Lock-down music part 2 – Rainbow

‘Rainbow’ is the title of the piece which I mentioned was in progress in my last blog. I wrote it last month, and it gave me an opportunity to try out my computer skills in putting together a virtual ‘first performance’ with family and friends. 

I wrote the words and the music, and while my skill with words is modest, it does give one the opportunity to work together on words and music at the same time, adjusting the words to fit the music and vice-versa. This is an interesting way to work, and very different from the setting of an existing text to music, which is far more normal for a composer like me. So although I relish the opportunity to set great texts to music, I also sometimes enjoy creating both aspects, as here!

The piece was written for Soprano, Alto, and Baritone and piano (with Alto and Baritone optional), but for this recording I added an extra voice part to make a fuller SATB line-up, orchestrated the piano part, and added visuals.

This link will take you to it.

I learnt a lot in making the recording.

I don’t have much experience of this kind of work, and I soon decided that for me, audio (rather than video) was the way to go – though I did add photos to the track later. 

I found that the preparation is really important. I made a backing track (with a click track) to which performers sing along while listening with headphones. This was from the Sibelius file, but with quite a lot of small tempo changes in it, to mirror the way that a conductor would vary the tempo at cadences and other points in the music. I emailed this out to the performers, in a number of different versions with ‘their’ part highlighted on a different ‘instrument’. I also emailed out a score, with rather more performance details on it than you might get on a printed score, as there would be no conductor to ‘shape’ the music.

Then I started to receive the audio recordings from the singers, mostly made on their phones. Naturally, a number of singers, myself included, were somewhat disheartened by the sound of their single line recordings – and actually my advice is not to listen at that stage! Once it goes into the mix, it is no longer an individual voice, but part of a choir – quite a different thing.

I took each of the 17 tracks in turn and ‘lined them up’ against the backing track in the Audacity sound-editing programme. (Although there were 11 singers, there were more tracks as several singers had recorded more than one voice part). Lining up does get easier with practice, but I’m not sure that I’ve perfected it yet!

Then I made some adjustments. I left the recorded sound as it was (no fancy tricks) but I adjusted the relative sound of each track to make a good mix, and faded out the occasional small performance blemish from individual voices.

I also made an ‘orchestral’ version of the accompaniment again using Sibelius (taking care to start with the original backing track so as to preserve the tempo changes), linking it with the NotePerformer programme which can give a pretty realistic representation of orchestral sounds.  I then lined this up with the other tracks, and removed the original backing track. I adjusted the relative volume between the ‘orchestra’ and voices (this needed some careful adjusting in places so that my enthusiastic orchestration didn’t swamp the voices!) and that was the audio part done.

Then I transferred the audio file to iMovie, and added a range of photos – mostly ones that I took myself of rainbows in front windows, including our own. The lovely rainbow which heads this article, created by my daughter-in-law and family and which graces their front window in Catford, South-East London, I used at the climax point of the song.  Then finally I added the words, endeavouring to use all the different rainbow colours in the process. 

The whole editing process took me about two days.  It would have been possible to spend many more hours adjusting the close detail – though the more you do that the less it feels like a live performance, and I was aiming to get something of that quality into this recording. 

I enjoyed creating it, and hope you enjoy it too!

Link to details about the song here.

Performances 2017

This post will be updated as more information becomes available

7 January 2017
Glory to the Christ Child
Southwark Cathedral, Choral Evensong
Fever Pitch

8 February 2017
Three Blues
Lion Walk Church, Colchester
Samantha Christopher (clarinet), Ian Ray (piano)

18 March 2017
Psalmos Penetentiales (First performance)
King Edward VI Grammar School, Chelmsford
Waltham Singers / Andrew Fardell

22 March 2017
Spring Pictures
Lion Walk Church, Colchester (1.00)
Melinda Blackman (violin), Alan Bullard (piano)

25 March 2017
Three Poems of W B Yeats
Brandenburg Choral Festival, St. Clement Dane’s Church, London
Ionian Singers / Timothy Salter

1 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Radyr Parish Church, near Cardiff
Radyr and Morganstown Choral Society / Peter Esswood

8 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Nottingham Hospitals Choir / Nicholas Milburn

8 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Clacton Choral Society / Gillian Dulieu

8 April 2017
Love on my heart from heaven fell
Dorking Halls
Leith Hill Festival Choir / Jonathan Willocks

9 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Red Wing Singers
First Lutheran Church, Red Wing, Minnesota, USA

9 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
Lion Walk Church, Colchester (evening worship)
Lion Walk Church Choir / Ian Ray

9 April 2017
Wondrous Cross
St Andrew’s Church, Roxbourne, Harrow (evening worship)

6 May 2017
Journey through Time
St. James’ Church, Sussex Gardens, Paddington
Bloomsbury Woodwind Ensemble / Shea Lolin

4 June 2017
Selwyn Service
Selwyn College Chapel, Cambridge (6pm Evensong)
Selwyn College Chapel Choir / Sarah MacDonald

4 June 2017
Come, O Creator Spirit
Lion Walk Church Colchester, Pentecost Service
Lion Walk Choir / Ian Ray

4 June 2017
Come, O Creator Spirit
Bruton Parish Church, Willamsburg, Virginia, USA, Pentecost Service
Bruton Parish Choir / Rebecca Davy

10 June
The Darkling Thrush
St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford, 7.30 pm
Commotio / Matthew Berry

17 June 2017
Three Blues
Castle Methodist Church, Colchester (afternoon)
Charles Hine (clarinet), Alan Bullard (piano)

17 June 2017
A Swan, A Man
Castle Methodist Church Colchester (afternoon)
Tim Torry (baritone), Alan Bullard (piano)

1 July 2017
A Summer Garland
St Swithun’s Church, The Paragon, Bath
Cappella Nova / Tony Shield

15 December 2017
Glory to the Christ Child
St John the Evangelist, Iffley Road, Oxford, 7.45 pm
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

17 December 2017
Glory to the Christ Child
St David’s Hall, Cardiff, 3.oo pm
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

12 April 2018
Stocking and Shirt
Leith Hill Festival, Dorking

Recent recordings

And all the stars looked down
Song of the Nativity
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers
Coro COR16146
BBC Music Magazine Christmas Choice 2016
Details here

And all the stars looked down
There is no rose
Vocal Group Concert Clemens / Carsten Seyer-Hansen
Orchid Classics ORC100062
Details here

Hark Hark, the Lark
Sing Willow
Les Sirenes / Andrew Nunn
Albion Records ALBCD030
Details here

The Essex Service (Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis)
Sing Praise to Christ
The Choir of Chelmsford Cathedral / James Davy
Chorum CHORCD450