Maggie Casey. Hymns for Small Lutheran Hands. Vols. 1–5: Advent–Easter.
Self-published, 2018–2019. 22–38 pp./vol.
Free, PDF; $4.66–$5.14, paperback.
Lutheran piano teacher Maggie Casey is creating a wonderfully accessible collection of volumes for the beginner pianist containing single-line melody arrangements of all public domain hymns found in the Lutheran Service Book (CPH, 2006). Working through the LSB from beginning to end, the total project is expected to span eighteen volumes. Volumes on Advent (Vol. 1), Christmas (Vol. 2), Epiphany and Transfiguration (Vol. 3), Lent and Holy Week (Vol. 4), and Easter (Vol. 5) have debuted to date.
Begun as a project for her own private studio, Casey’s arrangements are aimed at pianists who are learning to play with their hands largely fixed around middle C. There are no key signature designations, only (minimal) accidentals printed next to the notes themselves to accommodate this harmonic shift. With just two exceptions (“We Praise You, Jesus, At Your Birth,” Christmas, Vol. 2; “Christians, to the Paschal Victim,” Easter, Vol. 5; partial exception: “The People That in Darkness Sat,” Epiphany and Transfiguration, Vol. 3, transposed down an octave), this means that every hymn has been transposed away from its given key in the LSB. While this means that most of the arranged melodies are consequently in a less comfortable singing range, the pianist is nevertheless able to play the entire melody from a familiar hand position (any exceptions in shifting or crossing over are attended by extra fingering hints) and encounters fewer accidentals. Casey still preserves original rhythms, which means that pianists will need to know how to subdivide the beat. With only one or two exceptions in each volume where the arrangement is contained to the treble clef, pianists will also need to be familiar with grand staff notation.
Overall, Casey is doing a huge favor to hymn lovers both learning the piano and listening to their beginner. While in that critical stage of mastering a single melody line in middle C position, pianists can actually enjoy playing quality hymns. Not only is there theological and musical quality within these pages, but especially for a home-grown project, these volumes are presented with great professionalism, printing the original names of each hymn tune, text authors (if applicable), and the texts of most first stanzas. A beautiful image of a church window adorns the front cover. The table of contents cross-references itself with the corresponding LSB hymn number. Casey even peppers the pages with some of the original German and Latin hymn stanza texts for the player’s pondering. She also graciously avails herself of the opportunity for feedback, special requests, and improvements (e.g., by Vol. 4, she starts including both the fingering for and the name of the initial note for the pianist’s extra sense of security).
As she says in her closing summary (see Vols. 2–5), there are indeed other piano books out there with beginner arrangements of hymns, but the tunes are often pan-Christian and, in my opinion, overdone. “Fine tunes,” as she says, “but where’s the Luther, Gerhardt, and Nicolai?” I agree. Where else can you find not only a beginner pianist’s version of “To Jordan Came the Christ Our Lord” (Epiphany and Transfiguration, Vol. 3) or “Christians, to the Paschal Victim” (Easter, Vol. 5), but also find it opposite its original Latin and German texts?? I would highly recommend this resource as a useful supplement to any beginner pianist’s library, Lutheran or otherwise. For either player or listener, you will not only find yourself learning from its pages, but it will whet your appetite for “more where that came from.”
Free PDFs of each volume are available at Maggie’s blog (https://hymnsforsmalllutheranhands.blogspot.com). Spiral-bound paper copies are available at the at-cost printing price through her Lulu Shop (links available through her blog).
Music Director, Zion Lutheran Church, Naperville, IL