Notes from the Shore

Work, marriage, kids and music

Recording Session – Cello

My good fortune from the Christmas break holds – I knocked out another recording session for the Emmanuel Medley today. This time a solo cello.

As mentioned in previous posts the medley consists of three older minor-key Christmas carols, the last of which is Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Each verse of the song is just 4 lines in a simple AABC form, and I use two verses in the piece. The first is done with a picked acoustic guitar lead, solo cello countermelody and very sparse piano accompaniment. The restatement changes keys and trades the cello and piano for a full string orchestra.

I’m planning on hitting up an old friend to record the guitar part, and the string orchestra will be the Garritan Person Orchestra, which I’ve had a lot of luck with previously. I could have used the combination of the (discontinued) Garritan Gofriller Cello with the Pocket Blakus cello like I did for the Wexford Carol for the cello countermelody, but with my new concept for tracking videos I’m really trying to use as many live performers as I can.

So, I reached out to my old friends, the Shedds and one of their middle daughters was up to the challenge. I sent them the sheet music and a practice track and this afternoon we met at their church to record the tracks. The main sanctuary of their church is a nice, quiet recording location that is excellent for capturing relatively dry strings.

Recording Setup

I brought along the HP all-in-one that has become my location recording rig and two totes full of gear. I set up similar to the cello recording I did for My Jesus I Love Thee in that I set two mics up in a mid/side configuration. Since the arrangement at this point is very sparse I feel like I can use the stereo cello to good effect.

The main difference is that I brought my MXL tube mic instead of the small-diaphragm condenser for the mid mic. I’ve had better luck with the tube taming the potential harshness of solo strings, so thought it would do the trick. I haven’t gotten deep enough into mixing yet to make a determination, but preliminary results look encouraging.

The Talent Arrives

About the time I have everything set up Susanna’s dad dropped her off. As she got comfortable and warmed up I adjusted the mics to capture the best possible sound. A quick note: in the photo you can see that she’s not wearing headphones. This is because they were banging into the headstock of her cello. Fortunately, I had a pair of in-ear monitors for her to wear, and they worked just fine.

This session showed me that I’m learning more about using my interface. I was able to balance the inputs against the signal coming from the computer in her ears so that she could hear everything she needed. The UMC has a blend knob on the front to balance the signal from the pre-amps with the signal from the USB connection in the monitors. Wish I had known better how to do that back in December when I recorded Redeemed.

Final Tracking Screen

In the end we spent about 2 hours practicing and recording. She had to get used to playing along with the track, as that’s not something she does very often.

We broke the recording up into two separate parts: the first section with the solo cello countermelody and the second part where she is playing along with the string orchestra. As much as I enjoy working with the Garritan Personal Orchestra and get pretty decent results from it, just about every string sample library benefits from layering in a real player or two playing along. I’ve already had opportunity to record Dena on her violin for this project, so this was my opportunity to do the same for cello.

One advantage for me, not a string player, recording a real string player along with the sample libraries, is that I can cheat a little off their performance. I can use their performance to match the bowing and dynamics for the sample library, leading to a more musical and realistic performance overall.

One last quick note on Susanna – she’s an absolute delight. My experience with all of the Shedd kids has been unerringly positive, and Susanna has the attitude and work ethic to go as far as she wants in life.

Up next, I hit up my old friend to lay down the guitar part. The last outside performer at that point will be my daughter on harp, then the rest is up to me.

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