piano sketches inspired by
the paintings of Sheila Tinker
and Charles Richard Wilcox
When I was growing up we had a wonderful old Heintzmann piano in our living room (serial number 13153, circa 1898). We also had a lot of beautiful paintings.
The piano had been in our family for many years. The paintings were mostly by my grandfather and my mother. I learned to play, and taught myself to improvise, on that piano. I never learned to paint.
Sound has always been my canvas and my easel, and while I’ve used a variety of colours on my palette, the piano has always been the one with which I’m the most versatile, the most comfortable, the most intimate, and the most free…
But this piano was not just my childhood piano. It was also my mother’s, and my grandfather’s…
My mother was my first piano teacher, and she (along with my father with his wildly eclectic but always excellent taste) instilled in me and my siblings the deep love of music which has been so important in my family and in my life. Music was ever-present in our home, and in my case became from a very early age my primary vehicle for self-expression. It’s the way I make sense of the world.
My grandfather was also a self-taught pianist, and while I never met him (he died a few years before I was born), I grew up with stories about him relaxing at the piano in the evenings. When I began to teach myself to improvise, this strange connection became even more apparent – nobody in my family really seemed to understand what I was doing as I found my way wide-eyed through harmony and explored its wondrous possibilities, but they supported me (as they did later, when I went on to study more formally). And hey, maybe I wasn’t the first to play that old piano like that…
But in the end my grandfather was an artist first and foremost, and painting has also been my mother’s principal creative medium. Their beautiful paintings (and drawings and carvings and furniture…) have surrounded me all my life, in our home and those of relatives and friends, a constant source of wonder and inspiration.
Many of the paintings that moved me most were the landscapes, and particularly my grandfather’s ‘plein air’ sketches, done quickly on location. They have an immediacy of expression – quick brush strokes aimed at capturing the essence and feeling of a place and a moment. They were not pored over, calculated and planned, but free and flowing and full of energy and immediacy. They were improvisations.
Others, including many of my mother’s, are perhaps more careful and deliberate, and have a certain understated grace to them, a delicacy and sensitivity of touch. Sometimes, there is a kind of magical balance between these things – wildness showing through the subtlety, or vice versa…
But above all they are a celebration of light – and more specifically, the particular light of particular places, many of them the familiar backdrops of their childhoods and mine, in Nova Scotia and Ontario.
This album is a way of responding to all of that, and expressing in my own way – my own improvisational sketches – how it has influenced me and my creative voice over the years. Responding to the paintings, to the piano, to my immediate and extended family and the amazing, warm, supportive, creative environment that has surrounded and nurtured me all my life.
It was recorded in my parents’ country home in Nova Scotia, on a summer visit surrounded by family, on the old Heintzmann that I grew up and learned to play on, as my mother and grandfather did before me. It still sounds amazing! Warm and resonant, but with a wonderful clarity of tone (which my treasured pair of vintage Neumann microphones captured perfectly). I pretty much just tuned it up, set up the mics, and started playing – sometimes thinking of a specific painting, sometimes more generally about their energy and atmosphere.
These pieces are what came out, with my own blend of wild energy and delicate sensitivity. I hope you enjoy them!
I’ve called the project ‘Painter Piano’, in reference to the player piano, the famous mechanical self-playing instrument, but also alluding to the fact that that wonderful old family Heintzmann has been a painter’s piano for much of its 120-year history… and finally because I’ve come to feel that in a way, that’s also what I do: I paint pictures, in sound, with the piano as my canvas.
Stay tuned for more details on the album release… feel free to sign up for the mailing list if you’d like to get updates…