(NEW ACOUSTIC ENSEMBLE INSTRUMENTAL ARRANGEMENTS OF CLASSIC HYMNS)
For his album Renewal, pianist and accomplished arranger Kyle Pederson had a specific goal in mind. He wanted to take ancient hymns (all over 150 years old), strip away the lyrics, and provide contemporary instrumental acoustic-ensemble arrangements to spotlight the beauty of these old melodies and make them enjoyable for today’s listeners.
“I wanted to rescue these wonderful melodies that are generally just heard by a few people in church,” explains Pederson. “Though several of these classic hymns indeed carry sacred meaning for many, this music is strong enough to stand on its own and appeal to those with no connection to a particular faith background. I really believe these melodies can stand alongside the best music from the past.”
The music is all acoustic. Pederson plays a nine-foot Yamaha acoustic grand piano throughout the recording, and he arranged all of the music. Pederson plays solo piano on two tunes, and surrounded himself with top musicians from the Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, area for the ensemble pieces-- Handt Hanson on acoustic guitar (who also facilitated all the recording), Dana Maeda on oboe, Diane Tremaine Kogle on cello, Sarah Bertsch on violin, Al Hreha on bass, and Scott Malchow on acoustic guitars, mandolin and weissenborn (a lap slide guitar). Malchow also did the studio/technical production.
Previously Pederson released a successful solo piano album, titled 12.25, containing his unique arrangements of classic Christmas hymns. The CD went Top 5 on the international monthly Top 100 Zone Music Reporter airplay chart. That album established Pederson as a pianist known for his inventive arrangements and self-penned sections within traditional tunes, and also for his interesting harmonic progressions and deeply rhythmic piano playing.
Pederson’s music is available in CD form at CDbaby(dot)com and Amazon(dot)com, and as digital downloads at a wide variety of online sales sites including iTunes, Rhapsody, eMusic and many others. For more information, go to kylepederson(dot)com.
“The title Renewal has several meanings,” Pederson says. “I was hoping to renew and rejuvenate these classic melodies. And perhaps the music could serve as a soundtrack for anyone needing renewal in their own lives and hoping to ‘begin again.’ On a personal level, I first wrote arrangements for several of these tunes so they could be performed at my wedding -- which definitely represented a new season of my life. This music always gives me the feeling of peace while at the same time providing a sense of energy and purpose -- a wonderful combination.”
Renewal begins with “Be Thou My Vision,” the oldest music on the album (written in Ireland in the 8th Century), and featuring piano with oboe and cello. Several other tunes have an interesting history. “All Creatures of Our God and King” began with words penned by Francis of Assisi in Italy in the early 1200s, but the music was composed in Germany in 1623. Famous religious leader Martin Luther wrote both the lyrics and music for “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” in Germany in the early 1500s (performed as a solo piano piece on this album). Also arranged for solo piano is “Let Mortal Flesh Keep Silent,” whose music derives from a 17th Century French folk carol called “Picardy.”
The earliest American music included is “What Wondrous Love Is This” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” both composed in the late 1700s or early 1800s and now considered American folk hymns.
One of the pieces that begins with acoustic guitar before other instruments are added is “For The Beauty of the Earth” (written in Germany in the early 1800s by Conrad Kocher, who founded the School of Sacred Music that popularized four-part singing in churches). The melody for “The King of Love My Shepherd” was composed in the British Isles in the mid-1800s, the same era when “Lord Whose Love in Humble Service” was written (featured here in a piano-dominated arrangement that includes delicate highlights by oboe, cello, guitar and violin). A tune featuring lovely piano and guitar interplay is “Give Me Jesus” (written in America about 1879).
“I originally created the arrangements for this album at home on a synthesizer, but I knew for the recording I wanted to bring in musicians to play the actual instruments,” states Pederson. “This is age-old music and these are old-style acoustic instruments--a perfect match. I purposely did not use an organ anywhere on the album because I felt this music had been heard played on organs in churches for so many years — I wanted the tunes to feel different. A similar motivation was behind the use of some alternate harmonies and/or meters in most of the pieces.”
Pederson was born and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where he “started banging away on the piano” when he was five. He began taking piano lessons in the second grade and continued through college. A defining moment came when he went to see his first concert, pianist Peter Nero, and the performance and crowd reaction were inspiring. Kyle started accompanying vocal groups (such as choirs and glee clubs) in junior high and continued through college. Although he also sang in school and church choirs, he was most comfortable playing the piano. “At the piano everything just seemed more natural.”
During his school years he was initially attracted to the popular radio music of the day -- Billy Joel, Steely Dan, The Police -- but he also enjoyed certain new age musicians such as George Winston and Mannheim Steamroller (“I liked the liberties that group took with traditional melodies.”).
Pederson attended Augustana College where he got his Bachelor’s Degree in philosophy and political science as well as a secondary education teaching credential. At college he sang in and accompanied choirs, played piano in variety shows, was part of an a cappella men’s group, and performed at competitions and recitals. He also became a professional musician earning money at a local lounge where he played show tunes, jazz standards, pop hits from Elton John to Carole King, and other piano favorites.
Pederson moved to Minnesota (the Minneapolis-St. Paul area) and became a school teacher while indulging his musical passions in various ways -- performing in church, playing at weddings and local events, becoming a member of a jazz group (Shoop) for several years, and taking jazz lessons). At the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville (just south of Minneapolis), Pederson has been involved in music presentations for many years --accompanying various choirs as part of the Sunday choral worship, playing in the contemporary praise-and-worship band, and being part of many special-event musical performances. Pederson recorded the Renewal album at that church a few years ago, but only decided to release it internationally for the first time in 2013.
“I grew up listening to hymns in church, but it wasn’t until well after college that I realized how much this music had become a part of me,” says Pederson. “For years I’ve enjoyed playing around with these melodies and trying different harmonies to layer underneath. It was an absolute thrill to bring in the musicians and hear it all come together.”