Heather Pierson is a pianist, multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, songleader, and performer whose inspiring live performances and growing catalog of releases delve into Americana, blues, New Orleans jazz, vocal chants, instrumental piano, and folk. Best known for her ease at the piano and her bell-tone vocals, her songs and musicianship embody joy, honesty, playfulness, and a desire to share from the heart. In over twenty years on her own record label, Vessel Recordings, she has released fourteen albums and several singles of original music.
Born to a Scottish émigré mother and Navy veteran machinist father in Joplin, Missouri, Heather started out life in the single-traffic-light town of Galena, Kansas. Music was constantly spilling out of the speakers of her parents’ stereo – a diverse playlist that included such artists as The Allman Brothers, Kansas, Cream, The Beatles, KISS, Cat Stevens, Mario Lanza, Jose Feliciano and Anne Murray. This diversity served to open Heather’s young mind to the rich and varied language of music and to lay the foundation for her future endeavors and experimentations.
There was also another source of music and inspiration in Heather’s childhood home – her father’s old Selmer clarinet. There were many nights when Heather would find herself sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of her father as he played along, note for note, with his cherished Pete Fountain and Woody Herman records. Though he certainly could have, he never played professionally. His was a love of the music itself, for its own sake, a deep, undying love that he passed down to his only child.
After Heather relocated with her parents to rural Maine at the age of five, her father dug out his old John Thompson piano books and began teaching her how to read music, how to hold her fingers just so on the piano. “I’ll never forget it,” she recalls. “The very first time I played the piano – a real piano – I knew that this was exactly what I wanted to do, every moment that I had the chance to do it.”
After many years of classical piano lessons, Heather began her performing career while still in high school, bringing her training and skills to bear on the art and craft of improvisation. With two bands concurrently – prog rockers Garajh Mahal and the country rock outfit North Atlantic Band – Heather’s music career began with the same diversity and seeming dichotomy that is to this day a trademark of her life. This diversity continued into her early adulthood, performing as a keyboardist, vocalist, and percussionist for Shambhala (who once shared the stage with Paul Winter), joining and then later directing a choir called the Circle Voice Singers, being one third of an a cappella trio called Lightsisters, and all the while, she regularly sat in with local rock, blues, and country bands, and worked as a sideman for other local singer/songwriters. This period also saw the release of several CDs of various forms of Heather’s original New Age music – 1999’s Onward & Upward (solo instrumental piano dedicated in memory of her father); 2000’s a cappella showcase Honor The Light; 2001’s vocal chant collection We All Have A Song; and 2003’s keyboard/percussion/wordless vocal collaboration with fellow Shambhala member Alfred Lund, called Between Lives.
The following six years of Heather’s life found her notably absent from most of what she had been doing. While she played solo piano at a resort hotel near her new home in North Conway, NH, and took on the role of music director at a local UU church, these years saw much of her creativity lying dormant within the confines of an abusive relationship, and she struggled with depression, particularly following the death of her mother in 2007. These years were tumultuous, yet they taught her many important life lessons – and they provided much fodder for reflection, and for her songwriting.
In 2010, Heather reclaimed her life and released her first record in seven years: Make It Mine, mastered by Grammy award winning mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. ‘I’m gonna take this life and make it mine,’ she wrote and sang, and there’s been no stopping her since. She quickly followed up with several more solo records: her second instrumental piano recording, The Open Road in 2012, dedicated to Helen Davidson, her childhood piano teacher; the epic song journey The Hard Work of Living in 2013, which includes her New England Songwriting Contest winning song ‘A Hard Man To Please’; and the jazz-soaked Motherless Child in 2014.
Heather finally burst upon the national scene in 2015 after teaming up with two musicians that she met in the early days of 2010 when her life was starting over. The Heather Pierson Acoustic Trio, with Shawn Nadeau on upright bass and Davy Sturtevant on, assorted strings and cornet, catapulted Heather's live performances of her deep well of original music with intricate instrumental arrangements and stirring three-part vocal harmonies. The trio’s debut EP, Still She Will Fly, was released in May 2015, and its title track was the #2 single on the Folk radio charts for the year in 2015, and three other songs were also in the Top 100 singles on Folk radio in 2015. The trio’s full-length debut, Singin’, was released in June 2017, and debuted at #1 on the Folk radio charts.
These days, Heather's sound is evolving once again with her current trio, with Shawn Nadeau on bass and Craig Bryan on drums, performing her equal-parts-New-Orleans-Oscar-Brubeck piano leanings. This trio performs a rich variety of Heather's originals, jazz and blues standards, and unique reworkings of familiar classics. They are also known for their beloved annual Charlie Brown Christmas tour, wherein they present their interpretations of the work of the late great jazz pianist and composer Vince Guaraldi. This trio is set to begin touring with this newly infused original repertoire in 2022.
2017 saw the launch of Heather’s Piano Peace project, a growing online library of improvised piano music for mindfulness, relaxation, study, and rest. Every week, listeners can tune in to her most-Monday-nights live streaming of these pieces, as well as find several new pieces available on her website for free download or by donation.
In 2018, Heather and singer/songwriter Bernice Martin launched their community singing project, Heart Songs & Circle Songs, whose songbook and companion recording have found their way into the repertoire of church and hospice choirs all over the world. The songbook contains 37 songs, including selections from Heather’s catalog of releases and the 20 new songs from the companion recording. Volume 2 of the songbook was released in February 2021 and contains 66 brand new songs from both Heather and Bernice, and the two of them are regularly invited to teach their songs, both online and in person, to singers around the world.
During the 2020 pandemic, Heather had a viral hit in March with her Toilet Paper Song, and released both a moving single, Beside The Firelight, about the death of George Floyd, and a collection of original meditation chants, Be Here Now. Since March 2020, Heather has been live-streaming every week both solo and with Shawn Nadeau on bass, leading online community sings, and posting every Monday to her popular ‘Dispatches’ blog. She launched her Patreon in September 2020, where she shares new songs and poetry every week. Another collection of original chants and rounds, Wishes of Lovingkindness, was released freely on February 14, 2022, and features ‘Wisdom In My Bones’, now taught by songleaders around the world.
In 2021, Heather reunited with dear friend Leah Boyd (Garajh Mahal/Lightsisters/Shambhala) to form a new duo, Peaceful Means, creating and sharing original and choice cover songs nurturing nonviolent consciousness. Peaceful Means will begin performing throughout northern New England in spring of 2022.
Throughout her colorful career, her eclectic skill set continues to propel her onto concert hall stages and into barrooms, coffeehouses, resort hotels, living rooms, and churches. Her nearly non-stop performance schedule speaks of her tireless work ethic and endless devotion to her crafts. Defying genre and classification and yet fully embracing all musical styles, Heather is an artist who speaks the language of music in as many dialects as her abilities will allow. Her life’s work, she says, is to share her love of music and her gratitude for life with others – one song, one heart, and one mind at a time.