Debbie and I are participating in a series of recording sessions to make a CD from “The Master’s Plan.” This is a production that my church’s Music and Fine Arts Ministry did for a long time, but stopped about 10 years ago. They used to perform it at the Carpenter Center and the Mosque (now called the Landmark Theater), and thousands of people saw it every year. The entire sanctuary choir and members of the cast of the production are participating in the process. It involves converting our choir rehearsal room into a large recording studio, and trying to get about 130 people to sing the same notes, timing, cutoffs, rests, intonation and tonal qualities. There are also separate recordings in our regular (very small) recording studio to capture the solos, duets, and other ensembles.
Preparation involved individual work with the music and practice tracks on CD that had been cut for the purpose. Then, we assembled for rehearsals to do the music together, and get schooled by our director, Bob Laughlin, in how to sing for this kind of music recording. Our choir has done this several times before, so there are some folks who are well-versed in what to do to achieve high quality in a recording. Debbie and I, however, have somehow managed to miss the previous opportunities for one reason or another – so this is our first experience. While there are physical things that must be observed about singing this kind of choral music, I feel like the hardest part of it is mental: you must be focused on the music, listening to your surroundings, and constantly aware of what’s coming, so you don’t make stupid mistakes. In this setting, stupid mistakes mean about 130 people have to go back and do it over.
We did our first choir session last night. We were scheduled for 6:00 to 10:00 PM, but we were able to complete the night’s work in about three hours. Thank goodness. I find it to be exhausting work. Because we are trying to capture only the choir vocals, and not the accompanying orchestra music (captured at separate times), we have the practice, or “guide” tracks broadcast to the choir over an FM radio signal. Every member of the choir has an FM radio and a set of headphones, so we can hear the music. Because the recording equipment is in another room physically from the choir, only the director can hear the instruction of the recording engineer (Pat Bragg). So the drill is: hear the music, start singing, and keep singing until the music stops, or Bob cuts you off. If we’re good or lucky, we make it eight or sixteen measures before we stop. At which point the recording engineer informs Bob that it was good or one of the aforementioned mistakes was committed. The recording equipment they use shows physical graphs (I’m not a recording engineer, so forgive the inexact description) of what is being sung, so they can tell if someone fell into a rest, or the pitch went sharp or flat, or there was too much background noise. Plenty of times, someone did commit one of these mistakes, so we go back and sing it until it is perfect (or tolerably close to perfect). Taking all of that into account, we spent three hours recording the choral tracks for four or five songs (I forget now).
We have another session on Wednesday to finish up the rest of the music. I will do one of the individual sessions to record the part of Pontius Pilate in a song called “Crucify Him”. I’ve been in the recording studio before, but always as a part of a group, so I’m a little nervous about it. I know the song very well, but I also know Bob and Pat are striving to get the best quality possible from folks, so it makes me a little more tense than singing in the shower. And, tense doesn’t add up to good for me. Ultimately, we will end up producing a good product, if their previous efforts are any indication. I’m looking forward to hearing the finished product, and performing the whole concert on Good Friday. We’ll also be singing parts of it on Palm Sunday and Easter.