Michael Arell, the director of music for Veazie Community School, plays the piano during a graduate recital in 2019. Arell is pledging to donate profits from his self-recorded Christmas Album to the Good Shepherd Food Bank. Credit: Courtesy of Michael Arell

VEAZIE, Maine — After Michael Arell heard the staggering numbers for food insecurity in Maine on a radio broadcast during his morning commute, it lingered in his mind for days.

He couldn’t forget what he had learned: at least 12 percent of Maine households were food insecure in 2019, higher than the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability or ability to get nutritionally adequate and safe food in socially acceptable ways, as defined by the USDA.

Approximately 173,080 Mainers struggle with hunger, according to Feeding America, a nonprofit organization that operates a network of food banks and other community food services.

Of that number, 47,460 are children — or about 1 in 5. In 2018, Maine had the highest rate of food insecurity of any New England state.

Arell said he’s donated to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, the largest hunger-relief organization in Maine, in the past, but this year he felt compelled to do something more.

To that end, the musician, who daylights as the music director for Veazie Community School, decided to record a Christmas album and pledged to donate the proceeds to Good Shepherd this holiday season.

Arell’s album, which went on sale Thanksgiving Day, includes 11 classic Christmas songs played on piano. He specifically chose songs that exist in the public domain, such as “Deck the Halls” and “Silent Night,” so he wouldn’t have to pay royalties

“That way, all the money could go to the food bank,” he said.

Arell, who has played piano since he was 8 years old, recorded the album himself on a digital keyboard that automatically uploaded the music to his computer.

While he spent more time editing the audio to cut out dead air and equalize the sound, the actual playing and recording only took a single day, Arell said.

He played each song about a single time, instead of recording it over and over until it was exactly right.

“I could play each song 12 times but it wouldn’t sound the same each time. In the moment, you might be feeling something different and therefore play it differently,” he said.

He said he wanted the music to give listeners the feeling of a real, live experience rather than a reproduction with the most pristine and polished sound.

In addition to teaching at Veazie Community School, Arell also directs music for Saint Mary’s Church.

Normally around the holidays, Arell said his friends also like to sing carols together during their Christmas parties or church get-togethers — an experience that will likely be lost this year to the coronavirus pandemic.

So he wanted the album to share part of that same feeling of togetherness as people listen to the songs in their homes.

“It’s more kind of that feeling rather than a Carnegie Hall performance or something,” he said.

This is the third album the music teacher has recorded or directed. In 2018, he directed an album of music performed by his church choir. He also recorded the original soundtrack to accompany an independent film he made in 2017.

Arell’s Christmas Album is available for streaming on Youtube, Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. People can purchase a digital copy of the full album for $10 on his website.

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