Last week we travelled to Banbury to record the choir of Blessed George Napier Catholic School on location in St John’s Church. Constructed in 1838, it was one of thirty-five Catholic churches built in England between the years 1837 & 1845 and is a great witness to the growth of the Catholic Church in this area at the time. It was designed by the Oxford-based architects Hickman and Derick. The furnishings in the Sanctuary and stained glass windows are however, attributed to Augustus Welby Pugin. Inevitably the church has been reordered and various re-decorative alterations have taken place during the history of St. John’s. The most recent, in 2010, saw the restoration of colour schemes that are more in keeping with Pugin’s original designs.
On arrival the first thing was to asses the layout of the church. Immediately there were two potential issues. Firstly the choir was singing from the East end but the organ was high up in a gallery at the West end. Perfectly reasonable for services, but not ideal for recordings when you are trying to blend two separate sources which sound in opposite directions and essentially meet in the middle. However, this is not an uncommon layout for a church so there are a few options in post production to blend the two sounds. The main thing was to get some microphones onto the organ.
The second problem was a distinct lack of power. The only available 13 amp socket I could locate was right at the East end of the church behind the altar. Obviously we carry multiple extension leads but it still meant the engineering desk needed to be nearer the front of the church.
This wasn’t too much of an issue and whilst we can locate our sound engineers anywhere (within reason) sometimes it’s useful for communication purposes to be in sight of the musical director. None of our kit makes any noise so there is no particular need to be in a separate room.
Before too long everything was setup and the choir started to arrive – all 100 of them. The choir was split SATB although there were considerably more Sopranos and Altos than there were men – a common problem in most SATB choirs. The tenor section was being bolstered by the musical director and there were a few ex pupils adding to the bass line.
The album being recorded had a Christmas theme. You may think this is unusual in February, but actually no. It makes a lot of sense to record a Christmas album shortly after Christmas. Ideally you should record whilst the tracks are still fresh in the choirs mind from Christmas concerts. However, by recording in the early part of the new year, there is much more time available. Let’s face it, most choirs get extremely busy at Christmas singing here there and everywhere, so the chance of recording an album as well is, for some, a step too far!
Starting at 2pm, we had 18 tracks to record by 7pm. A couple of the tracks were with piano accompaniment, 4 were unaccompanied and the rest had organ accompaniment. The organist turned out to be none other than Jeremy Meager. Jeremy and I crossed paths last year when I tried to have a Viscount organ installed at St Thomas a Becket church in Bath where I play the organ. As it turned out the PCC had other ideas and foolishly purchased a Wyvern organ simply because it was more expensive. Nevertheless Jeremy is an extremely talented organist and so I was even more glad I had made the effort to get microphones into the organ loft.
The choir had been well prepared by their Head of Music and the recording proceeded without a hitch. Most tracks were laid down in no more than a couple of takes. In order to capture the full depth of the large choir we used our Soundfield Microphone. Soundfield have been producing outstanding ambisonic microphones for a while and their latest incarnation is no exception. This was only the second trip out the box for our new Soundfield but the results have been impressive.
Aside of a short mid session break around 4.30pm we recorded all the way through to 7pm and, with some assistance, I was packed away before 8pm.
Our usual policy, where possible, is to produce rushes from the session (basic edits of the tracks) as quick as possible to keep the project moving forward. As it happened I decided there was no time like the present so headed straight to the studio at 9.30pm and started to work on the tracks whilst they were fresh in my mind. As a result I was then able to send the customer the edited tracks for provisional approval before retiring to bed at 11pm.
About the School
BGN is a Roman Catholic School which aims to be an extension of the Christian home to help parents bring up their children in the Christian tradition. The religious ethos can be found across the whole school curriculum and first and foremost in RE.