Recording Sessions

Chorale’s arrangement with composer Stephen Paulus, guarantees us the exclusive right, for two years, to record the work we recently commissioned from him, And Give Us Peace. We want to get our recording out there, so that other choirs and conductors, interested in a new work by Paulus, can have a chance to hear it; but one motet does not a CD make, so we find ourselves planning a CD which will feature this work, along with others, both from this fall’s preparation period, and from last spring. We hope to have this new CD, with the working title “Os justi,” ready for distribution in April. Its theme is Advent, and it features the two principle characters of that season, John the Baptist and Mary, mother of Jesus. It will include Paulus’ work, the Vespers portion of Rautavaara’s Vigilia, Poulenc’s Salve Regina, Bruckner’s Os justi , Verdi’s Ave Maria, and Vox clamantis in deserto, by Clemens non Papa.

Following immediately on the heels of our performances this past weekend, we have spent two evenings, six hours in all, at Monastery of the Holy Cross, in Bridgeport, recording the Poulenc, Paulus, and Rautavaara portions of the CD. We stand, sixty strong, on the chancel steps, and sing to an empty, dark nave, while Mary Mazurek, Mark Travis, and Schuy Jewell, our recording team, huddle over their equipment in a small room off to the side, making magic. Mary has already placed the mic stands and mics, carefully measuring each quarter of an inch to be sure she gets just the right sound. The radiators don’t put out much heat– the monks take a vow of poverty, and we do too, while here; but this does not seem to affect our singing—if anything, intonation is better than it has been on warmer evenings. Now and then a truck rumbles by outside, bringing everything to a halt until the sound fades out; we are grateful this is not May, and that the Sox fans aren’t going crazy out on the street.

I review each movement’s issues before we begin on it– difficult individual notes, dicey intervals, pacing problems, pronunciation and vocal production questions. We sing each movement completely through, then work individual sections, frequently stopping for Mark to instruct us. He is kind but brutal—“Sopranos had a little trouble on bar 28; that might pass in a live performance, but not in a recording;” “Basses, you see a low note and just sort of sing low; the other sections need an actual pitch they can tune to;” “I know that high G is difficult, tenors, but it has to be part of the line that leads into it.” And so the hours pass, and we work through the designated repertoire. Our bass soloist, Wilbur Pauley, is in great form– the rich acoustic of the monastery chapel inspires him to longer phrases, fuller high notes. When his sections are done, Mark tells him, “I’ll call you and you can come in and sing a couple of low D’s for me, if we think these are too scratchy. Just kidding.”

Finally, at 10 p.m., the choir’s work is done. Mark brings the raw takes home and works on them; after the holiday, he and I will get together to review those he has selected, and choose those we agree on. He will then put everything together in rough form, I will review it for accuracy, and he will send it all to Mary, who will put the finishing touches on it and prepare a master disc. Meanwhile, Megan Balderston, Chorale’s managing director, will collect data for the insert; I will write liner notes; Jacob Karaca will negotiate ASCAP fees and get us an assigned number; our graphic artist, Arlene Josue, will design insert and packaging. All will be turned over to the replicator, who will turn it into finished, shrink-wrapped CDs, ready to be sold on line, at Seminary Co-op Bookstore, at our concerts, in the Monastery’s gift shop, and to Chorale’s members. It is a lot of work! But I have noticed over these years that the experience sharpens us, while the finished product pleases those who listen to and purchase the CDs.