Welcome to my new website. Thanks so much for visiting. I’m proud to feature my newest recording which is called Come Down, O Love Divine. The title is taken from the beautiful hymn which was written by Bianco da Sienna (1300s), and Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958). I mention their dates so that you can realize they didn’t write the hymn together. Many great hymns are written by musicians who were inspired by ancient texts and then set those texts to music - miles, years, centuries apart, but beautiful music was created
This is all a roundabout way of letting you know that this recording was not all done at once, like so many of my favorite recordings are. Ideally, one sits down in a fabulous sounding studio, surrounded by a band of fantastic musicians who practice the songs until they know them inside-out, then the engineer hits “record”. I’ve made several albums this way. They cost a lot of money. This time around I didn’t have a lot of money. And so, with apologies to all the recording purists who may read this, I’d like to tell the story of how this record came to be.
In January 2011, I called my old friend John Andrew Schreiner (producer, arranger, writer) and told him that I wanted to make a very simple record - solo piano - of songs I’d been working on for a couple of years. I wanted to do it all in my living room on my newly re-built Mason & Hamlin BB - a piano I love. John and I figured it would take about 5 days to record. Two of those days would be spent getting the right piano sound (adjusting mics, setting up baffles, trying out various pre-amps, etc.).
A few days before John was to fly out to Albuquerque, I called him and said - I think I should do vocals on a couple of these, and maybe even a little electric bass. “No problem” he said, “we should still be able to get everything done in 5 days.
As I practiced the songs more and lived with them a bit, I decided I wanted to also play accordion, my brother to play percussion, and that I was also hearing ambient electric guitar on several of the songs. When John got off the plane and I announced all this stuff to him he had the same look on his face as Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters when he discovers he has to have brain surgery.
Typically, John and I keep odd hours when we record, so my beautiful and gracious wife took our daughter and flew to Berkley to stay with family for several days to make the house quiet as a studio (ha).
And so it began. My iMac was sitting on a small table in the kitchen right next to the utility room door. Several cables ran from the kitchen down the hallway to the living room where the piano is. I spent 2 days playing the piano as we tried for the perfect sound. We ran back and forth between my stereo (in the den), then back to the piano to adjust the high-end mic, or the low-end mic, or the ambient mic, or all three. After several hours of that kind of ear exercise, it’s easy to lose perspective and you might have to start all over again, or just go to sleep. But we finally got a sound we were happy with and that became the frame upon which we built the rest of the record.
In the end, the record grew even larger (though still quite modest in comparison to others I’ve done). I’d like to write something about each of the players who participated. Pretend you’re reading old-fashioned liner notes....
Andrew Othling played electric guitar. He’s the son of Terri and Steve Othling. Terri designs and formats all the printed materials at our church - Christ the King Anglican Church. He’s a young father of a little boy. He and his wife have another in the oven.
Armando Ortega played acoustic guitar and percussion of various kinds. He’s my brother and a really fine musician. He lives in the world of Zimbabwean music, even though he’s Hispanic. My brother is fantastic on shakers made from gourds that he grows in his own yard. He’s the frontman for a local band called Wagogo www.wagogobanda.com
Glen Holmen played bass. I’ve know him over thirty years. We went to college together, though he’s a few years younger than I. Glen has played with some of the best in the business - Steve taylor, Ricky Lee Jones, Beck. He has a beautiful wife from Argentina and a 3 yr. old son.
Cameron Stone played cello. He and I have played together almost 20 years now. We’ve traveled all over and recorded several records. I have never met a player quite like him, his tone, intonation, his ability to improvise, the subtlety of his playing. He’s an extraordinary musician. He’s happily married and lives in Los Angeles.
Dave Owens played drums. He was in my band for years so we’ve traveled all over the globe together. I always say he’s the oldest musician I know, though he’s only a year older than I. He looks young because he swims, or walks, or does both every day of his life. If he doesn’t get to exercise, he goes nuts. Dave has a wonderful wife and two grown children. He has an extraordinary zest for living and learning about the places he visits.
Bob Somma played acoustic and electric guitar. He’s another person I’ve known for decades. Bob travels with the Franklin Graham band and has been a worship leader for as long as I’ve known him. Bob is a superb guitarist with a gorgeous sound and effortless technique. He and his wife live in Southern California.
Chelsea Ward sang harmony vocals. She’s Bob Somma’s daughter and her full-time gig is with John Tesh. She has a beautiful voice combined with an uncommon ability to mimic other voices and styles. We met the day she came to sing on this record.
Cathy Schreiner is married to John Schreiner. She has sung with me for years - even before I started recording. Her voice is distinct and beautiful and people always ask me “who is that girl that sings with you on your records?” I’ve never met a singer who can instantly come up with unusual and unlikely harmonies the way Cathy can. It’s stunning to watch.
Believe it, or not - after all was recorded, mixed and mastered, I was still not satisfied with several of the songs. There was something missing that I could not figure out. I lost quite a bit of sleep over it before it came to me that I needed a choir. The sound I was looking for was a Renaissance sound - pure, and without vibrato. My old friend Brad Holmes immediately came to mind. He runs the choral department at Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois and he’s a first-rate musician. He’s the cousin of the bass player (Glen Holmen) and was also a classmate of mine in music school. Brad publicly humiliated me when I turned pages for his senior recital back in 1979, so he owed me a favor.
Recording that small choir was was a first for me - a very memorable and moving experience. These young people showed up in their shorts and flip-flops, chewing gum, texting, excited to work. We were in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Decatur which is beautiful and has wonderful acoustics. I was awestruck when the choir opened their mouths to sing - such tone, such maturity, such control. Everyone of them was a real professional in their own right but they were absolutely masterful in their ability to sing as an ensemble. Brad Holmes is an extraordinary teacher.
So in the end, my 5-day record took a few months to record, mix, and master. I did not see it coming and the experience nearly wiped me out when combined with my work as a worship leader, and my touring schedule. But here it is. I hope it’s good and that you resonate with the songs. I’ll write more later about the music on the record. Thanks again for listening.