Recording St Mary’s Church Choir in Hexham

St Marys Choir

Last weekend we travelled up to Northumberland to Record the Choir of St Mary’s Church in Hexham along with some local school choirs.

Hexham, it has to be said, is quite a long way from our base in Wiltshire.  So this two day recording was a 3 day outing for us.   The plan, in essence, was to record a Christmas album over a couple of days, specifically a Friday and Saturday.    The recording was mainly to capture the choir of St Mary’s Church in Hexham.  However, following discussions about how to make this more of a community album, it was agreed to include a few local schools in the recording session too.

This is often a very good idea if you are a small church or community choir.   After all, what better sense of community than to include a number of local choirs.

Fundraising for the Organ

The primary purpose of the recording with St Mary’s Choir in Hexham was to fundraise for the organ restoration.  When we turned up on the first day the organ builders were in fact in the church.  The restoration is almost complete and there was talk that it might even be ready for our recording. However, there were still substantial bits of the instrument not assembled and indeed missing! So for the purpose of our recording we used a Hauptwerk setup – more on that later.

The Recording Day One – School Choirs

Having travelled up to Hexham on Thursday evening, we arrived at the church by 08.00 to meet Paul Berry the Musical Director for St Marys Church Choir.   On first impressions, St Marys is a very colourful and bright church.

St Marys Hexham
St Marys Church in Hexham

Within an hour or so we had everything set up and ready for the first school to come and record.

St Thomas More Catholic School Chamber Choir

The first choir to record was the Chamber choir from St Thomas More in Gateshead.   Their Head Teacher was also a singer in the St Mary’s Church Choir – hence the link with the school I suspect.    The chamber choir recorded a couple of pieces. Where Richest Everlasting featured Congas and percussion alongside the choir.  We then recorded Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium.

St Thomas More Catholic School is a co-educational Catholic Academy which provides for the education needs of 11-18 year old pupils from the west of Gateshead L.A. Our school aims to provide a stimulating and encouraging environment within which students can attain the highest standards of which they are capable, and to assist them in taking their place in the world outside school in a useful and fulfilling career, with a firm sense of Christian commitment.

In January 2014 the school founded a multi academy trust, the St Thomas More Partnership of Schools at the request of a primary feeder school. The trust now comprises St Thomas More Catholic School, Sacred Heart Catholic Primary School, Byermoor and St Matthew’s Catholic Primary School, Prudhoe.

You can find out more about the school on their website.

St Joseph’s Middle School Choir

The second choir was from St Joseph’s in Hexham.  They came along with a small band comprising accoustic guitars, Recorder and Violin, supported by Piano and bass guitar.  This was the first time we got to hear St Marys Church Choir too as they joined St Joseph’s in Jesus our Brother.

Music is a very important aspect of school life. This year St Joseph’s have two orchestras (Y5/6 and Y7/8), a choir, string group, jazz group, guitar group and drum club. The school orchestras started the year with about 35 members but with about half of the school learning to play an instrument they expect them to both increase in size by the end of the year. The orchestras, choir and other ensembles perform in school concerts as well as in community events like the Tynedale Music Festival.  The school has held an Arts Week for the past six years and this gives the children the opportunity to experience a wide range of workshops led by either our staff or visiting professionals.

You can read more about the music at St Joseph’s on their website.

St Mary’s First School (Yrs 3 and 4)

Perhaps not surprisingly the affiliated Church School was part of the recording.

Accompanied by piano, St Mary’s pupils from years 3 and 4 sang lovely renditions of Silent Night and We Wish you a Merry Christmas.

St Mary’s provide the only Catholic education for children between the ages of four and nine in an extensive area covering the parishes of Minsteracres, Otterburn, Bellingham, Swinburne, Corbridge, Hexham, Haydon Bridge and Haltwhistle.

You can find out more about St Mary’s RC First School on their website.

The Recording Day 2 – St Mary’s Church Choir

The second day on location in Hexham was spent working with St Mary’s Church choir along with some instrumental musicians.  The first of which was an Accordion, featuring in ‘The Holly and the Ivy’.  As it turned out, the accordion player had heard all the jokes before and wasn’t too surprised when we positioned him some way from the choir.  Fortunately the instrument had a Direct Out so we were able to take a feed into our recording desk in order to blend and manipulate the sound later.

Other carols during the morning featured the small orchestra we had heard the day before and then a trumpeter for Oh Come oh Come Emmanuel.

The Hauptwerk

As the main organ was clearly out of action, for the purposes of recording some carols a Hauptwerk setup had been brought into play.  This essentially is a home made organ driven by a computer connected to a couple of USB keyboards. This particular example came with its own techie to make it work!  You can find out more about the technology on the Hauptwerk Website.

In order to help move things along and make it easier for the choir to stay together, Jules volunteered to play the ‘organ’.  This meant that Paul Berry could conduct the choir.

We had a great time up in Hexham, only slightly marred by a road closure on the way back to Wiltshire which meant a 60 mile detour via Carlisle to get back to the M6 in order to head South!   We hope to be back in Hexham soon to do some recording with the new organ once it is completed.

In the meantime the tracks are still in production but here is sneak preview of the choir singing Unto Us is Born a Son with Jules playing the organ.

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