Back in late November, J. and I traveled to Boston, and the studios of WGBH, for the third and final day of a recording session for a disc Phoenicia would be publishing in early 2014. The CD would contain two recent works for solo piano by our friend, composer Jon Appleton: The Scarlatti Doubles and The Couperin Doubles. I knew both sets of pieces well; Jon had sent me drafts and final copies as .pdf files during the months he was composing them, and I had tried them out myself on the piano. Some of the Scarlatti Doubles were technically beyond me, but by the time of the recording, I was pretty familiar with all the pieces.
Jon engaged a young Korean-American pianist, Minkyung Oh, to record the works, and they had met several times and had numerous discussions about the music and interpretation. When J. and I arrived in Boston, nearly all of the recording was already done; all that remained were the editing and one section of one piece to be recorded again.
I've been involved in several recordings, as a choir singer and instrumental player in large ensembles, and in my earlier days doing advertising for New England Digital, makers of the Synclavier, a leading music synthesizer and editing workstation, I'd visited a lot of recording studios in L.A., New York and other cities during photo sessions. A prior disc of Jon's music that was also published by Phoenicia was comprised of works recorded at the Moscow Conservtory. Banquet celeste, a collection of contemporary liturgical music for choir and organ that our choir put out a few years ago, was the result of four long nights of painstaking recording; I sang in the choir, J. took photographs, and we designed the packaging and a commemorative book inside, but the editing was done by the director and his engineer.
So this was the first time I'd been directly involved in the production and editing process. The engineer, Frank Cunningham (above, center), is a consummate professional who knew exactly what he was doing. Minkyung (below, right) and Jon (below, center) had both reviewed the raw recording takes from the previous two nights, and had their lists of edits ready. During the long night of editing, the four of us worked together, with the scores, to come as close to perfection as we could, while J. documented the process. (That's his photo below, the other two are mine.)
As in all artistic creative processes, one of the most difficult decisions is when to stop. Perfection in music probably isn't achievable, but the astounding capacity of digital recording and editing makes it tempting to try. When we stopped at 10:00 pm, we were all exhausted, but happy with the results. Minkyung's performance had been extraordinary: brilliant, virtuosic, but also extremely sensitive. Without that to begin with, no editing process in the world can make a great recording. All we were really doing was very fine-tuning.
It was a fascinating and challenging experience for me, and something I'd like to do again. I have a pretty good ear, but that eveing I was pushed to listen in a different way; in addition my role was to help faciliate our work as a team. Reflecting on the process afterwards, it was clear to me that I had been drawing on a lifetime of skills, and wouldn't have been able to contribute in the same way even ten years ago. That was part of what I found so interesting. Jon, who just turned 75, has been a composer and professor of composition all his adult life. This was Minkyung's first recording; she is just starting out on what I hope will be an illustrious career as a performer and teacher. Frank, the engineer, Jonathan, and I are all about the same age; we've been around the block, but not as long as Jon. Everyone brought different skills and experience to the project, and there were five different personalities in the room. That can spell disaster or it can be a strength; this collaboration was a success even though there were, inevitably, rocky moments: there always are. In the next post I'll share the result with you!