High School Seniors Record Renaissance Music
The Curious Story of How My Geneva Academy Senior Musicianship Class Came to Record Early Choral Music for an Upcoming Album
Don’t miss the above music video edit of my former students singing in a recording studio a year ago today for an unusual music project. Read below to see how this all has been unfolding since last spring.
How it Started
A year ago today, the eight seniors that took my three-day-a-week musicianship class at Geneva Academy in West Monroe, LA, got to go to a local music studio and record some early music selections for an album. Earlier that spring, I won an award with a cash prize from the regional arts council. Their encouragement was to use the money in furtherance of music in my classes somehow. I was not immediately sure what to do with the money. It wasn’t until I was visiting on the phone with a musician friend in Memphis about these seniors’ love for singing sixteenth-century music that I thought, “we should record and send him a quick video of them singing.” So one day, as class was wrapping up, I grabbed my phone and told them to pull out Hans Leo Hassler’s “Cantate Domino” and let’s sing some of that for Mr. John Hodges. I posted that video online, which is how this all started.
After winning this award, I thought, “we could record and put out a modest music album with selections from the sixteenth century. I first thought we could record it on campus with some equipment rentals. But I quickly abandoned that idea because we have a sonorous school with songs, tunes, hymns, jingles, and chants in the classroom, hall, lunchroom, playground, and more. Your ears quickly tell you school is in session. There is little hope that we could also be in a recording session if school is in session. So, I contacted the local music studio on a fact-finding mission. I wasn’t sure what I would hear. They offered to give me a tour. I went and was confident that we could make this work.
Not an April Fool’s Joke
I discussed it with the seniors and their parents, and we only had one date that would work—April 1, 2022. Yes, April Fool’s Day. I assured them that this was not a prank from Mr. Richey to get their hopes up to go record to say, “Just Kidding. April Fool’s!” We showed up fifteen minutes after school for our six-hour recording session on Friday, April 1. These eight non-auditioned classmates gathered, two on a part, to sing through the selections of pieces we had studied, read, and practiced through in Musicianship Class at Geneva Academy over the past few years.
We got several takes of each of the eight or so songs that we decided would best fit our voices and the project. The recording engineer handed me a thumb drive with the raw recording files when the evening session finished. We both agreed that renaissance choral music was not their specific engineering expertise. I decided to find someone else to arrange it. We took some group publicity photos for this project, thanks to another Geneva Academy alumnus, and we went on about our last six weeks of classes while I looked for someone to mix and master these tracks.
During this time, I did some online research and found several companies that offered the kind of combo editing and physical/digital mastering required for this music. I settled on one company, sent them the best take of a particular song, and completed the payment. You can imagine my surprise and worry the next day when I saw that this company is owned and operated in Kyiv, Ukraine. But things worked out because I received their mixed version of the track in a timely manner. It was not equalized or mixed that well, likely because the engineers were less familiar with mixing choral music, much less early choral music from the renaissance, etc. I decided that I would not pursue anything further with them. That brought us to a standstill for a while.
How it’s Going
Fast forward to today, April 1, 2023. Those seniors have all since graduated, and they may think I have played on them a costly April Fool’s joke. That’s why I have been trying to get one of these tracks edited and mixed in the last few days. The studio also threw in some video work as part of our recording package. They captured video of these singers in the studio singing. I thought if I could get something ready for this April Fool’s Day, I could reassure all involved that this project is still on the horizon. A colleague and friend helped get the audio mixed in a way that would be ready for final mastering. That’s why today, you see a studio video/audio version of the track that started it all, Hasler’s “Cantate Domino,” at the top of this video post. The hope is to gauge who might want physical CDs of this project.
CD Selections will include songs from these recorded tracks:
Hans Leo Hassler’s “Cantate Domino”
Tomás Luis de Victoria’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” “O Quam Gloriosum,” and “Jesu Dulcis Memoria”
Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina’s “Jesu, Rex Admirabils”
Orlando Gibbons’s “Drop, Drop Slow Tears”
William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus”
Thomas Tallis’s “Why Fum’th in Fight,” the famous Third Melody setting of Psalm 2, and the iconic “If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments.”
The plan is to also release these in digital outlets such as Spotify and Apple Music. But we thought a limited run of audio compact discs would be a great way to celebrate the work of these students.
You can pre-order this disc for $10 plus shipping and handling. If you want to donate to help with our costs and future projects like this for upcoming classes, I would gladly welcome that token of support and generosity. You could add a few dollars to the $10 Pre-Order price if you wish. We will gladly ship it to you if you want to hear more.
As I told many of these eight singers’ parents, the goal was to memorialize their hard work and seal their love of a form of music hidden in plain sight for many young people today. Don’t think that these students are not enjoying much of the music that is out there today in the broader music culture. But they have also shown a love for this kind of music that I hope will last longer than the upcoming discs we will make and distribute to those who are interested.