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Behind The Scenes Of A Recording Session

Rehearsing the string quartet for my Psalms arrangement recording project

15 years after I started setting the book of Psalms to music for my Church congregation, I'm finally getting the opportunity to record my first album of those arrangements.

Thanks to my dear friends Maurice and Devorah Sklar and the Healing Rooms ministry in Santa Maria, California, we're putting together a 2 CD set of approximately 25+ arrangements I wrote of psalms and worship songs for contemporary congregations. Many of the psalm arrangements were based on either Scottish metrical psalters or word-for-word text from the New International Version of the Bible. The worship songs take texts from older hymns ("How Lovely Shines The Morning Star" is based on text written by Philipp Nicolai in 1599, for example) and set them with contemporary melodies for group worship. 


Recording is always a fascinating blend of art and science. Understanding how engineers work with audio files, and knowing what's possible (and what's not), can be critical to creating a good project. Having as much of the music written out as possible is the first important step in the recording process. Classical musicians certainly take that for granted, but when you're working with new, original material, many artists spend most of the studio time creating their songs right under the microphone. That's fine if you have unlimited time and resources for studio time, but when you're working on a tight budget and even tighter time constraints, it becomes more important to have as much of the music planned ahead of time as possible.


Recording takes place as layers. The first layer was having me record piano-only tracks of the whole album. I created essentially two versions of every song: a piano melody version for the singers to follow, and an "ensemble" version where the piano plays as part of the background with the melody stripped out. For most of the songs, we used a "click track" - essentially, a metronome that is piped through headphones, helping me to stay strictly in time, and making it easy for the engineer to edit afterwards.


The next layer was recording the string quartet parts for several of the songs. I had to write out parts for everyone within a period of a few days, but thankfully the musicians we hired were more than capable of sight reading beautifully. Maurice played the first violin parts, and will be featured on some additional solo violin layers which we'll record and mix in later. Here are some videos showing the process of rehearsing and recording the string quartet parts for the album:


The third layer recorded was the vocal tracks. Several volunteer singers from the Healing Rooms ministry graciously donated their time and talent to the project, and did a fabulous job of learning and recording these challenging songs!
Rehearsing with one of the singers for the Psalms recording project

Additional vocals will be added as the instrumental tracks are edited. The final step in the recording process will be a return trip to California in March, where I'll be working closely with engineer Eric Uglum to finalize the edits and layer in additional instrumentals (think: guitar, mandolin, bass, and possibly some percussion), as well as additional vocals with some other singers contributing to the project.


If you'd like a preview of what the psalm and worship song arrangements sound like, check out the practice tracks I provided for the singers:


Psalms and Worship Song Practice Tracks


Keep in mind these are raw piano-only recordings, and that there are lots of bloopers. Also, the piano tempo is much too fast for most of them, but they'll at least give you a general idea of how these songs go.


You can also download a PDF book of the sheet music used for the project for free. Again, there are typos and formatting errors, but they'll be worked out when we prepare the sheet music for publication.


The tentative title for the recording is "Psalms: Hyssop & Snow". Be sure to stay tuned as I update news on this project! Hopefully we will be able to launch the CD set by late spring or early summer, if everything comes together smoothly.





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