Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Hymnal Project Begins - #479 Glory Be to Jesus

Welcome to the Hymnal Project. I've decided to try to record some hymns, working out of the Episcopal Hymnal of 1982. I should state right off that the project is not associated with the Episcopal church in any way - it is a private project undertaken, funded, and produced by me.

I am not sure exactly when or how the idea came to me. I really enjoy church hymns. Some time back the idea of recording them myself came to me, and it has been itching ever since. The time is ripe to begin.

To what end do I make these recordings? I guess I have several goals

  1. Fun. I really enjoy singing hymns. This gives me an opportunity to sing both bass and tenor (at least so well as I can), whenever I feel like doing it.
  2. Learning. I hope to learn to be a better singer, a better recording engineer, and pianist. I also hope to learn more about the hymns, the various hymnals produced by different churches and the composers.
  3. Teaching. I hope that the work I am doing will be useful to others. These recordings can be used to get a general idea of what the hymns should sound like. I also intend to make the recordings available with the four parts, as well as recordings of the individual parts, providing an easy way for people to learn the individual parts.
  4. Collaboration. I am interested in sharing and learning. If you have suggestions about how I can improve the singing, the recording, the engineering, or anything else to make these songs better, please let me know. And whatever advice I can provide, I will be happy to share. Furthermore, if there is a hymn that you are anxious to hear, drop me a line. As previously mentioned, I am working primarily with the Episcopal Hymnal of 1982, but if you have requests for hymns from other sources, I will be happy to give them a look. Suggestions and requests can both be provided in the form of comments to the posts.

Before I tell you about our first recording, I'll give you a little insight into our recording arrangements. They are likely to change with time, but here's how we are set up at the moment:

  • Software

    • GarageBand 3 - primary recording software.
  • Hardware

    • MacBook Intel 2GHz 2GB RAM and iMac 1.25GHz G4 768MB RAM, both with OSX 10.5. The MacBook is my wife's computer, so I try to leave it alone. However, I need to use it for the piano recording, due to its portability.
    • PreSonus FP10 audio Interface
    • Sure SM58 Mic (1)
    • Sure SM57 Mic (1)
    • Peavey PVM 22 Mic (1)
    • Behringer XM8500 Mic (4)
  • Instruments

    • Yamaha YDP-223 digital piano
    • Washburn D24SI acoustic guitar with after-market thinline pickup

Now on to the meat - my wife and I did our first recording for this project last night. I'll give you my first bit of wisdom right now - it isn't as easy to make a good recording as it looks.

I recorded the piano through the RCA outputs on the piano to the built-in sound card on the MacBook. As you will soon discover, I am no pianist. So I recorded it several times, until I got a mostly clean pass of a whole verse. I took that good recording and copied it 5 times, and that was it for piano.

Next I had Patti sing the soprano line. She knew the melody, so that was easy enough. Next she did the alto line. She had to practice that a little, but that wasn't too hard, either. Then I recorded the bass and tenor lines.

All vocals were recorded with the SM58.

At this point, I thought we were pretty well done. Until I listened. I realized that this is a little trickier than I expected. First, we were not consistent about pronunciation and enunciation of our words. Second, we were not consistent in our timing. One voice would end a phrase earlier than another. Still, as amateurish as the performance was, it sounded basically okay. I did a quick balancing of volumes for the parts, then exported to mp3.

It wasn't until today that I listened to the mp3 on the stereo. Today I have a new respect for what sound engineers do. While the original sound was okay on tiny little speakers, it wasn't great. But on the decent speakers in the living room, the sound was a disaster. Yikes. It sounded like it was being played through a wool blanket.

I've made a number of changes to the recording to try to spruce it up. And we fully intend to re-record the thing anyhow. But I'm posting the original so I can document this journey from the beginning. So I present to you, the first go of Hymn 479, Glory Be to Jesus.

Words: Italian, 18th Century; translation Edward Caswall (1814-1879)
Music: Wem in Leidenstagen, Friedrich Filitz (1804-1860)

Key: F Major
Tempo 112 beats per minute

Recorded 8 April 2008 in Paige, Texas
Piano: Stephen Brown
Soprano: Patti Brown
Alto: Patti Brown
Tenor: Stephen Brown
Bass: Stephen Brown

Feel free to provide any feedback you may have, and check back soon to listen to us grow.