The Organ CD: From Inspiration to Creation
Some things take time. A lot of time. More than three decades ago, former minister of All Souls Bill England, suggested that I make a CD of my organ playing. I thanked him while the words “MONUMENTAL TASK” ran through my mind. How would such a project be funded? How would I ever play well enough under pressure to be satisfied? I made a file folder labeled “CD,” tossed in the names of a few favorite pieces I could play if I ever did make a CD (I thought it unlikely), and left it in a drawer. It stayed there for years. But the idea of a recording kept gnawing at me. I really did want to produce a permanent record of how our fine Moeller organ sounded during my time as organist. Suddenly one day in February, 2016, it dawned on me that I didn’t have too many decades left in which to make it happen.
I consulted our minister, Dr. James Haddix, who assured me that this would indeed be a worthy project, and that funding would be possible, one way or another. I would need to hire someone to record it. Other costs would be the graphic design for the cover and liner notes, duplication of the CD, packaging, etc. I’m not a business-minded person, but with help from others who are, the thing unfolded. As it turned out, the total costs were covered by donations, and I was able to hire Barry Darling, a long-time acquaintance of mine who has specialized in recording organ, instrumental, and choral music, and who worked at MPBN for many years. I trusted him to do his usual excellent work. I chose a Maine company, Klarity Multimedia in North Vassalboro, to do the mastering, graphics, duplicating, and packaging. I wanted all proceeds to go towards a digital upgrade to the console of the organ, which would allow for many levels of memory for setting the stops, and which would help the church save some organ maintenance costs in the future.
Choosing the music:
The pieces I chose were congregational favorites. I wanted music that would demonstrate basic tone colors of the organ: strings, reeds, flutes, principals, solo stops, and full organ. Also, I looked for pieces in a variety of keys, tempos, moods, and dynamics. I wanted to make sure to include some flute music for variety, and Anne Small, our Youth Choir Director and an accomplished flautist, filled the bill. I also wanted to include some of my own compositions, and I wanted to include a particular Romantic-style lullaby written by Norman Landis, a New Jersey organist and the great-uncle of Mary Hunter, a member of our congregation. (I have played the lullaby for several baptisms in her family.) Just to give the playlist a bit of a twist, I ended with Entry of the Gladiators, which I have played in recitals. (It’s associated with clowns and the circus.) I could have included several more pieces from the 20th century, but procuring the recording licenses proved to be a hassle, so I decided to use mostly older music that is in the public domain. For the three pieces requiring licenses, I had to do some digging to discover whom to contact and how to proceed.
Barry Darling set up his recording equipment on several evenings in March, April, May, and June. We had to record in the evening, since traffic noise would be a problem in the daytime. As it was, we had to interrupt the recording for police and fire sirens a few times. We encountered another noise problem--an annoying hum that we heard in the background on the first recording I made. We traced the hum to the furnace room. I discovered that the sound is constant and year-round, whether the furnace is on or off. It was odd that I had never before noticed it, but there it was, on the recording. I found out how to disable the source of the noise for future recording sessions.
It is hard enough for me to get though a piece without finger slips when no one is listening, but when I’m being heard and remembered by recording equipment, the pressure is on. Fortunately these days, recordings can be edited, so I enlisted the help of Dr. Peter VerLee. He’s a Bangor cardiologist, a tenor in my choir, and a sound technology wizard. Here’s how the process worked: first, Barry would record my playing onto a postage-stamp-sized SD memory card, and after each recording session I would get the little card from him, put it into my computer and jot down what I liked and what I didn’t like. Then I would give the card, my notes, and the sheet music to Peter, who would make the edits. I had to get it back from him before the next recording session so I could pass it on to Barry, and all along I was hoping to heaven that I wouldn’t misplace the thing. (I never did.) I found that the editing was not as simple as had I expected. From Peter I learned what is feasible and what isn’t. It’s best to play accurately in the first place so that no edits are necessary. (Right!) As it was, I recorded each piece 3 or 4 times, and then we chose the best parts and put them together, or cut out the most glaring errors and replaced them with better renditions. To accomplish this, Peter kept track of the score while doing the cutting and pasting of sounds on his computer. Is this cheating? Probably, but I’m grateful that this technology is available. In my effort to play well without errors, my playing improved. I learned to be more exacting in practice, and to pay better attention.
The cover, photos, and insert:
After we had accumulated an hour of recorded and edited music, I traveled to North Vassalboro to meet Gary Coull at Klarity Multimedia. (Yes, you can get theyah from heah.) He showed me what he needed from me so he could design the front and back covers and the insert. He was great to work with, and I was fascinated by his operation there. Back home, I devised an order for the recording tracks and created the liner text, which had to be edited and proofed (via email between me and Gary). It was a headache—I had to pay way too much attention to detail. I’d rather play music. At least, dealing with the photos for the cover and insert was easy. All I had to do was have Andrea Hand, our church photographer, email them to me, and then I emailed them to Gary. Eventually, my part of the project was done, and the discs were ready to be duplicated and packaged. After another week or two, Gary notified me that the 300 CDs were ready. I went there again, to pick them up (that saved on shipping). He loaded two big, heavy cartons into the back seat of my car, and I drove off with a great sense of accomplishment.
I feel privileged to play the All Souls organ, which I regard as a community treasure. I love the idea of promoting the pipe organ, known as the King of Instruments, because I wish more people in the general public could have the opportunity to enjoy its versatility and beauty. I have now taken a step in letting the organ and its music be better known. And, every time I look at one of the All Souls’ CDs, with its photo of our magnificent stained-glass rose window on the cover, I think, “There, I did it. I finally did it.”