Recording the Good Afternoon Choirs in Clifton Cathedral

clifton cathedral

Recording Choirs and Orchestra on location in a live concert is one of the bigger challenges that a mobile recording studio can face.  At 4 Part Music we are experienced in large scale Choral and Orchestral Recordings as we proved once again in Clifton Cathedral

Whilst there were a lot of challenges ahead for today’s recording at Clifton Cathedral in Bristol, by our standards the day started at a fairly leisurely pace.   Leaving the studio just after 9am there was even time to stop for a spot of breakfast en route to Clifton Cathedral in Bristol.  Today we would be recording the Good Afternoon Choirs alongside the Cameo Orchestra.     The event was put together by Bath’s Mr Music, Grenville Jones and in true Grenville style it was a big gala event bringing together all of his Good Afternoon Choirs along with their various choir leaders.

Clifton welcome
Welcome Leaflet

Setting up

When recording in large spaces, and let’s face it for most choir / orchestra events Cathedrals are generally about the largest space you might come across, then cables suddenly seem short!  Fortunately we have numerous cable reels and at least 3 times as many cables as we have microphones. So far we have never run out or even come close to the bottom of the XLR cable box (it’s quite a big heavy box!).  The first thing to do on arrival is scout out the venue.   In terms of the choir / piano / orchestra, that’s usually a fairly standard setup.  Generally speaking they are going to be in the middle usually at the Eastern end if in a church / cathedral and there is often the benefit of chancel steps!

clifton cathedral

Just to the right of the ‘stage’ area there was a neat little cubby hole which was just big enough to fit our engineering desk, (and me!).   This served the purpose of being sufficiently out the way of the performers and not in their line of sight whilst also retaining communication with the musicians and being ‘on hand’ to monitor the set up throughout the day.

sound desk
Recording Desk

With any recording one of the key considerations is keeping the space safe and ensuring that cables are secured and not presenting a hazard.  Having the relevant insurance is one thing, but the best insurance in business, particularly our business, is to take care when setting up and make sure the space is safe for everyone involved.  Unfortunately whilst most of the world is going wireless, this concept hasn’t yet arrived with the mobile recording business. This is unlikely to change for the foreseeable future – certainly not at the professional end of things. So for now we have to consider how to lay in multiple cables.

Cable runs
Secure cables

I was quite pleased with my efforts to lay the cables securely and safely.  Taking into consideration the best route to the ‘stage’ whilst also ensuring the cables are out of the way of choir and audience members who would be moving around the cathedral during the day, this seemed the sensible option.  You also have to be considerate of cathedral stone work – they often don’t like tape being used.   I did check first, this would be allowed. As you can see we use fluorescent tape which also highlights a potential ‘hazard’.

The Recording Session

The day was divided up into broadly two sections.  A rehearsal / informal concert to the other choirs from 12 noon followed by an evening concert with Orchestra.    This meant there were two setups. For the first part of the day we would be recording choirs with piano – most of the choirs being around 30 strong.    Most of the choirs made use of the Cathedral Grand piano which was moved to one side of the stage.

One of the good afternoon choirs, directed by Matt Finch, needed connection for his digital keyboard as Matt likes to direct from the piano.   As always this wasn’t a problem and having established this before the session started, I made sure not only that we had jack leads read to plug straight in to his keyboard but also laid in an extra power cable so there was no delays or other cables being brought in and not properly secured.

grand piano

The evening concert

Between the afternoon choirs and piano session there was about an hour before the concert was due to start at 7pm. During this time the Cameo orchestra arrived and set up in front of the altar where the choirs had previously sung.   The plan was then for the choirs to sing from essentially the side aisles of the cathedral rather than on stage behind the orchestra as you would expect.  There were various practical reasons for this but it did make the recording suddenly extremely complicated!

Nevertheless, customer is alway right and no matter what, our job is to get on with it and deal with the situation as it presents itself.  The biggest problem is that we now had multiple microphones on multiple sources all pointing in different directions.  This was going to take some very careful deciphering in post production to avoid it sounding like a complete mess.

At one point in the interval, an ‘amateur sound engineer’ came up to me and said, “Curious set up, where is your main source”.    “Ah” I said!  “This might not be what the text books tell you to do!”

Orchestra Setting up

We had a great time working with Grenville Jones and his Good Afternoon Choirs at their 2019 Big Sing in Clifton Cathedral.  Grenville is great showman and always puts on a fabulous event for both his choirs and the audience members.

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