Postcards from the Chorus: A Chorister’s View of the Recording Sessions, Part I
September 29, 2017
Dear San Francisco Girls Chorus Community,
Hello from San Francisco!
It has been over a month since our last recording session at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Belvedere, and I miss every moment of it! How lucky we were to record this incredible music with such talented musicians. I cannot wait for you all to hear the final product in February when the CD is released.
Each morning, after arriving at 44 Page Street, over half of us would ride on a bus provided by SFGC to Belvedere. Once settled down at the church, we would begin with warm-ups led by our multi-talented Voice Teacher Justin Montigne. After warm-ups we would quickly rehearse the piece to be recorded next, and then we would begin to record.
Many of us downloaded our music onto iPads to minimize noise. The microphones could pick up the slightest bits of noise, including turning pages and even our individual voices. Even our exact positions on the church steps could be picked up through the microphones. At one point, Artistic Director Lisa Bielawa had to ask our animated director Valérie Sainte-Agathe to remove her Nike tennis shoes because they made too much noise as she cheerfully bounced to the rhythm of the music and vivaciously conducted us.
Most of the pieces we recorded were specially commissioned for SFGC. They included: Back of the Choir by Gabriel Kahane, Opening: Forest, which is part of Lisa’s opera Vireo, Columbina by John Zorn, Father Death Blues by Philip Glass, Herring Run by Carla Kihlstedt, Bubbles by Alexandra Vrebalov, Music of Spheres by Sahba Aminikia, Salute to the Birth of Rory Mor by Matthew Welch (recorded with Matthew Welch on bagpipes), Final Answer by Theo Bleckmann, and Panda Chant by Meredeth Monk. We also had the wonderful opportunity to record Opening: Forest, Bubbles, and Music of Spheres with Kronos Quartet!
It was inspiring to work with such extraordinary musicians and share my passion for music with them.
My favorite piece to record was Back of the Choir. We were split up into two choruses for this piece, ultimately singing in eight parts. I loved how complicated the rhythms and notes were. Every time we recorded this piece, all of Chorissima seemed to levitate with energy. Simply chanting the words “shade by the ice cream truck” put smiles on our faces. I felt chills creep up my spine as we sang stunning forte dissonant chords followed by immediate silences. At the end of the piece, each part was a half step above the part below, creating a dissonant effect. Our voices blended into one another as Valérie had us get louder and louder. I was surrounded by a magical cacophony of noise, and then all of a sudden there was silence. I could feel the adrenaline radiating around me as goose bumps formed along my arms. The next line was sung in a delicate piano, almost as a whisper. The contrast was hauntingly beautiful. I could not believe that I had participated in making this sound.
The recording process reinforced my love for performing with the SFGC. Although, at times, we had to record pieces to the point where we were tired of singing the same chords, deep inside we all knew that we could finish the piece because we had Valérie leading us, and Lisa supporting us on the other side of the recording microphones. I truly feel honored to have been a part of this once-in-a-lifetime recording experience.
We ended the week of recording with a fun pool party!
I look forward to the CD’s release in February when I can finally share my recording experience and the music with all of you. Thank you so much to all of the professional musicians’ contributions to our CD.
Viva la musica!
Gabriella (Gabby) Vulakh