Recording Session: Choir

What a morning! So, I had the pleasure this past Saturday morning of finally recording one of my pieces for Moments of Comfort and Joy. Since my home studio has been shared with various children both natural and exchange for the last 14 months, I haven’t been able to have anyone in to record. I have also not recorded myself because I want to video it and haven’t had a neat enough space to do that in. This fall when my daughter goes back to college my plan is to do quite a bit of catch-up recording.

In several earlier posts I mentioned working with the Shedd family – first to record a recital and then to record, edit and mix a classical arrangement of Amazing Grace for use in a pageant. We had an arrangement where the Amazing Grace recording would be bartered for their help in putting together the choir for Midwinter Rose and provide the harpist in the person of their daughter (who is my daughter’s harp teacher and leaving in a week or two to start college as a harp performance major).

Setup

We met at what has become our favorite classical recording spot – their church. The harp arrived at 9:00 and I busied myself setting everything up. Once she was in tune I experimented with mic placement.

The last time we recorded she suggested mic’ing just from the back (and I had a limited mic count at that time). When I mixed that recording I decided that placing the mic there didn’t leave enough transient in the recording, and as a result the instrument had a hard time standing out in the mix. As a plucked instrument, not having enough attack is a problem. Mixing Amazing Grace I decided that when I recorded harp again (for I was already thinking of this event) I would use two mics – one in back like before and a second in front.

The picture above shows the mic placement in the back. The harpists father was acting as page turner and also helping her interpret the music (she had an absolutely crazy couple of weeks leading up to the recording, but we had to get it in before she left for school).

The second photo shows where I placed the front mic, up and slightly to the side. The rear mic is my Monoprice 600850, which has turned out to be a wonderful, clean, accurate mic. Considering I picked it up on clearance for $100 I consider it a real steal! Unfortunately it is so heavy that I have to be careful with setup. I also ran into a problem this time with the shock mount. The mic screws to the mount rather than slipping in, and when the screw bottoms out the mic is not facing forward! As such, I had to leave the mic slightly loose, which only added to the instability.

The front mic is my Avantone CK-1 small diaphragm condenser – perfect for capturing the attack of the notes and also a notably clean mic. In the past I’ve forgone noise reduction even for delicate classical recordings because this mic just hasn’t needed it.

For the choir I borrowed some Audix choir mics from my church. We don’t actually use them anymore because the platform is too loud and the omni mics pick up too much platform noise. Now when we have choir we just use some cardioid stage condensers similar to these (sorry that I don’t know the model) on stands.

I set up three for my seven choir members (2 each sopranos, altos and tenors and one bass). I arranged the singers until I had a good balance of tone and precisely one hour after I arrived at the church we began recording.

Recording

Well, not actually. While we did have one rehearsal, that evening the harpist was still returning from her freshman orientation at school, so this was the first time we all were playing it together, and we did make some decisions regarding tempi and feel at that rehearsal. All those things had to be communicated to her and worked out and therefore we spent the first hour rehearsing. We worked through a section of the song at a time until everything had been covered.

For recording, my intention was to make several complete passes through the song, choose the best take and then overdub the choir one or two more times. Like many plans, this one had to be flexible. We really struggled getting all the way through the song with a solid take.

In the end, we just recorded until either there was an error or we hit the end of section. Working this way through also had the advantage of letting me comment on dynamics and feel issues as they came up, rather than having to remember them (me until the end of the take and them once we got to it again the next take). Given the recording environment and conditions, this worked out really effectively and I got well enough material to put together the entire song.

I hadn’t conducted since college back in the early 90’s (I won’t say how early). I had forgotten how much fun it can be, especially with attentive, responsive musicians, and especially when conducting one’s own music. What I didn’t expect was how sore my right shoulder would be after two hours straight with the baton in the air.

Final Thoughts

I’ve told myself over and over that I need to learn from each recording experience. My mic’ing skills have increased, as have my arranging, editing and mixing skills. The one problem that I seem to encounter over and over again (which, admittedly is only partly under my control) is being underrehearsed. That being said, in the end I think I have a solid, usable recording that I can edit together.

 

The screenshot above shows the final tracking window showing the 41+ minutes of material I tracked for this seven minute piece of music. I’ve listened back to at least some of the tracks, and the recording quality is some of the best work I’ve done to date. From what I’ve heard so far I may not use any noise reduction at all. We’ll see how the final fadeout sounds. It was also a real treat getting to know some new musicians in the area – some of whom go to my church and I haven’t had the opportunity to really meet yet.

One final note, I was recently turned on to a new old video editor that is now offering a (slightly) stripped down version of their professional software for free. It is called DaVinci Resolve and is a prime competitor to Adobe Premiere Pro and Apple’s Final Cut and Avid Media Composer. I don’t know how stripped down it is, but from what I’ve heard it offers pretty much everything I would need for the type of work I do. Heck, the full on pro version is only $300, which gets you less than 1 year subscription to the others, and this is a simple purchase.

Anyway, I’m planning on using it to make a video for this song, so I’ll let everyone know how it turns out. Next: Editing and Mixing Midwinter Rose.

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