I have played piano in the church most of my life. I first learned to play hymns for corporate worship as a 10-year-old. Was I too young to do that? Definitely! Was my playing a hot mess at the time? For sure. Am I thankful that my parents encouraged me to play in my small church? That answer is a resounding “Yes!”
In the years following, I would begin working with another teacher in eastern Arkansas who was also the pianist for the large Baptist church in town. She introduced me to hymn arrangements. I quickly fell in love with the sounds of Dino and Marilyn Ham. In a lot of ways, my knowledge of the standard repertoire of hymnody came largely from the arrangements of these great songs of our faith. Ever since, I have been in search of excellent arrangements of hymns to share with congregations large and small throughout the country.
Earlier this summer, I stumbled upon Make His Praise Glorious! – a collection of 10 hymn arrangements by Tracey Craig McKibben. I was not familiar with McKibben’s work, so I decided to let the music speak for itself. I found myself drawn to the rich harmonies and exciting rhythmic propulsion of the arrangements.
Who is Tracey Craig McKibben?
I didn’t know the answer to that question after playing the arrangements and finding them very enjoyable. The “About the Arranger” section of the collection provided an interesting look at the composer. I’m including it here in its entirety so you can also get to know McKibben.
Tracey Craig McKibben earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Pensacola Christian College where she studied with Daniel Nagy and Daisy de Luca Jaffe. Since graduate school, she has taught piano lessons in both school and studio settings. For over two decades, Tracey has taught students of all ages to instill in them a love of music and the technical proficiency to achieve their dreams. Several of her students are now teaching music professionally.
Tracey began composing and arranging while in college, and what began as a hobby quickly developed into a lifelong passion for creating music. Her first choral octavo was accepted for publication by Lorenz in 2017 and she has had several other octavos published since then. Her first piano collection, Be at Peace, was published by Lorenz in 2019 and she is a regular contributor to Lorenz’s keyboard magazines. Her work is also published by Kjos, Easy Choir Music, and Heart Publications. She is a member of ASCAP and has served in many church music leadership roles including music director, choir director for both adult and children’s choirs, pianist, accompanist, and handbell director.
Tracey lives in Dayton, Ohio, with her husband and son. She also has a step-daughter and two eccentric, but lovable, cats. When not composing or teaching, she enjoys hiking with family and friends, jogging, and cycling. She is also an avid reader and knitter.
Come, Christians, Join to Sing
This arrangement of the traditional Spanish melody is exciting and lots of fun to play! The opening melodic figure’s first measure is written in a 3+3+2 pattern that grabs the listener’s ear from the beginning. The perpetual motion, syncopation, and changing meters keep the excitement going. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this arrangement is the register shifts that happen with no preparation. The shifts become natural, but require some attention to choreograph the movements. (NOTE: This video was recorded at my parents’ home in Arkansas while I was visiting them during the COVID-19 pandemic. It appears that I had a case of cabin fever and pushed the tempo throughout. There will definitely be some metronome work in my future when I return to this exciting piece!)
The God of Abraham Praise
This hymn seems to appear in multiple collections. However, it is not a hymn that I know. While quarantining at home, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore a new hymn. The lyrics are simply beautiful and will bless your heart! The traditional Hebrew melody is at the same time haunting as it is sure and stable. Its minor mode and recollection of Christianity’s Jewish heritage are a welcome addition to the music of the church.
Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
The Doxology has long been a favorite hymn of mine. It was not something that I sang in church until I was an adult. Its simple melody combined with the strong proclamation of faith have been a source of comfort to me over the years. Many of the arrangements of the hymn that I have encountered are bold proclamations of faith. I appreciate them, but there are times when the Doxology calls for a simpler setting — something that better expresses the reverence and the quiet awe and wonder the majesty of God raises in me. McKibben’s setting is lyrical and delicate. I think my favorite moment of the entire setting comes with the deceptive cadence that accompanies “Praise Him all creatures here below” in the chorale-like section. While perhaps not as challenging for the fingers, this setting allows a mature pianist to explore depths of truth in the arrangement’s lines.