This is the first of 7 blog posts about the songs on my new CD “Big Texas Sky”. As part of this posting, Aunt Jean’s Piano will be available as a FREE download fo a limited time.
Aunt Jean’s Piano
I don’t know where the germ for this song actually came from but it is based on a true person and a true event. I probably got the idea planted in my brain from a casual conversation I was having about my father’s side of the family. He was the third child of 9 raised on a wheat and cattle farm in East Texas. The 8th child, Jean, was the creative, fanciful child. She was the one who sang beautifully and played the piano. She sewed and was an artist of some accomplishment. But in 1948 she collapsed and died from a brain aneurism at the age of 19. (In the lyrics she dies at age 24, but I needed a rhyme with door. Literary license.)
So the story of the lyrics start with the narrator touching a piano that had not been played in ages and we find out that he is in fact playing the piano that his Aunt Jean had played so many years ago. There is a connection to be made across time just by the fact that he is playing the same piano that his Aunt Jean had played. It’s like walking through a sacred place where saints had once wandered and prayed. There’s a magic to the touch of the keys and the sounds that come from the instrument because of who had played it and the circumstances of their untimely passing.
In recording this song I knew that I wanted to keep it simple. The guitar part already fills out a lot of the orchestration because of the finger style picking, so whatever instruments join in on this song will have to do so sparingly. I chose to go with a fiddle and a mandolin to add dabs of sound and fill where needed. I was so lucky to have Jim Allyn come in and play both instruments. Jim has a great ear and knows where to put the notes so they don’t step on the vocal lines. When you listen to the song, keep that in mind and not how the mandolin and fiddle play around the edges.
So where is the piano? The whole song is about a piano, but there’s no piano in the song as it stood. I really didn’t want to write in a piano part or a piano break; that would be way too obvious. At the last minute, after I had all of the previously mentioned parts recorded and mixed, I came up with an idea. In the lyrics there is a mention that Jean’s Pa liked the “Old Methodist hymns…”. So I thought why not start the song with a hymn being sung by Jean and the narrator. I found a Methodist hymnal online and chose one that I thought would fit the mood of the song that was to follow? I played the piano part and I called in my friend Michel to sing the melody. The part was up in her range, but it turned out to be a flavor for the song because it intoned an untrained girl singing while at the same time she played the piano part. I harmonized by singing the alto part down an octave and then added a little spoken tag: Thank you Jean…
Take a listen and let me know what you think. This will be a free download until March 19, 2012.