The piano story: my encounter with a generous spirit

Permit me to gush a bit about the piano.

More specifically: Permit me to gush about Richard Capp, the piano accompanist for almost all of the Hymns for Alzheimer’s recordings.

In February 2018, I launched this project to create professionally recorded sing-along versions of classic hymns specifically arranged for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia—slower, shorter, and in a lower key—a resource that didn’t yet exist anywhere online. I now have 91 completed recordings online for free, and the Christmas songs will be up soon. With these recordings, it’s easy for chaplains, family members, caregivers, or anyone to offer a worship service, sing-along activity, or personal playlist of hymns for seniors living with dementia.

Richard played the piano for all of the recordings (except the gospel songs and spirituals), and I am so grateful to have had his partnership in this.

How it happened

Richard is a longtime piano teacher (he was my daughter’s teacher for many years), a professional piano tuner, and a music/choir director.

When I first dreamed up this recording project, one of my first jobs was finding musicians to get on board. (By the way, a lot of people thought that I was creating recordings of myself singing—which to me sounds like a vanity project. In truth, I sing on some of the songs, but seven other vocalists participated. My goal was to work with the best musicians I could find in order to make the recordings as professional-sounding as possible.)

One day, soon after deciding to proceed, I met with Richard at his house, described the project to him, and asked him if he’d be interested in participating.

“Yes,” was his simple and unequivocal answer. (He is a quiet man of few words.)

“Um, okay,” I said, a bit startled that he didn’t even want to think more about it. “How much do you think you might want to be involved? I’m planning on 70 songs, maybe more.”

“All of it,” he replied immediately.

“Oh, uh, that’s great!” I said. “And I’m happy to pay you, as I plan to pay all the musicians …”

“No, thank you, no payment,” he said.

I really couldn’t believe it. A man of his talent and gifts had just told me that he would play the piano for all of the recordings, for free. This was, by far, the biggest piece of the musical puzzle, because finding someone with the requisite piano-playing skill level who had the time and interest in participating was integral to the success of the entire project.

But at that time, I didn’t realize just how wonderful having Richard would be.

Commitment and generosity

First: Richard and his lovely wife, Julie, offered their home for every single rehearsal time, each of which lasted 3-4 hours, usually on weekends and evenings. Richard patiently worked with me and the vocalists to determine keys and tempos for each song. Given that I’m not a trained musician (I can barely read music), this was incredibly helpful.

Second: On recording days at Coupe Studio, Richard quietly showed up at least an hour early to tune the studio’s grand piano. I never asked for nor expected this, but of course it made a huge difference in the sound quality (and the studio loved it!).

Third, and most important: Richard had an intuitive sense of just how “much” piano to play. Remember, these sing-along recordings needed to be super simple, with fairly basic instrumentation.

For someone of Richard’s skill, playing simply is actually quite difficult! Richard played the songs with just the right amount of fancy—the songs are beautiful but not distracting, easy to follow but not boring. His playing gently crescendos when appropriate and pulls back when the song requires it. Every time I listen to the recordings, I hear just how good he is and just how much he understood the needs of the intended audience, elders living with dementia.

And fourth: Man, the guy just didn’t miss a note. It was incredibly rare for Richard to make a mistake during recording sessions. He also knew how to subtly “cue” the vocalists if they were speeding up, to get them back on track with the slower tempos.

So grateful

The notecard I made for Richard

As I told Richard in my final thank-you note after we recorded the Christmas set, I don’t have words to describe my gratitude for his partnership in this. It is my prayer that he will be blessed a hundredfold as his musical gifts bless thousands more through these recordings.

P.S. I’m still raising a bit more money to finish off the final edits; if you’re interested in contributing any amount, go to my GoFundMe page. Thank you!

3 thoughts on “The piano story: my encounter with a generous spirit

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