This week was an exciting one for Starling Arts: we recorded our debut album! Emily chronicles Starling's epic week, working with producers of Auburn Jam Music, recording Taking Flight
A band of Starlings...
I have a rule never to get up before 7am unless I'm going on holiday. So when my alarm rang out at 6.30 on Saturday morning, I knew I was in for a treat: band and solo day!
Making my way south on the Northern Line, I was filled with excitement, nerves and bundles of energy for the day ahead. Meeting Anna at South Wimbledon station, we stocked up on essentials, Haribo sweets and bottled water, and made our way to our studio for the day under the cover of umbrellas!
Juggling drum kits, music stands and wires, we played what felt like musical Tertris as we prepared the studio for the day ahead. Slowly the equipment fell into place (as did we, cameras at the ready)!
Headphones on, we first recorded Look Up, a song written for Moon, our very own musical! It was a unique buzz hearing it played by a professional band and I could already imagine how incredible the vocals would sound layered on top! Anna rocked out on the keys and in a couple of takes, Look Up was down!
Several tracks later, the band were making great progress and sounding awesome! With a rocking, energetic bass from Dave, uplifting precision drums from Rich and astounding keys from Joe, and Nikki at the sound desk we had a musical dream team!
My personal highlights were hearing the organ rock it out on Let the Sunshine and the funk of Jen Green's arrangement of I Predict a Riot. Joyful, Joyful kept us all on our toes, but played us out beautifully. As the sun set on the afternoon, we had our bespoke professional backing tracks laid out ready for the rest of the album!
Scooting over to the Auburn Jam studio, we met our soloists who were looking even more excited than we had been that morning. For many, it was their first experience in a studio; Joe and Nikki's house rabbit Gregory calmed the nerves, as did the cups of lemon and ginger tea served by host Nikki!
First up was Annie, our soloist on the beautiful Forte track Children Will Listen. This song often sends shivers down my spine in rehearsal, and Annie's rendition is hauntingly moving. Daisy and George from the Starling Singers laid down some incredible vocals for Shadowland, a track from the stage show of The Lion King. It was invigorating to hear such intense and powerful vocals.
Shelley Neighbour reprised a Starling Arts classic in Joyful Joyful, where her effortless and stunning vocals shone through! Let the Sunshine duo 'The Saras' did an amazing job mastering the gutsy opening of the number from the musical Hair, and Joanna Pelosi released her inner Alanis recording the stirring solo for Ironic, our only a cappella number. Dan Garsin soared over the high notes with his electrifying rendition of I Believe in a Thing Called Love, nearly drawing us to a close...
With only the opening lines of Look Up to record, Anna and I took to the mic. I tried to remember all the advice we'd given the singers all day: relax, enjoy it, stay close to the mic, perform... But I was still nervous! After all, the pressure feels greater with only two lines - and such an important two lines, with Look Up being our own song!
One line in particular - life is better spent together - rang true in my head... Having spent the day in such inspiring, talented company, there was little else to do but smile, and be grateful I'd gotten up nice and early to experience it all! On Saturday night, all I can think about is recording the choirs during the coming week!
We are so proud, and blessed, through singing to witness the people we work with being amazed by what they can do. I cannot wait to hear the finished tracks, a celebration of what our choirs have achieved so far in a form that will last forever.
Fortissimo with Forte
On Tuesday, we recorded Forte's numbers, I Predict a Riot (a creepy cartoon romp version of the Kaiser Chiefs anthem), a cappella favorite Ironic and Stephen Sondheim's musical theatre masterpiece Children Will Listen from his musical Into the Woods.
In the beautiful church of St Mark's on Old Marylebone Road, Auburn Jam set up their mics and recording equipment, and after some gentle warm ups and a game of Starling Arts' favourite, Rubber Chicken, the choir took to their positions (and their headphones)!
Seat belts fastened and bags stowed, we had take off! We kicked off with I Predict a Riot, which sounded incredible! The choir were energetic, with the instruction of 'suspicious, mischievous' facial expressions, did a brilliant job of laying down the parts. I love that each voice part has a verse to sing, each full of character and rascality. Once we got our doobies and our shoobies in the right place, we moved on.
Children Will Listen was next up, and was the hardest number of the night to record. The subtleties of the harmonies, sneaky oos, aahs and oohs, and tricky, quiet vocal lines made this an exciting challenge. Dynamically this number is our most subtle and mature. Packed with lyrical and musical riddles, the song is a philosophical musing on life, with gut wrenching beauty in every line.
Last but certainly not least was Ironic, tipped to be our trickiest recording challenge yet! As our only a cappella number, the piece didn't have a band recorded backing track to keep us in time or in tune. Choral singing without instrumental accompaniment is such a unique experience to sing and to listen to, with the collective human voice presented in the most beautiful way. Forte really excel at this, with their beautiful and sensitive blend. A cappella is the ultimate choir challenge, but luckily Forte's skillful singing and stunning blend came into force and the choir worked hard to nail this number.
With the final line of Ironic recorded, we called it a wrap! Wow!
Life is Better Spent Together: Recording the joint numbers
Wednesday was a jumbo jet sized recording day. Before Corvida recorded their numbers, we laid down the vocals to our three joint numbers Look Up, Let the Sunshine In and Joyful, Joyful!
It really is such a 'joy' to hear all 60 singers together. Look Up is an uplifting number, and sounded incredible in 4-part harmony. The choirs know what a lyrical challenge this song can be but all their word crunching and line learning paid off and the number was the best yet! Watch this space for our special Taking Flight music video to accompany the album release!
Let the Sunshine is one of my favourite musical theatre numbers ever, and the sound of all our singers performing this one gave me goosebumps! The singers each dedicated this song to something special, and suddenly choral magic was conjured in the studio. Wow.
Joyful, Joyful is another uplifting, inspirational number, which our choirs sing with revelry! We imagined singing to an audience of primary school children, with a sole responsibility of making them smile. Anna has been performative conducting all week and is certainly getting the very best out of everyone with her energy and enthusiasm!
After finishing some extra special recordings in the booth with some featured soloists in Let the Sunshine, the joint numbers were done!
It's so satisfying to have reached this point together, after months of planning for the album, choosing repertoire, soloists, learning music and polishing off vocal technique.
It's great to think our hard work will pay off every time we press the 'play' button on the album!
Songbirds - Corvida
Corvida is our smallest choir, with just 11 ladies. And now it was my turn to record again, as a member of the nicknamed 'divas'!
Before we began to record our numbers, we did an extra special vocal warm up, singing Happy Birthday to singer Anna Cook, who was celebrating her birthday in the studio with us! Then, headphones on, recording began...
Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy is a fun close harmony number that never fails to make us smile. We worked tirelessly on dynamics and getting our mouths round the lyrics in rehearsals, and after moving everyone around in the space a little (on the order of producer Joe), we had lift off! As I was recording myself, I keep looking to Anna who is energetically conducting to check how we're sounding. She looks pleased, so I relax and really enjoy it!
Make Him Mine is another personal favourite musical theatre number, from a show filled with incredible songs for women. The number, from The Witches of Eastwick is a superb character number, with some stunning harmony work. It's another that we love to perform, and with the added challenge of recording solo lines, we focused on the dream man the song conjures up.
Our final number, You Could Drive a Person Crazy, was a blast to record. It's a fun Sondheim number with a cheeky twist. We do-ed, boo boo boo boo-ed and sang about Bobby Baby until we were content! Before we knew it it was time to take off the headphones and call it a night (but not before the obligatory 'Band Aid' style photos...)!
Recording is incredibly demanding on the body - and ears! Listening so intently is a skill most of us don't use with precision on a day to day basis, and this becomes even more of a challenge in an unknown room with both ears covered and microphones lining in front if you. It's recording when you realize how much you rely on trust with other singers, and of the conductor, who is the protector of your vocal fate for the duration of recording. By the end of Wednesday night I am feeling satisfyingly tired - tired enough to know that we've achieved a lot and put everything into it!
Heart and Music make a song, with the Starling Singers
The Starling Singers are our largest choir to record, with 26 voices and three very varied pieces for the album.
Jen Green's arrangement of I Believe in a Thing Called Love offers a twist to the pop rock anthem performed originally by The Darkness. Instructions yelled during this one include 'sing like a Telly tubby' , 'sting like a bee' and... Keeping the sound bright and energized was our priority, so Anna and I again brought out our 'dad dancing ' to keep the crowds entertained!
Heart and Music felt like a perfect fit for the album. The song perfectly sums up why Starling does what it does. The joy of singing from the heart, and the way emotions are at the heart of every song. Riddled with beautiful solo reflections, the song is rich and complex. The counter-point section is choral singing at its best, with five vocal parts layering the music with the unique sound only the Starling Singers can make.
Shadowland from The Lion King allowed us all to channel our inner safari animals, and started with adjusting to the piano track laid down in the studio. This is a beautiful number is about capturing the spirit of survival through a cascading score full of richness and passion. The choir perfectly captured the essence of this number, responding to the vocal intricacies with pizazz!
I liken choral singing to smoothie making. A perfect smoothie is a collaboration of lots of flavours to make something new and exciting. In a choir, individual voices join together in a matrimony of sound, and this can be really exciting.
Hearing Heart and Music and Shadowland in particular tonight gave me a huge sense of what music is capable of - bringing people together, opening out the souls of everyone present and sharing a little bit of magic. There's certainly a bit of me that only music can reach. Building Starling Arts has allowed us to experience - and share - that magic every week.
Taking Flight will be available in time for Christmas. Check out the album page for information on our launch party and more!