The Inside Voice

The Inside Voice: Collaborating on a Special Choral Recording

March 27, 2018

In an age where it seems easy to make an amateur recording with electronic devices, the process of collaborating on a professionally produced choral album may be foreign to many people. We were given access into this process through an invitation by the Philadelphia-based choral ensemble The Same Stream. The choir draws its unique name from a poem written by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore entitled The Stream of Life.

The choir’s shared experiences as graduates of Westminster Choir College are only a part of what draws them together. Their love and commitment to the choral arts, their appreciation for their choir conductor James Jordan, and the chance to collaborate with Welsh composer Paul Mealor, Grammy award-winning recording engineer Andrew Mellor, and seasoned producer Adrian Peacock allowed them a unique opportunity to create a work of art. That art has been preserved in their latest project, Serenity.

The Same Stream’s decision to professionally record an all-Mealor album grew out of a relationship with the composer that has developed over many years. Mealor is a regular visitor to Westminster Choir College, and in fact many Westminster students travel to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, to study composition with him. Dr. Mealor is best known for his writing of the anthem Ubi Caritas for the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. He has been hailed as the most important Welsh composer of this generation.  His premieres at Carnegie Hall and abroad are significant achievements on the international choral scene.  His music is lyrical, engaging, meaningful, and full of depth.

As students at Westminster, the members of the choir enjoyed the works of living composers and new compositions. The Same Stream continues that appreciation as its members also focus on the music of living composers. The choir’s evolution is really quite unique. As students, they made a recording in 2013 with Dr. Jordan entitled Annelies, which was nominated for a Grammy. The experience of making that recording and then having it go through the Grammy process changed their lives forever.  As it came time for them to graduate, they had a deep desire for that unique collaboration to continue – so students approached Dr. Jordan about forming a community choir.

At first, Jordan was a bit hesitant due to the demands of his teaching schedule, the expense of running a quality ensemble, and understanding the challenges of bringing students from all over the country back to the area to rehearse and perform. As time passed, the students continued to engage Jordan about their dream and started The Same Stream. Over the last few seasons, the choir has evolved and grown. There is a waiting list for membership in the group, and their goal is to become a professional touring ensemble in the near future.

The members of the choir shared with us how they felt about this experience and why they would take time out of their busy schedules to gather in Philadelphia from all over the country to participate in these rehearsals, performances and recordings.  Corey Everly, the assistant conductor and accompanist, says his experiences as a student encouraged him to return. “Dr. Jordan has had such a huge influence on my life,” Everly said.  “His beliefs about how music should be made, along with seeing the results from the music we’ve created, have had a huge impact on me and my work.  It’s a labor of love.”

Sarah Mae, a mezzo-soprano who hails from New York City, echoed those thoughts. She says the group’s common past experiences have made this choir special. “I live in a place where you can sing in multiple ensembles at a professional level, but none like this,” Mae said.  “It’s very different to be a part of a choir where you have a shared heritage.”

“I live in a place where you can sing in multiple ensembles at a professional level, but none like this,” Mae said.  “It’s very different to be a part of a choir where you have a shared heritage.”

The recording process for these young professionals was unique in that the choir was given permission to record in the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in downtown Philadelphia. This ornate Roman-Corinthian style cathedral boasts five or six seconds of reverberation. Andrew Mellor, who is working as a recording engineer with Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Philadelphia Orchestra for their 2018-2019 season, is also the engineer for this project. Following a public performance at the Basilica, long hours were spent over a period of four days capturing the choir’s performance of Mealor’s music. The actual recording sessions could only take place in the late afternoons and evenings when the Basilica was closed to the public. Most of the music was a cappella, but a few of the pieces were accompanied by piano. With the acoustics of the Basilica, the piano became a challenge to record and balance with the choir. Special techniques were used to isolate the sound of the piano using microphones and sound barriers. Realizing an artistic vision often takes patience and resourcefulness.

The glimpse we were given into the process of recording The Same Stream in this impressive venue was truly unique. So many facets came together to make this collaboration occur. It took years of relationships among students. It required a composer, engineer and producer to cross the ocean, and an experienced conductor to have the vision needed to help fold everything together. In coming months, we will delve more deeply into the recording and production sides of this project with Andrew Mellor and Adrian Peacock. Until then, enjoy these past Inside Voice conversations with James Jordan and Paul Mealor.

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