great start! “The Old Rugged Cross” was written in 1912 and published in 1915. The introductory passage is fairly dramatic, becoming much simpler and more lyrical when the melody enters - a stirring arrangement! “Fairest Lord Jesus” is another favorite hymn, and Stevens’ arrangement overflows with grace. “Moment By Moment (Dying With Jesus)” is a hymn I wasn’t familiar with, but this arrangement has a gentle flow and is gorgeous. “Were You There” is a traditional spiritual that was first printed back in 1899. Very dark and mournful, this version really touches the heart. “Just As I Am” is simple, humble and poignant. “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us” is humble, sincere and prayerful. The medley of “Sweet Peace, the Gift of God’s Love” and “It Is Well With My Soul” expresses grace and deep joy. “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” is another traditional spiritual, arranged with a quiet reverence and prayerful thought. The last hymn is a medley of “More Love To Thee” and “My Jesus I Love Thee” and brings the album to a lovely close.
The Sacred Piano is an excellent collection of solo piano hymns for everyday listening and the music can be licensed for use in more formal settings. The album is available to buy on Amazon and iTunes/Apple Music, and is also available for streaming on Spotify and other sites.
December 30, 2019