One day in June, I was invited to play Dubravka Bencic‘s beautiful new piano. This piano was housed within a warehouse that also contains the largest African artifact collection in the entire world. There I was, sitting at her audibly perfect Steinway grand, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of figurines, masks and handcrafted items, just uphill from the Allegheny river in my beloved former hometown of Pittsburgh. I had to call my videographer friends. Andrew Obenreder put together this video:
I returned to West Virginia without audio for the video. Andrew was as excited as I was to share this eye-candy with the world, but he needed music to set the video to. Enter Seth Maynard of Lone Wolf Studios, the local guy in Elkins, WV. Seth is one of the most efficient and effective recording engineers I’ve worked with. After finishing the Skipping Stone audio for the video, I decided to record my other piano songs with him.
As the piano songs got edited, and as we added in the fiddling of Liz Sloan and cello tracks from Wytold and Josh Stevens, I realized that this project was growing it’s own voice. I hadn’t intended on recording a piano album, but here it was. And it was trying to tell me something.
First, the backstory: 25 years ago, my father passed away suddenly. At six, with few words to communicate what I was experiencing, the piano became my original means to grieve and heal. Over the years, the guitar has become my main instrument, but the piano remains my primary companion for composing songs with deeper, more personal themes. I can always sit in front of it, pound on the inviting keys and thank it for always letting me feel heard when I was most alone.
This album deals with directly with the suicide of friends, the loss of former lovers, the environmental destruction that our species is engaged in, and remorse for things that we wish we could have done differently.
Between the lines, the album is about the intimate bonds that makes all of our lives so very important. The happy moments are full of desire and longing. The sad moments are full of reprieve, release and gratitude.
As I started telling people about the album, people shared their own stories of loss. During the holidays, especially, it is clear how little Hallmark has to say about it. We spend our time and our money on toys and gifts for those we love, but we can never get back the love of the ones we have lost. That is the love we bury deep in our hearts, sometimes remembering with joy and gratitude, and sometimes remembering with the cyclical return of grieving.
So, letting this album come to life has given me permission to let the light shine in on the places that still hurt. This self-permission has actually given me MORE JOY than I could have imagined. I find myself wanting to celebrate, to decorate, to sing holiday songs, to share time with loved ones. I don’t know if this would have been possible without allowing the grief to sit on the mantle, holding its own place in my heart. The pain is there, but it has joined in the singing now.
In honor of my father, his & my wonderful family in New England (and beyond), and all of us who have lost family and friends either by distance or by death, I offer this new collection of music as a chance to sink in a little deeper, to feel both the sadness and the joy inherent in the dark parts of the year. Thank you deeply for being a part of my life.